Communion, Community, and Solidarity with our Persecuted Brothers and Sisters

Communion_One Cup

This is the message I shared during Communion at my church last Sunday, the 10th of August.

Back in the first century, most church meetings centred on sharing the Lord’s Supper.  It was a way for the early Christians to nurture their devotion to Jesus and to express their solidarity as a group of Jesus-followers in an often hostile world.  Today, many churches still place a great deal of importance on the Lord’s Table.

Some people feel a strong connection with Jesus when they celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  But this meal isn’t just about personally connecting, or having communion, with Jesus.  It’s about sharing a meal together with a community of believers – even if it’s just a symbolic meal.

When we share this meal we effectively make the statement that we all are members of one body partaking of “one cup” and “one loaf” – so to speak.

In the King James Version (KJV) of 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 Paul said:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion (koinonia) of the blood of Christ?
The bread which we break, is it not the communion (koinonia) of the body of Christ?
For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.

When I read these verses in the KJV it sounds to me as though we mainly have communion with Jesus Christ when we have the Lord’s Supper.   But the Greek word koinonia typically means “sharing”, so other English translations use words such as “a sharing” or “fellowship” in this passage.

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) has:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a sharing (koinonia) in the blood of Christ?
The bread which we break, is it not a sharing (koinonia) in the body of Christ?
For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.

The meaning in the NASB sounds a little different to me.  It seems to be saying that Communion isn’t just sharing with Jesus, it’s sharing with others at the table too.

The Lord’s Supper is a community experience.  We – and there are several we’s in this 1 Corinthians passage – we share the symbols of the redemptive blood and body of Jesus with each other.  But even more than that, we share it with all Christians.  All over the world today Christians will be sharing the blood and body of Jesus Christ in communion services, and effectively declaring that we all are one body, partaking of one bread.

This is something special we do as a community right here in this room.  But when we have communion we can also be mindful that we are part of something much bigger: the true church of God made up of true believers in almost every nation on the globe.

At the Lord’s Table we are all equal and we are all one.  Everyone who is a redeemed follower of Jesus is welcome.  Ethnicity, skin colour, gender, age, economic status, level of education, or any other social identifier that has been used to divide or classify humanity has no significance at this table because we all share equally in the blood and body of Christ,  and we ourselves are one loaf, one body.

In the last few months I have been made more aware of the sufferings of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.  Right now there are Christian men and women locked away in gloomy prisons and labour camps.  There are families who have lost their homes and livelihoods.  There are Christians who are being tortured and are facing execution because of their faith, and many, many thousands have already been killed.  Today, for the first time since the 300s there are no Christians living in the Iraqi city of Mosul, because they have been driven out or killed by a brutal Islamic group called ISIS, or IS.  Today, more than ever, Christians are the most persecuted group on the planet.

“According to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular group with members in 38 states worldwide, 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians.

The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity in the United States estimates that 100,000 Christians now die every year, targeted because of their faith – that is 11 every hour. The Pew Research Center says that hostility to religion reached a new high in 2012, when Christians faced some form of discrimination in 139 countries, almost three-quarters of the world’s nations. . .  the plain fact is that Christians are languishing in jail for blasphemy in Pakistan, and churches are burned and worshippers regularly slaughtered in Nigeria and Egypt, which has recently seen its worst anti-Christian violence in seven centuries. . . .

Persecution is increasing in China; and in North Korea a quarter of the country’s Christians live in forced labour camps after refusing to join the national cult of the state’s founder, Kim Il-Sung.  Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Maldives all feature in the 10 worst places to be a Christian. ”
By Paul Vallely, visiting professor of public ethics at Chester University, writing for The Independent,  27th of July, 2014. (Source)

This morning as we share the Lord’s Supper, let’s be mindful of our brothers and sisters in this room, as well as our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world who are suffering from persecution.  We are all one loaf, and one body.

Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.  Hebrews 13:3 NRSV

Final prayer:

Lord Jesus, you know what it is like to suffer.  We thank you for the gift of salvation that you purchased for us with your suffering and death on the cross.  We thank you for this table where we can remember your sacrifice, share this meal as a family, and express our solidarity with one another.

Lord, we pray for our brothers and sisters displaced from their homes in Iraq and for those suffering in Syria, Pakistan, Nigeria, Egypt, Somalia, North Korea, and in many other countries were the threat and reality of danger is very real.  Lord we pray for your empowering grace to be with them.  We ask that you intervene on their behalf.  We pray that you comfort those who are grieving the deaths of family and friends in such cruel and evil circumstances.  We ask that you console, strengthen and encourage our brothers and sisters, and that they may stand strong and faithful to you.  We ask that we may stay strong and faithful also: to you, to our brothers and sisters that we know, and to our world-wide family, because we are all sharers of this one table, and we all drink from the same cup and eat from the same loaf.  Amen.

Image credit: Lightstock ID 345


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