World Communion Sunday (October 5th this year) is an annual ecumenical celebration in some mainline American denominations, originating from a time in history when the spirit of ecumenism in American Christianity was high and global concern was heightened by the World Wars. The event served to remind American churches of their unity around Christ’s table with Christians in neighboring churches, neighboring towns, neighboring countries, and all around the world.
Today, the celebration of World Communion Sunday has spread globally, although it is not a universal liturgical event. In past years and former ministry settings on World Communion Sunday, I’ve crafted liturgies that rejoice in the diverse unity of Christ’s Body across time zones and geographies. I’ve served naan and rice cakes, rye bread and corn muffins. I’ve poured Japanese sake and French wine. I’ve said, “In Christ, we are one!” And I’ve meant it.
In light of national and international events, however, this year I find myself wondering about the ability of the American Church — specifically the White American Church — to give witness to and authentically celebrate World Communion Sunday. If you read “Do White Christians Care Enough About Racial Justice to Make It an American Reality?” or any number of insightful critiques of the White American Church, you’re aware that the White Church isn’t exactly running toward racial justice and inclusivity with open arms. Can we proclaim truthfully on World Communion Sunday, “In Christ, we are one!” when we are unwilling to live this way?
With these wonderings in mind, I offer a confessional World Communion liturgy for the White American Church:
The table is set. The feast is ready.
We are here! We are ready!
Where are your sisters? Where are your brothers?
They have their own tables. Let us eat.
Our community is incomplete.
Christ will make us whole.
Christ our Lord is broken. Let us pray.
God be beyond you.
God be beyond us.
Make your hearts humble.
We are humble before God.
Let us confess to God Most High.
It is right to concede our sins to God.
You are beautiful, O Christ, in all your people and in all the world. But we have failed to affirm your beauty and presence in others, certain that we were good enough to be your Body by ourselves. We have neglected to welcome brothers and sisters at our table. We have neglected to meet you outside our church walls and social circles.
How we are missing out on the diversity of you! How we are missing out on the fullness of your love! How we are missing out on the depth of your grace in the work of listening to and understanding one another!
In the flesh of Jesus, a Middle Eastern man, a man born into poverty, a man who roamed with a gang, a man who inconvenienced the status quo with his protests against injustice, a man who welcomed the dirty and the sick and the foreign and the cast-out, in Jesus Christ you reveal to us the brokenness of your heart. In Jesus Christ, you reveal to us the brokenness of ourselves.
We are broken and torn, splintered and disjointed as we gather at your table. Our prayers of compassion lack commitment to reconciliation. Our songs of praise lack a diversity of voices. We dare not sing or pray before you, so entrenched are we in our sin. Instead we wait in silence, listening as “Holy, holy, holy” is sung by your people around the world. [silence is kept]
BLESSING OF ELEMENTS
We remember that Jesus’ closest friends did not know how to stand by him when violence and injustice threatened his life. Yet even as his allies failed him, Jesus invited them to sit at the table and to dine with him, saying: “Take, eat. This bread is my body, broken into pieces like you. Take, drink. This cup is my blood, spilled out on the earth. As often as you divide yourselves, remember me. As often as you kill one another, remember me.”
O God, by your grace, bless this naan and cornbread and pita to our bitter remembrance. Multiple this sake and wine and sparkling cider with our humble repentance. Do not withhold your Spirit from this bread and cup and each of us, but stir among us for the purpose of healing. Then while our hearts are still tender, change us to be more like your Body — beautifully diverse, willing to be pieced together in new ways alongside our sisters and brothers, until at last we bring glory to you. Amen.
The bread of brokenness.
The cup of reconciliation.