There’s something a bit odd about World Communion Sunday. Two things, really.
Born out of the ecumenical impulse of 1930s liberal Protestantism — when fascism was real and Americans were really anxious — the day was meant to rally hope in the midst of uncertainty and to signal ecclesial unity in the midst of nationalistic divisions. Like many efforts of this era, World Communion Sunday was rooted in a theology of progress — the idea that, with enough resolve and determination, the Church could, at least for a Sunday in early October, make visible its unity in the face of global strife. As the world has only increased in danger and uncertainty, World Communion Sunday is more popular than ever.
The problem, though, is that unity is not so much a product of (or reward for) our earnest intentions in difficult times as it is a gift. Sometimes we receive it badly or not at all but it is nonetheless not our own creation. And if unity is the gift Christ offers his transglobal body then, of course, every Lord’s Day is World Communion Sunday. There is no time when we gather that we are not constituted as the body of Christ — empowered for work and witness in the world. As the liturgy puts it:
By your Spirit make us one with Christ,
one with each other,
and one in ministry to all the world,
until Christ comes in final victory
and we feast at his heavenly banquet.
Because most Protestants don’t celebrate the Eucharist weekly, we suffer from the false view that it’s “special,” and so when we do observe it (monthly, quarterly, the first Sunday in October), we tend to do it up big. Because the Eucharist is the centerpiece of the Mass, Catholics are better positioned to understand its indispensible ordinariness and thus to wonder, as I suspect many do, what is up with Protestants and World Communion Sunday?
While we’ve come a long way in recent decades in connecting the Eucharist to hunger and justice, we have a long way to go in linking it to bodily health. If salvation (sozo in Greek) has to do fundamentally with health and well-being, then the Eucharist and living eucharistically constitute an alternative to our fast-food culture of slow death. Obesity and malnutrition (often existing in the same family, even in the same person) are not mere “indicators” of poor health, they are a call for the Church to preach the salvation of the whole person, to be a community of support for those who struggle to eat well, and to practice in its life together the joy of growing, harvesting, preparing, and sharing good food from the good earth.
The “daily bread” we pray for ought to sustain us in healthful living — not clog our arteries, lead to diabetes, increase our chances for coronary disease, and put us at risk for an early death.
This Sunday is World Communion Sunday. We will consume the body and blood of Christ in an ordinary meal shared around a common table. Maybe it’s a good time to begin to reflect seriously (and together) on the eating we do the other 364 days of the year.