PRAYERS AND PRAISE: WORLD COMMUNION SUNDAY
A Sermon by Pastor Chico Martin
October 2, 2016
Lections: Lamentations 3:19-26; Mal 1:6-11; Luke 17: 5-10
On the first day of the week, when we assemble in the morning, we do so for many reasons. Some will like coming to church, and look forward to this; they enjoy the music, the sermons, and sometimes find voice of their truest thoughts and feelings in the prayers and praise of worship. Others may think they ought to come to church, but often find ways to avoid this, because they would rather be somewhere else. Most importantly, as I hope many of us recognize, we assemble because “it fulfills the desires of the Lord,” and consequently, we are blessed. And we are most blessed by the feast of the Lord’s table, which we call Holy Communion, when, as God spoke through Malachi, “in every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations” (Malachi 1:11).
Today is World Communion Sunday, so it is fitting that we note first what our Lord says in the final book of the Old Testament: all of the nations of the world will come to his table. It may not be evident to us how or when this will happen, yet we believe that it will or is or even has already happened. So we are to share with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, with whom we are joined in the one church, our gifts, our talents and the money offerings we bring to the table, along with its bread and wine. By this giving, we recall the special collections Paul took across Asia Minor for the first Christian community in Jerusalem, and we renew our ecumenical commitment, celebrating the prominent place of ecumenism in today’s denominational dialogue.
As is true wherever we celebrate Communion, the presence of Christ brings grace through faith to the Church and to humankind: “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Holy Communion is “an offering of infinite value, which perpetuates the work of the redemption in us and surpasses the sacrifices of the old law.”[i] The incense and pure offerings Malachi mentions have two meanings: first, they are “the acceptable offerings presented by foreigners in Isaiah, and second they represent all humankind’s prayer and praise.[ii] So as Malachi brings to a close the books of the Old Law for the Old Person, he simultaneously points us toward the Good News which Jesus brings for the New Person.
Today, as on all Sundays, we remember the resurrection of Jesus, our teacher and the head of the church. His resurrection is an event touching deeply upon us, for every time two or three of us are gathered together, we do so as members of the mystical body of the One who was put to death on Good Friday, descended into hell on Holy Saturday, and resurrected on Easter Sunday. Indeed, Sunday is a glorious day for us, as we approach the 2,000 years memorial of the morning when the entire church – each of its individual members – was born again.
Briefly, let us consider how the language and imagery of the Baptism – the ceremony of being born again – is also found in Holy Communion. In Baptism, we identify with Christ’s death and resurrection; as Paul writes to the Romans, “all of us who are baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death; We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:3-4).
Justin Martyr in the 2nd century called attention to the relationship of baptism and resurrection language, counting Sunday as “the eighth day.” The two old testament events most closely associated with baptism are the Genesis account of Noah’s Ark and the Exodus account of the Moses leading his people through the Red Sea. Peter refers to the story of Noah and the Ark, where the ark is safely delivered “through the water” (I Peter 3: 21), and Paul to “the baptism of Moses” (1 Cor 10:1-2 ). For Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives, “passage through water” saves them from the flood; likewise, for the Israelites, “passage through water” saves them, this time from the Egyptians. For the Christian, “passage through water” saves us from the just penalty of sin, which is death, because in baptism we are grafted into the body of the Risen Christ.
Remarkably, these four distinctive events point back and forth among themselves: the Ark in the Flood, the People of Moses in the Red Sea, the Death of Jesus On the Cross, and the individual baptisms into the Church of every Christian. This is why the Great Thanksgiving includes these words: “Holy are you, and blessed is your Son Jesus Christ. By the baptism of his suffering, death, and resurrection you grace birth to your church, delivered us from slavery to sin and death, and made with us a new covenant by water and the Spirit.”
The eight people preserved through water in the ark ‘were a symbol of the eighth day wherein Christ appeared when he rose from the dead…for Christ, being the first-born of every creature, became chief of another race regenerated by Himself through water and faith.” The eighth day goes outside of time, or “beyond the present week into the future age,” which is where we are when we taste “the life of the new creation in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.”[iii]
New creation is the theme running through both sacraments. The grace that is channeled through water in baptism is also channeled through bread and wine in Communion. Grace is everywhere the same: God’s presence, or gift-giving. To be saved, we have to do only two things, which turn out to be one and the same. We have to have faith in the promises of baptism and do all that we are commanded to do. As we hear in the Gospel reading today from Luke, a little faith goes a long way. That is the first part of the message, what is possible for those who “Standing On the Promises” have a portion of faith “like a grain of mustard seed.” And the second part of the message is this: the greatest of all possibilities is to live now as a servant of God, so that one may rejoice later at the banquet feast in the Kingdom of God.
This is the story the Church tells about being lost and found. It the story we discover in the sacraments of Holy Communion and Baptism, as we celebrate with our brothers and sisters around the world the gift of the one holy and apostolic church. Let us pray that we may all be found worthy of the grace we embody. Amen.
[i] Josemaria Escriva, Christ Is Passing By, 86
[ii] NIV Study Bible
[iii] Justin Martyr, Dialogues with Trypho; see Geoffrey Wainwright Eucharist and Eschatology