This post includes excerpts of the sermon I shared with my congregation at Smithville UMC today. The Gospel lesson used was from John 17.
Today is World Communion Sunday, a day when all Christians everywhere, throughout the globe, remember Christ’s sacrifice for us. As we share the communion meal together in this place, we are aware of our sisters and brothers in the global community, and we remember that we are all part of the Body of Christ. Although we may celebrate in different ways, we are one because of our unity in Christ.
I have always appreciated World Communion Sunday and the celebration of unity in the midst of diversity, but this year it holds a deeper significance for me because of my trip to El Salvador in January. When I hear the words “global community,” I immediately picture the faces of the people I met in El Salvador. While there, we heard the stories of many Salvadoran people; horrific and tragic stories of violence. Yet even in the midst of great pain and suffering, we heard stories of hope and healing. I would like to briefly share two of those stories with you.
The first is a story told to us by Sister Peggy. Sister Peggy is a feisty woman in her early 70s, originally from New Jersey. This sister of Charity went to war-ravaged El Salvador in the mid-80s at the height of the country’s armed conflict. She tells the story of riding in the back of a truck with over 20 women and children as they fled from military threats in one of the villages. A little girl in the truck was holding a grape; a small red grape that had been played with and handled by this little girl. The grape had seen better days. When Sister Peggy made eye contact with the child, the little girl broke the grape in half and handed it to her. Sister Peggy was touched by this child’s actions and held onto the smushed red grape. The military caught up with their truck as they were leaving the village and began firing shots. The women and children jumped off the back of the truck and fled into the bushes to hide. Sister Peggy wound up hiding with two other women, one of whom was pregnant. As they huddled together and settled in, the pregnant woman opened her bag and pulled out a tortilla. She broke it into three pieces and handed it to the other women. Sister Peggy was hungry and began to eat, and she said she was embarrassed when the other woman handed the tortilla back to the pregnant woman and said, “Here, you need this more than I do. You are eating for two and you need your nourishment.” The pregnant woman handed the tortilla back to the other woman and said, “No, tonight we share our food. Tomorrow we will share our hunger.”
Sister Peggy looked at that piece of tortilla and the smushed grape she still had from the little girl and said that it was the most meaningful expression of the Eucharist – or Holy Communion – that she had experienced. This bread of life and the fruit of the vine took on new meaning for her that day. Tonight we share our food; tomorrow we will share our hunger.
While in El Salvador, our group also had the opportunity to meet and experience a private concert with Guillermo Cuellar. Guillermo Cuellar is a composer and musician who wrote the Salvadoran Popular Mass. He was commissioned by Archbishop Oscar Romero before his death in 1980 to write music for the Mass; music that was upbeat and contemporary using the language of the people; language that they could claim for themselves. At this private concert with Guillermo Cuellar, he sang several Salvadoran folks tunes and he also shared pieces of the Mass with us. His stories of his personal interactions with Archbishop Romero were fascinating and introduced us to another side of Romero. Guillermo’s music was indeed a gift. He not only demonstrated exquisite vocal and instrumental qualities, but his music came from the depths of his soul. Music is a universal language. Although I did not know the exact words he was singing, it evoked an emotional reaction for which words were not necessary. One of the pieces of the Mass that I particularly liked was called Entrada or “Entrance.” It was the first piece of music in the Mass that invited everyone to come and partake. Translated into English, it goes like this …
Let us go now to the banquet
To the feast of the universe,
The table’s set and a place is waiting,
Come everyone with your gifts to share.
The feast of the universe. Is that not what we are celebrating today, as we share this meal – this communion meal – in union and unity with our sisters and brothers throughout the global community? On that night in which Jesus shared his last meal with his disciples and instituted this practice of Holy Communion, he prayed for us. He prayed for us and everyone in the global community: the Smithville congregation, the people of El Salvador and all throughout the world who would come to believe in him. He prayed that we would be one. And our sharing in the bread and the cup today is a remembrance of that oneness; our unity with him, and our unity with the Body of Christ throughout the world.
Until next time, peace …