Why World Communion Sunday Is a Bad Idea

The origins of this Protestant observance reveal the best of intentions. But for at least three reasons, continuing to set aside the first Sunday in October to highlight the Church’s signature rite is not a good idea.

One: Observing something called “World Communion Sunday” one day of the year communicates the idea that the Eucharist is special. But if Holy Communion really is the Church’s signature rite, if it is indeed that which makes the Church what it is, then “special” is exactly what it is not. We don’t think of the air we breathe as “special,” the breakfast we eat as “special.” These things are gifts, of course–breath and food–but it is in their givenness, their ordinariness that they are the means for life and health.

In Clyde, Missouri, the Benedictine Sisters
of Perpetual Adoration cut unleavened bread
into communion wafers and gather them
in plastic bags folded, stapled, and later packed
in boxes.

Two: Observing something called “World Communion Sunday” one day of the year suggests that the Eucharist is our achievement. To the contrary: Ordinary food–grain and grape–become the extraordinary gifts of God–body and blood–through a power not our own. Our only task is to receive these gifts: to take, bless, break, and share them. And when we do this, we learn what it means to be a people for whom the whole of our life together is “one colossal unearned gift.”

At the Exxon next door, Walter Miller
lifts his pickup’s hood, then turns to stare
at the acreage he used to own across the road.
Was
his wheat, he wonders, even the smallest grain
in its long ascent to final form, ever changed into
the body of our Lord?

Three: Observing something called “World Communion Sunday” one day of the year ignores, quite unintentionally, the world–the world, quite specifically, of injustice and oppression, of domination and exploitation. In Pope John Paul II‘s memorable phrase, the Eucharist is always celebrated “on the altar of the world.” Jesus’ suffering body links us to a suffering world. All of creation is caught up in the moment of εὐχαριστία, and with thanksgiving, our task, then, our joy, is to love this world, not any other world. And to love the suffering world is to be one with it in the charity of Christ.

Doris Miller spreads ketchup on her Big Mac
and salts her fries, time and wages swallowed
like a sacrament, eternity the dregs
that throng and cluster in the shallows
of her complimentary Styrofoam cup.

* * * * *

Wheat

by B.H. Fairchild

For in the night in which he was betrayed,
he took bread.

In Clyde, Missouri, the Benedictine Sisters
of Perpetual Adoration cut unleavened bread
into communion wafers and gather them

in plastic bags folded, stapled, and later packed
in boxes. After Compline the sisters rise again
from prayers, lie down upon their narrow beds,

and wait for sleep’s wide wings to fold around them.
Their hands still give the light sweet smell of bread,
and loaves like little clouds drift through their dreams,

wafers raining down to make a blizzard
of the Word made flesh, Corpus Christi,
of God’s own Son. On evening break at Wal-Mart

Doris Miller spreads ketchup on her Big Mac
and salts her fries, time and wages swallowed
like a sacrament, eternity the dregs

that throng and cluster in the shallows
of her complimentary Styrofoam cup.
At the Exxon next door, Walter Miller

lifts his pickup’s hood, then turns to stare
at the acreage he used to own across the road.
Was his wheat, he wonders, even the smallest grain

in its long ascent to final form, ever changed into
the body of our Lord? The Benedictine Sisters
of Perpetual Adoration wake to Matins, prayers

that rise like crane migrations over feedlots,
packing houses, hog farms, the abandoned small
stores of Leeton, the Dixon Community Center,

the Good Samaritan Thrift Shop in Tarkio.
A gravel road veers toward the Open Door Cafe,
windows boarded up and painted powder blue

and lemon Day-Glow, perpetual sunrise on
a town silent as the absent cry of starlings
or idle irrigation pumps rusting in the dust

of August, where the plundered, corporate earth
yields the bread placed in outstretched palms,
take and eat, of the citizens of Clyde, Missouri.

26 Responses to “Why World Communion Sunday Is a Bad Idea”

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  1. Tim says:

    So, what would you have us do instead?

