Communion and the World: A Christian Perspective

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Communion and the World: A Christian Perspective
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Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

The Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes is the Minister of Maple Grove United Church, and is a member of the Interfaith Councill of Halton. A chatty extrovert with a conversational preaching style, a multi-tasker who is a “multi-worrier” when it comes to caring about people’s problems, and a leader who treasures teaming with the lay people in her church, Morar says that at Maple Grove she has experienced “a deeper level of ministry than I thought possible.” Anyone who has personally received Morar’s deeply compassionate caring and wise counsel will testify to what an inspirational, healing and encouraging ministry it is.

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Thirty-five years ago, Tissa Balasurya, a priest from a city in Sri Lanka, observed with some horror that over 100 000 Masses had been celebrated in his city church and there had been no narrowing of the gap between rich and poor.

Recently Christians celebrated World Wide Communion Sunday, a day when we remind ourselves that Christians all over the world gather at a table and receive the gift that Christ gave at the Last Supper.

There are common elements that all Christians use: bread and the fruit of the grape vine; and the words follow a similar pattern of praise and thanksgiving to God for giving us creation, the history of the law and the prophets, and the Christian story.

The tables will vary greatly and even what we call what we do differs. What some call the Mass is the whole of the worship service including the Eucharist or, as others call it, Holy Communion. It is the most often practiced of the sacraments of the church and is in some form or another in most Christian denominations.

Why two different words to describe what we do?

  1. Eucharist, from the Greek word for thanksgiving, reminds us that the sacrament is thanksgiving to God for the gifts of creation and salvation. It has been in use from the second century.
  2. Communion, from the Greek word, koinonia, meaning community, invites us to focus on the holiness of our relationship with God and one another.

The term eucharist emphasizes the vertical relationship of the individual with God. Communion introduces the horizontal, an emphasis on our relationship with one another. Christians think about these two relationships (with God and humans) as they look at the vertical and horizontal lines of the cross..

What should Communion teach us about the World?

The writer of the Letter to the Ephesians was dealing with a community in conflict. In this passage from Ephesians Ephesians 2:11-22, we see a picture of what the world looks like as a result of Jesus’ suffering and death:

Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

Jesus has done this. It is finished. ‘The work I was sent to do is done. You are all one.’

We are all family, and no one is to be treated as a stranger or alien. Differences in race, class, gender, economic condition, politics, and opinion exist, but they are not barriers to living in unity in Christ.

Is that what our world looks like? No? Does that mean Communion doesn’t make a difference?

  1. Where those who were once far off have not been brought near,
  2. where both groups have not been made into one,
  3. where the hostility between us has not been broken down;
  4. where we have not become one new humanity at peace;
  5. where we are not reconciled to God in one body through the cross,
  6. where all that has not happened, it is because we have resisted the power of the table.

What does the World teach us about Communion?
I was blessed to attend the Sixth meeting of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT)
This is a group of representative voices of men and women committed to the task of theological work within local communities, particularly those categorized as “developing” countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Realizing that traditional theology with its European origination and Westernized context failed to sufficiently meet the needs of the Third World, the founders of EATWOT established a forum designed to address the specific concerns of Third World contexts.

This was a unique meeting, because for the first time, first world theologians were invited to participate, particularly to listen to what theologians in Africa, Asia and Latin America were learning as they worked with grassroots social and religious movements around issues of inequalities such as poverty, marginalization, and domination and how their perspective shed new understandings on the Christian faith. You may be familiar with liberation theology, one of the movements that resulted from these learnings.

The colonizing history of Europe had brought with it to the developing world, a political overlay of power in Christian teaching. First Nations people in general, first experienced Christianity as oppressive.

At this meeting first world theologians were challenged and most responded creatively and compassionately to this challenge. For the first time women theologians from the first and third world exchanged ideas.

What Third World theologians taught us was that it is not the mission of the Church to start from a position of strength and build more and more power for ourselves. They taught us that Jesus’ suffering and death showed us the God who seeks to bring people together and hold them together.

Balasurya writes that Communion

has to lead Christian communities

  1. to analyse the issues which confront . . . the human community today,
  2. to an unmaking of injustice, and to building groups for liberation. …
  3. Christians are once again undertaking, in certain places, the long march for the reform of themselves and their societies; and the Eucharist is the manna during their march in the desert. (from The Eucharist and Human Liberation)

At the climax of this EATWOT meeting in Geneva, communion was celebrated. Since among all the women theologians present I was the only one ordained, it was my terrifying privilege to celebrate. We met to plan and the first challenge was that there was no translator for this worship. Out of necessity, I created a communion service using a few simple signs for the deaf. Priests and even bishops, including Balasurya participated in this unique ecumenical experience. One lone bishop stood in the balcony, supportive but not participative. It was a moment when the Christian church seemed to actually get Jesus’ message: we were one; we were at peace. I have, very occasionally celebrated communion since using signs for the deaf. And I was privileged to write a description of the service which is included in Doing Theology in a Divided World, the book that resulted from the conference.

What we do in communion is a sign of God’s grace which is available to us in every moment of our lives.

Communion speaks to us in many mysterious ways over the course of our lives. Where some churches once barred children from receiving communion because it was thought they didn’t understand, we now realize that none of us will ever truly fathom the gift that Jesus gave us in the last supper. If there were a test to pass, we would all fail it.. But what communion should teach us, at the very least, is that Jesus gathered the disciples around his table so that we would gather others around our table.

What communion teaches us about the world is that it matters. The world matters as we stand at the table and receive. The world mattered to Jesus so it should matter to us in communion.

Communion cannot separate us from our actions in the world. The world demands that we leave the table ready to live out Christ’s good news in all the hurting places.

Amongst all the suffering in the world that cries out to be heard by us, I think that the world has called to us in two particular ways right now: first nations and refugees. I am thankful that there has been such a great response among the faith communities to the Syrian refugee crisis. (Donate to Abraham’s Children Together, an interfaith group sponsoring a family of seven.)

I am also thankful that we have supported Cyndil Corbiere, a student at Laurentian in the fulfilment of her dreams to prepare herself with a university degree at the same time she has made great differences in her community. A First Nation Scholarship is a fine way to help to reconcile our past missteps with our First Nations and offer hope for the future. Canadians have an extra impetus to move in this direction, for while people around the world will respond to global crises, only Canadians will hear the cries of our First Nations. Click to donate.

We will be called by the world to do more, more than we want to do at times, more than we think we can do at others. But Communion tells us the world is worth saving and the world tells us that we are the hands and feet of God.

Sometimes we will want to leave the table and just sit down. But with Jesus, wherever we sit will always be in the world.


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