World Communion Sunday: Why We Do It and How

September 17th, 2012

This coming October 7, congregations around the globe will celebrate World Communion Sunday. Most of us have heard about World Communion Sunday but may not know much about where the celebration originated. According to the website of the National Council of Churches, World Communion Sunday began in 1936 in the Presbyterian Church and was adopted by the Federal Council of Churches (predecessor of the NCC) in 1940. Since then, the celebration has grown into an international ecumenical celebration of Christian unity.

The key word for World Communion Sunday is communion, or unity. It is a day when we mark the almost universal Christian practice of breaking bread with one another and remembering both the night of Jesus’ betrayal—when Jesus instituted what we now call the Lord’s Supper as a lasting remembrance—and of Jesus’ sacrifice. So accounts of the last supper feature prominently, by virtue of World Communion Sunday being a celebration of the Eucharist. But there is a flavor of the Christian celebration of Pentecost as well, when people from around the Mediterranean world came together in mutual understanding and inspiration, by the power of the Holy Spirit. World Communion Sunday is a time for remembering that around the globe—in different languages, with different traditions and customs, and in various forms of liturgy—the Lord’s Supper is celebrated throughout Christendom. At its best, therefore, World Communion Sunday serves two purposes: it is both a joyous and meaningful partaking in Jesus’ sacred meal with his friends and a mind-opening exposure to different Christian traditions from around the world.

Given all of this, here are a few ideas for your own celebration of World Communion Sunday this October:

1. Make World Communion Sunday a truly global celebration.

Many congregations do this by inviting people from their congregations to make bread for communion from their own ethnic heritages. I remember a World Communion Sunday during which Nigerian flat bread, Irish soda bread, Japanese rice patties, and sourdough bread from San Francisco all represented the Body of Christ, broken for us (all alongside French wine and, well, American grape juice). Parts of the liturgy were also spoken in various languages, bringing out both the significance of World Communion Sunday occurring during the season of Pentecost and the nature of the celebration being a worldwide phenomenon. Singing or hearing global music in the liturgy is another wonderful way to open the eyes and hearts of your congregation to the wealth and breadth of the Christian tradition. These suggestions are just three ways in which the celebration of World Communion Sunday can be truly global; the possibilities are nearly endless.

2. Educate your congregation about World Communion Sunday.

World Communion Sunday is one of those moments in the church year—like Ascension Sunday, maybe—that can pass by with little fanfare and without most of the people in your congregation really understanding what and why they celebrate that day. Preparing your congregation for World Communion Sunday can help bring out the emphasis on Christian unity and shared ritual that the day is meant to commemorate. Let them know how World Communion Sunday began and why it is important to continue celebrating the day—a day that has become much more than just a symbol in the worldwide ecumenical Christian community. The more a congregation knows about World Communion Sunday, the more likely it is that it will have its intended effect.

3. Do something liturgically inventive to commemorate World Communion Sunday.

Since part of the point of World Communion Sunday is to recognize the many and various ways Christians around the globe celebrate the same ritual, it is a perfect time to try something that will make World Communion Sunday stand out. Have you always wanted to try a Hearty Eucharist? Or have you wondered what it would be like to incorporate a reading of a gospel account of the last supper into the Eucharist, complete with actors playing the disciples and Jesus? Or have you ever wanted to let the congregation knead the dough and bake the bread they are about to share in communion with one another? World Communion Sunday could be just the appropriate opportunity to try a new liturgical idea for communion, both drawing on and broadening the many traditions of celebration of the Lord’s Supper around the globe.

4. Don’t let World Communion Sunday end on October 8.

As mentioned before, at its best World Communion Sunday will help open a congregation’s eyes to the worldwide nature of Christianity. If done well, it can also teach a congregation about the traditions and needs of a Christian church thousands of miles away. For instance, a church in Chicago might find a sister parish in Kenya, and the two churches might begin by remembering each other in prayer and by baking each other’s traditional breads on World Communion Sunday, but the relationship can go beyond that. World Communion Sunday can be the entry point to an international perspective that connects Christian churches globally in the bonds of love and justice. There is important work to be done in areas such as cultural understanding and mission, and World Communion Sunday can be the spark that creates ongoing global concern in our congregations.

World Communion Sunday is on the Christian calendar for a reason: it can and should be a time of profound Christian unity, marked by our shared celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus instituted the first such meal, and World Communion Sunday is a helpful way in which Christ calls us back together to celebrate the liturgy “in remembrance of me.”

comments powered by Disqus