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World Communion
October 7, 1979

Swann Road Uniting Church, St. Lucia, Australia

1 CORINTHIANS 10:16-17

I'm impressed with the table cloth, the linens on each pew which I understand is an old Reformed tradition that symbolizes the extension of the table. My question to you is—how big is the table? What are the dimensions of the table? Communion is more than a group of similar like-minded people gathering together to remember their founder. Communion is more than a group of like-minded people celebrating an anniversary of some past event. Communion as we just heard read in the New Testament lesson is a sharing in the body and in the blood of Christ. The Revised Standard Version uses the word “participation”, a participation in the very life of Christ. A spectrum of understanding the Lord's Supper has the Roman Catholic tradition on one hand where they believe in transubstantiation, where the bread and juice are miraculously turned into the very body, the very blood of Christ, and that through the act of Communion, through the act of the Mass, Christ dies all over again, sacrificing for our sins. That is at one end of the spectrum. 

The other end of the spectrum is represented by Zwingli, the Swiss reformer, who contended that Communion was a reminder or a memorial of the last supper. Between these two poles, in the middle stands most of Protestantism—not quite as far as Catholics, and not willing to give this entire event over to celebrating an anniversary. Somewhere in the middle, certainly the Methodist tradition historically is in the middle as is Presbyterianism. But, when john Calvin went to Geneva, Zwingli had already died, and the form of worship and practices Zwingli had instituted, were inflexible. Calvin had an awful time trying to adjust to that situation. He had an awful time trying to change the order of service. He particularly was obsessed with the Communion practice because it should be observed much more than four times a year, as Zwingli had instituted.

 Hageman, in his book Pulpit and Table, which is a study of liturgical practice in the Reformed churches, says, “If for Zwingli eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ meant believing that he died for us, for Calvin, it meant being inwardly united with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Communion is to be inwardly united with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. And John Calvin himself wrote, ‘Christ wants to make us true partakers of his body and blood, that we may entirely possess him, so that he may dwell in us, and we in him. Though we see only bread and wine, let us not doubt that he will accomplish fiercely in our soul all that he represents to us externally by these signs. He is the heavenly bread to nourish us, and to make us live eternally.” 

Something, therefore, should happen in Communion more than remembering. Christ is uniquely present in this act which we call a Sacrament along with Baptism, a sacred act, a unique act in which Christ is present as he is present in no other relationship, no other form of worship, no other practice. Christ is uniquely present in the act of Holy Communion. Christ is present to renew, redeem, restore, and empower us to be his body. We participate, we share in his very life in this act. 

Therefore, what must happen in order for this sacrament to really be a vital part of our experience, for us to really experience this morning the presence of Christ? What must happen? What must occur? What must we do? There are many things we can list, but I want to look at the question—how big is our table? What are the dimensions? If the table covers only this sanctuary, if the linen stops at the rear wall, I submit to you, we are not celebrating Communion. We are a group of like-minded people gathered in a social club having a tea party. We are like-minded people, we all have the same color, we all come from the same social class, we all have pretty much the same level of wealth. Our educational backgrounds are similar. We're a group of like-minded people and the temptation, the danger for people gathered in the church is to get acquainted with each other and develop a community and fellowship. The danger is to forget that we are only a small part of the body of Christ. 

The temptation is to think that the table stops with the wall and that we are all there is to church. How big is the table? Especially on this World Communion Sunday, is it appropriate to ask how big is the table? I see a table this morning with a linen cloth extending beyond that wall all the way over to Ryan's Road. I see this table extending throughout all the cooperating denominations of the Uniting Church. We need the heritage and the expressions of all. I see the table this morning extending through all the denominations of Christianity, all who affirm the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We are united with them. We need each other. There’s no denomination that has a monopoly on God's truth. There is no expression of Christianity that has a monopoly on the will of God. I see our table extending throughout all the denominations with all the doctrinal differences, with all the various practices, all coming together at this table sharing in the body and the blood of Christ. 

