”One of Billions”
World-Wide Communion – October 6, 2019 – Year C
Today is World-Wide Communion Sunday. I’d like to take you on a brief tour of 3 communities around our magnificent world.
The news on May 8th, 2018 that confirmed cases of Ebola were present in the Equator Province of Democratic Republic of Congo just 50 miles outside the city of Mbandaka was paralyzing. The Ebola virus is one the deadliest on the planet with no known cure. That second Sunday in May, the Community of Disciples of Christ in Congo began to mobilize to increase awareness and equip medical facilities to treat the victims and contain the spread. Thankfully, by the second Sunday in August, the Ebola outbreak in the Equator Province was declared over because of the quick response by a cross section of local, national and international actors.
During the Ebola response, the Community of Disciples of Christ in Congo instructed local churches to take special precautions, such as halting the ritual greetings of handshakes and kisses on the cheek. Then there was communion. How was the church going to protect parishioners while still conducting the weekly celebration at the Lord’s Table?
It would have been understandable if the church stopped offering communion, at least for a time. It was decided that communion would still take place, but in a different way than before.
To begin with, hand washing stands were placed outside each church in Mbandaka. When the time for communion came, the elders prayed over the elements as usual and then brought them down in front of the pulpit. The ushers dismissed each pew to proceed to the front of the church to wash their hands again and receive an application of hand sanitizer. Then they could partake of the bread and the cup, depositing the empty cup into a bucket, and returning to their pew. The process was smooth and was in no way disruptive to the overall worship experience.
This augmented process for conducting communion at Disciples of Christ parishes served as a powerful reminder for parishioners to remain vigilant during the outbreak. Communion highlighted the seriousness of the situation and the necessity to change behavior, providing a credible counter to voices of skepticism regarding the imminent danger of the virus. Therefore, communion became a source of the community’s resilience to overcome Ebola and prevent it in the future.
The world marveled at the how quickly the Ebola crisis in the Equator Province came to an end. Some credited the community’s isolation deep in the equatorial forest with containing the spread of the virus. The quick resolution can also be attributed to the community’s cohesion. A city of over 1 million people, lacking in many amenities and basic infrastructure, doesn’t simply emerge from a health crisis without strong associations, a sense of solidarity and mutual responsibility. The Lord’s Supper has been described exactly the same way… an expression of unity, of oneness in Christ and concern for one another.
Let’s hear a story from Haiti. The Saturday morning service starts out the same as any Sunday service. The music is pouring out of every opening of the small building in Haiti.
Women, men and children, dressed in their “Sunday best,” quietly make their way to the open seats. The worship leader is at the pulpit, singing at the top of her lungs – all songs titles, and lyrics memorized – arms raised and swaying with the rhythm, there is a diverse age group and more often than not, all are singing without reservation
This Saturday service is a monthly routine to those attending, there is a buzz of anticipation, as today is La Sentsèn. For the Protestant churches in Haiti, La Sentsèn is Kreyol for The Sacrament. They use this term to distinguish themselves from the Catholic Church’s communion service.
After about an hour of singing and praying one of the pastors comes up to preach. He is preaching about how Jezi Kri (Jesus Christ) died for our sins on the cross – for our salvation. There is such a sense of urgency to his words and prayers, one wonders if this is how Paul and Peter sounded to their congregations. Next, the pastè (pastor) comes to the pulpit to emphatically tell all about the importance of coming to receive the elements with a pure heart.
The deacons and pastors prepare the bread and wine while the preaching is happening. In Haitian churches, they do not wait quietly for the person speaking to complete their part and then move onto the next segment. There is an ebb and flow. People are still coming in, children are wandering from bench to bench and friend to friend, some are getting up to get water to drink, setting up to sing, etc .
About another hour later (time becomes irrelevant for these days), it is time to receive the bread and wine. As people line up to accept the communion, they begin to pull out little cards. The paper cards are their baptism certificates. In Haitian Protestant churches, one must be baptized before being allowed to participate in communion. Each time you receive the sacraments, one of the pastors will sign off on the card that you participated with them.
Next comes a feet washing ceremony. There are bowls of all different shapes and sizes on the floor with towels and pastors standing in front of them. The bowls are filled with water. This is a grand ceremony! Not all Haitian Protestant churches have a feet washing service in conjunction with La Sentsèn. Some churches only do it once a year.
Everyone continues in line up in front of the next open “station.” Eagerly, everyone comes forward, sits in front of a kneeled pastor, slides off their sandals and places their feet in the pastor’s hands. He gently scoops the cool water and pours it over the feet. One can’t help but notice the stark difference between the guests’ skin color and the size of their feet in the pastor’s large hands. The presence of God in this moment is palpable. After drying the feet gently, the recipient stands and the pastor holds their shoulders and states, ou te renmen. You are loved.
The La Santsèn experience is one of reconciliation. It is an example of unconditional love coupled with humility that allowed one to realize the magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice. It is indescribable!
Now we move to Mexico. During a recent “Roots in the ruins: hope in trauma” course with the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ and Congregational churches of México, participants were asked to write about a healing ritual in their congregations. A participant wrote the following:
“The ritual of communion at the church of “La Reforma” in the state of San Luis Potosí, México is something beautiful I would like to share. The children have the responsibility of serving the elements of communion. We have a list with all the children, and every Sunday, one serves the bread, one the wine and another takes up and prays for the offering. Each one prays for the elements, though sometimes we have to help them, and they also read a Bible text. The children love this moment, and I believe that it has helped them be more self-confident and to feel like they are an important part of this church and community.”
Well, we have toured 3 countries and have experienced communion with 3 different groups of people. In a few minutes we too will share communion. Like we have done in past years we will share bread from many lands, reminding ourselves that Jesus is the bread of life for all people who seek his nourishing way. The unifying message is Good News indeed! We are one in Christ. Amen.