While some of you have no connection with, and perhaps little interest in, this topic, many Christians around the world will participate in a World Communion Sunday service on October 2. This is a yearly, and meaningful, observance of a great number of churches around the world.
World Communion Sunday (WCS) is widely observed each year on the first Sunday of October, largely for the purpose of promoting Christian unity and ecumenical cooperation.
WCS dates back to 1933 when Hugh T. Kerr, a Presbyterian pastor, began the observance. Three years later it was endorsed by Presbyterian churches across the country. Then in 1940, the Federal Council of Churches (now the National Council of Churches), endorsed WCS and began to promote it worldwide.
I can’t remember when I first heard of WCS, but it has been fairly recently. I certainly don’t remember hearing of it before going to Japan 50 years ago. Few Southern Baptist churches then, and I assume few SBC churches even now, were/are inclined to participate in such an observance.
Catholics, of course, do not observe WCS either. But all Christians (and others) can learn valuable lessons from the life and legacy of El Salvadorian Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated while serving the Eucharist in 1980, and from people like John P. Hogan, who is the co-editor of a book about Romero’s legacy.
About a year ago I read the thought-provoking book co-edited by Hogan: Romero’s Legacy: The Call to Peace and Justice (2007). It contains the “Romero Lectures” presented in Camden, N.J., from 2001 through 2007.
Since reading “The Eucharist and Social Justice,” the 2002 Romero Lecture given by Hogan, I have planned to write this article. Today, a week before World Communion Sunday, seems to be a good time to post it.
In the lecture he gave, Hogan cited these words from St. Augustine: “We eat the body of Christ to become the body of Christ.” In the Catholic sense, as well as in the catholic sense, the body of Christ is worldwide and includes all who are followers of Jesus—including many who are poor and powerless.
Discerning the Body
Hogan went on to interpret the meaning of Paul’s warning about participating in Communion without discerning the body (see 1 Cor. 11:28-31) as not adequately seeing and understanding the needs of many within the worldwide church.
“We cannot claim to be . . . Christian, the body of Christ, and support structures and systems that keep people poor and powerless,” he said (p. 29). Communion, therefore, is not “an interior retreat,” a “spiritual” thing we do for our own edification. It is, rather, a call to solidarity with all segments of the universal Church—especially with those who are poor, marginalized, and mistreated.
So, for those of us who participate in World Communion Sunday next week—and I am happy now to be a member of a church that does observe WCS each year—let us remember with gratitude that we do so as part of a worldwide fellowship of believers in Jesus Christ.
But let’s remember not just the geographical meaning of this observance. Let’s also, and especially, remember those belonging to the body of Christ who are literally poor and lacking adequate food, those who are persecuted because of their Christian beliefs, those who are discriminated against (because of their skin color, their sexual orientation, or whatever), and all who suffer because of injustice.
May World Communion Sunday help us discern, and respond more adequately to, the needs in the worldwide body of Christ.