October 2, 2022 World Communion – Family of Faith by Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, our God.

What a wonderful gathering of community we had last Sunday! In addition to over twenty elders and members of Fisher River, we had visitors from the Roman Catholic Church, from St. Andrew’s, John Black, St. Mary’s Road, Charleswood and Carmen United Churches—and probably many more that didn’t self-identify of the 170 who attended the service. We had at least one Jewish leader who joined us in the afternoon. It was a true celebration of the wider family of faith.

This was Westworth at its best—offering fine hospitality and compassion. Stan McKay wrote:

On our ride home we had much to talk about:
all the people we met
observations of so many exchanges between our community and yours
a wonderful reception at Viscount Gort – respect for elders
a strong sense of being welcomed
marvellous attention to details
the awesome sound and sight of the drum in the sanctuary.

What was most promising of that weekend was preliminary discussion of when we could meet again with those from Fisher River. They would like to offer hospitality for us to visit them, and I think they’d be glad to come down again at some point. We have begun to form lasting relationships with an Indigenous community—something we’ve been working towards for many years. I think we’ve finally crossed that threshold. As well, we have built stronger bridges with neighbourhood schools who came to see the Brandon Residential School display. Final count of viewers—both students the public—was 700. And—we raised $500 for the Healing Fund through the Sunday offering.

A side-benefit has been the gathering of our own community over a project that required many hands. It has brought us together again, helping us get our feet back under us as we make our way out of the COVID fog. Relationships have been central to the rebuilding of our own community.

We’re also continuing to deepen relationships with other faith communities. As I was writing this sermon last Monday, I received an email from Archbishop LeGatt of the St. Boniface Archdiocese, who attended Saturday night. He expressed his gratitude for Elder Gloria Cook’s presentation and then wrote, “I wish we could meet again and have a conversation about how to move forward [with] the different churches together.”

The World Council of Churches’ Lund Principle states that “churches should act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately.” I’ve seen amazing things happen time and time again when we’re able to prioritize relationships and passions for ministries we share in common across diverse communites.

On this World Communion Sunday, we honour relationships amongst families of faith across the globe coming together as one body of Christ. It is quite amazing if you think about it—churches around the world are all celebrating communion as one body on this first Sunday of October.

When I was in Armenia with the World Council of Churches, the Armenian Orthodox Patriarch invited us to receive the mass, on the condition that we kneel in prayer before worship. This was an extraordinary invitation to us, who were Protestants and Roman Catholics as well as Orthodox. The Armenian Orthodox celebrate mass by giving a tiny crumb of bread to each person on a tiny spoon with a long handle. We lined up with the rest of the people, to be fed by the celebrants.

It reminded me of another story I encountered at a different World Council of Churches meeting in Crete. I’ve told you this story a few years ago, but it bears repeating. There, I saw a picture portraying the allegory of the long spoons. It is attributed to Rabbi Haim of Romshishok and variations of it are also found in Hindu, Buddhist, and Middle-Eastern Christian traditions. In the depiction of hell, there is a large pot of steaming stew in the middle of the table. Each person has a spoon, but the handles of the spoons are too long for them to be able to reach their mouths. The stew is too hot to eat without spoons. And so, the people starve while smelling the delicious aroma of the stew. In the depiction of heaven, the setting is the same, but the people think not only of themselves. Very soon, they realize that they will all be well-sated if they feed one another. Living in hell means isolation and abandonment. Living in heaven means giving relationships.

What makes the sacrament of Holy Communion sacred is in the sharing of the meal with one another. It is not only the words spoken that make it sacred, it is not the juice or the bread in themselves—it is a community that comes together, in memory of Jesus, to bless and share the bread of life and cup of communion. At the very heart of the Sacrament of Holy Communion is relationship. The word communion comes from the Latin communio which means sharing in common. The sacredness of Holy Communion happens when we commune with God as we commune with one another, sharing in the memory of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

And—we don’t just share with one another here in this sanctuary. As we share communion, we are sharing with those online, with our ancestors in the faith and with our siblings across the world. In the second letter to Timothy, the author expresses gratitude for Timothy’s mother and grandmother who taught Timothy the Christian faith—not just head knowledge, but how to live it and pass on the healing love of Christ to others. The author tells Timothy to recognize the gifts that God has given and use them boldly and lovingly.

Later in this service, when we receive communion, let’s remember our own ancestors of our personal families and of our church families. Remember those who fanned into flame your own gifts and talents and encouraged you to use them for the benefit of others. And let’s remember the wider family of faith that keeps us going when we need a bit of a boost. The spirits of our ancestors and the Spirit of God surround us with comfort and courage to cheer us on.

Last Sunday, I mentioned that Elder Daryl McKay from Fisher River had told me just before the service that he had had a dream the night before about our meditative walk to the site of the Assiniboia Residential School. In this dream, he was assured that there would not only be 50 of us walking, but also tens of thousands of those who had passed on. As Daryl told me this, he had goose bumps just imagining it. As it turned out, there did end up being about 50 of us that afternoon as we arrived at the site and then danced to Singer Ray Coco Stephenson’s drum in a circle on the field. But I’m pretty sure there were many more than 50 dancing with us that afternoon, reminding us that we never walk alone. Amen.