Not only does this table extend to all the other denominations, but I see our table extending out beyond that wall covering geographical areas all around the world. Our table extends clear up to Manteca, California where they will be celebrating Communion on this World Communion Sunday. We don't practice the ancient method of kneeling for Communion anymore. When they celebrate communion, Les Brockway and the Associate Minister will stand in front of the congregation. Two lines will form. The worshipers will come forward. The minister will break a piece of bread off a homemade loaf of bread (one of our ladies loves to make the bread for Communion) and hand it to each worshiper who will dip it in the chalice of homemade grape juice made by one of our families—a different practice, but still at the table of the Lord. 

I see the table this morning extending clear to Japan. I went to Japan as a missionary at the ripe old age of 21. I went as a teacher in a school. I was there in Nagoya on a three year term. The first Sunday I went to Chuo Kyokai—Central Church. The major denominations of Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational and a few others have merged as in Australia into one United Church. I was a green farm boy from rural Minnesota, wet behind the ears, a long way from home with just a tinge of homesickness and a tinge of feeling of “what did I get myself into”. And my first Sunday was World Communion Sunday. We sat in the pew as we will do here today. The elders brought pieces of bread and cups of juice. I felt at home. I felt a part of the people of God, a part of the body of Christ. Our table extends throughout Japan today. 

Our table extends to Fiji. We attended a beautiful worship service in a small village on our way to Australia. The attendance was about 30. The small church was made of wood with a rough wooden floor, wooden pews, and a large pulpit up front. I didn't understand a word, but when they sang you didn't need to understand. Everyone was singing in four-part harmony with no piano, no organ. Beautiful, and our table goes to Fiji today. Wouldn't it be exciting if at one time we could get all the various expressions together in one place—the way they sing, and the practices and the cultural difference. What an exciting banquet feast that would be—all together at the table of the Lord!

Not only does our table extend to all the denominations, not only does our table extend geographically around the world, but I see our table extending even through death. There at the table are heroes and heroines of our faith— Calvin, Zwingli, Wesley, St. Augustine, St. Thomas— heroes of the past. There are your loved ones who have died. They're at the table. The book of Revelation tells us that those in heaven sing and praise God for being washed by the blood of the Lamb. They praise God for their redemption. And I see all of them at our table today. Not even death can separate us. We believe in the communion of saints. That means that we're in fellowship with all persons of Christ. Death cannot break that fellowship. Death has been overcome. I believe that it's perfectly appropriate for us to pray prayers for our dead loved ones, to ask God that they may know more fully and completely the love and the joy of Christ. And I believe they are praying for us as they gather at the table. 

What a table we're at today! What a privilege to be at this table! What a joy it is to feast! But, to make Christ truly present, we also need to remember the empty places, not those who have died for they are there at the table, but those who do not believe. The empty places at the table are for those who have not yet come to the table— those persons in your family, or those missing this fellowship and do not know the love of God in their lives, or the person who lives down the street, or the unchurched children, or all the vast multitudes across the world, all those who do not know the love, joy and fellowship of Christ, all who need our concern and compassion. How many did you invite to come to church today? How many did you pray for? How many opportunities did God give you this past week to speak about your faith? How many opportunities did God give you to speak a word of encouragement and faith to tell what Christ means in your life? How many opportunities did you take, or did you clam up? 

To really be at the table of the Lord, we need a constant concern for others that they may come. “Go out into the highways and the byways,” Jesus said, “and bring them in.” The table of the Lord is not just a group of similar like-minded people gathered together in a narrow  picture of the kingdom. That is not Communion, that’s a tea party. To celebrate the presence of Christ in our midst today, the table needs to be extended and open for everyone to come, feast and believe. 

Let us sing Hymn number 433 verses one and two, “Let Us Break Bread Together”.

© 1979 Douglas I. Norris