  2. Debra Dean Murphy says:

    Tim: I’m mindful that I don’t really address the pastoral challenges of helping a congregation move away from celebrating WCS. But one idea: use this year’s observance to raise, homiletically, the kind of questions I raise here . . . to begin the process, the slow journey, of moving toward a sacramental theology that sees every Lord’s Day as World Communion Sunday.

  3. Alison says:

    I am going to be using World Communion Sunday resources for an evening communion service. This will be the first time, as far as I know, that we will have done this, and I see it as one way of reminding that we sit at the Lord’s Table with others around the world. Not just on one Sunday a year, but every time we share the bread and the wine. It’s a symbolic action, surely, one of many.

  4. Mark says:

    We share the Eucharist every Sunday…so the concept of “World Communion” seems rather moot. I can remember as a child, however, this was a very big day in our Lutheran congregation, as we shared communion only once a month or less. It just seems that both Word and Sacrament ought to be the weekly pattern for our lives…I kiss my wife and daughter every day, and tell them I love them. Perhaps I ought to back that off to once a month?

  5. Tim says:

    Mark, your comments make me think – even more – that World Communion Sunday is still needed. While we may have very different traditions and opinions when it comes to things related to communion, this Sunday is one where we, as a worldwide body of Christ, can attempt to put aside differences and come together and celebrate the Eucharist. You may celebrate communion every Sunday and it may not be a big deal to you or your congregation, but this will be a grand celebration in my community where we serve communion only occasionally.

    • Mark says:

      Tim, the Eucharist IS a big deal to both myself and my congregation. It is the place from which we get our life. Please, don’t ever let me give you the impression that the Eucharist is not a big deal. It is, as another person said in a reply, like breathing or air for me.

  6. Alison says:

    My congregation celebrates Communion on 3 Sundays a year!

  7. Jacqueln Foster says:

    I appreciate Debra Dean Murphy’s article because it has helped me think about WCS. It is interesting that each of the 3 reasons she gives for not celebrating World Communion Sunday, seems to be a reason TO celebrate it! 1) As Disciples of Christ, we do break bread around the Table of Christ every Sunday; precisely because it is as vital to our life as air and food. Therefore it is vital that remember that our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are fed by the bread of life as we are. 2) It is precisely because it is an amazing grace – a gift of God and not our own doing – that it is important to give thanks as we remember that we are all gifted and welcomed at Christ’s table. 3) At the Table of Jesus the Christ, we are brought together in the suffering of the world – including the world that is not Christian, our brothers and sisters of other faiths and no faith – because if the Table forms us as Christians then it makes of us a people who go into the world to set the table for everyone.

    • Bob Barrett says:

      Yes, I had the same thoughts. We celebrate it because we lament at our division, and long for a day when every day is World Communion Sunday.

  8. Wayne Rollins says:

    A parishioner of a congregation that celebrated Eucharist every Sunday and Wednesday once remarked that it seemed to take away the “specialness” of communion. I answered that although not every meal was a feast or a special celebration, I still ate every day, even several times a day, and found nourishment in each meal.

  9. judith A Gage says:

    I think the idea that we sit down to the table together around the world is powerful – We get reminded that God is bigger than our church – our community – that the gift that is undeserved and that thy Kingdom Come includes God’s people everywhere .

  10. Rev. Gregory Rowe says:

    I think Debra Dean Murphy misses the whole point of World Communion Sunday. Many churches often do NOT celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday. This is a special moment that we all choose to share in and participate in prayer and sacramental unity that Jesus Christ always seeks as a bride of Christ. I believe denominations really serve a purpose in God’s plan for salvation, and need to be more ecumenical in its supporting each other.

    • Paula Wells says:

      With all due respect, that IS the author’s point — that churches should more abundantly embrace weekly communion so that there doesn’t need to BE a World Communion Sunday. If we were celebrating Eucharist frequently, we would be in communion with one another more frequently — and we would be in less need of ecumenical support.

      • CH hall says:

        Paula Wells, you obviously didn’t read Rev Rowe’s email. We only take communion 4 times a year in our church. World Communion is one of those Sundays. World Communion Sunday is a chance for our members to reflect that we are not the only children of The Most High. In a very symbolic way, we join hands with other Christians around the world to focus not on our particular denomination but to focus on the one who has saved us – Christ! We look forward to World Communion Sunday every year!

  11. Rev. Paula Werner says:

    Bah humbug. PLEEEEASE in this era of grave circumstances and awful difficulties, focus on something of more importance than demeaning this celebration.

    • Paula Wells says:

      She is not demeaning World Communion Sunday. She is lifting up the practice of more frequent communion.

  12. Rev. Ward Rudolph PCUSA says:

    We celebrate Holy Communion regularly within the church I serve. The original intention for World Communion Sunday, and it sounds as if the writer did little to no historical research, was and is for all Christians the world over to celebrate Holy Communion in one twenty-four hour period, hence World Communion. The lack of ecumenism shown by the writer is disturbing to me.

  13. Debra Dean’s article is another prime example as to why many church memberships are tanking. Clergy and denominations (including those who resist being ‘branded’, by deceivingly labeling themselves ‘non-denominational’), continue to insist that the church must be ‘franchised’ and reserving all of our ‘sacraments’ (special moments of closeness with God), to be performed by only the clergy. I commend the idea of ‘Unifying the Church’ as the goal of World Communion Sunday. It is celebrating what we have in common rather than nit-picking at those minor things we do not have in common. Church needs to go to the people, not the people to go to the Church. We need to make it accessible to those who seek its forgiveness and celebrate salvation rather than doctrines of man being disguised as ‘Biblical’.

  14. Rev. Robert Nystrom says:

    Couldn’t similar (weak) arguments be made against “Peace With Justice Sunday”, “Human Relations Sunday”, “Reformation Sunday”, “Christ the King Sunday”, “Laity Sunday”, “Pentecost”, and others? It is the “world” wide focus that reminds us that God’s church is intended to be universal (catholic) and not divided. Most churches (and Christians) have the problem of not thinking beyond the walls of their church buildings. World Communion Sunday affirms the larger family of God; we need that reminder.

  15. Joanna Tipple says:

    We are born, we live, we die. And we celebrate or at least observe many different aspects of that reality. I live and breathe every day but at least once a year, the fact that I am part of the world is celebrated at least one way or another. I understand the concept behind the position that we should not observe World Wide Communion Sunday but believe that while it is or should be a common occurence, it is still something to be ritually acknowledged…perhaps redudant but so what? Celebrating a celebration, how wrong or misguided can that be?

  16. whalespoon says:

    I appreciate what you have to say–I just do not agree with it. In the first reason, you mention that the breakfast that we eat is not “special.” Some ARE special–at least at my house. When I am able to make a wonderful breakfast for my two boys and we can all gather around the table on a Saturday morning–a rarity these days–to enjoy a leisurely meal together, it is not just another breakfast. In the same way, the meaning and symbolism of the Eucharist is multi-faceted and there are myriads of ways to think and contemplate its meaning when it is observed. “World Communion Sunday” is but one way to explore one of those facets.

  17. Nancy DeStefano says:

    World Communion reminds us that our little table is only a small part of the great table of the Lord – it reminds us that everywhere everyday the Eucharist is being lifted up – it takes us beyond ourselves. It also reminds us that we are not united around this table as some Christians restrict the table and others are open – it reminds us of the disunity of the Body of Christ and that there is work to be done.

  18. Terry Foland says:

    It seems to me you miss the main reason for Worldwide Communion Sunday. The emphasis is that as Christians we have this sacred meal in common and that we are recognizing the connections we have with each other around the world. The emphasis is not so much on the act of communion which we do in various ways and on different schedules, but on the community of faith around the world with which we share this meal “in common”.

  19. Larry Hill says:

    I disagree in love with the writer. WCS is important because it is a reminder that just as the Creator is one, so is the creation one. It is also an invitation to those outside of the Table to come and sit at Table with those who may be totally different from them. It is also instruction for those of us who sit at Table however often, to leave the formal Table and take the meaning of Table into a broken and battered world with a desire to bring all of creation together in unity. What a day that will be.

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