Perhaps no other passage of Scripture sums up so well the intent of World Communion Sunday as the one we’ve just heard. Yes, there are differences–big differences–among followers of Jesus. Sometimes, from our perspective, people who call themselves Christian don’t seem Christian at all. Others might say the same of us.
But for all our differences, we share this ritual in common–the ritual of the table. Jesus revolutionized the table during his ministry. Don’t presume to sit in places of honor, he said. If anybody of stature snubs your invitation to the table, go out and to the highways and byways and ask anyone you see to come to the table. And don’t check anyone’s ID before you seat them. In God’s kindom, the table is for every person. In Christ, we are one.
Celebrating World Wide Communion Sunday each year, we remind ourselves that there are many ways to follow Jesus…and that our own faith journey deepens every time we experience or learn about one of those ways.
One fun way to celebrate World Communion is to offer a variety of breads from many cultures. Over the years, I remember 20, sometimes 30 different breads brought in by congregants–Irish soda bread, some kind of Hungarian bread, pita, cornbread. Some people thought all year about which bread they were going to bring the next World Communion Sunday. I suspect in future World Communion services, we’ll do the same.
This year, we’re going to use Challah, the Jewish braided bread we’ve been using the past couple of months. Challah is the traditional bread eaten for the Sabbath meal each week. I like to use Challah for communion for two reasons–first, it connects us with the Judeo part of our Judeo-Christian tradition. Second, as we come to the table, its braids remind us that we are all interconnected; as members of the body of Christ, our lives are intertwined.
The story I’m about to tell isn’t about Christian unity, but it does illustrate the power of the table…and how what happens at a shared table can change the world.
Derek Black was raised by his parents in West Palm Beach. Don and Chloe Black are staunch white supremacists and raised their son in its tenets. After third grade, Don and Chloe pulled Derek out of his mostly-Hispanic school and began home-schooling him.
A bright child, Derek learned his parents’ lessons well. Throughout his childhood, Derek and Don traveled all over the South attending gatherings of white supremacists. Don eventually started a website for white supremacists called Stormfront. When he was 13, Derek created a Stormfront website for children.
As a teenager, Derek distinguished himself as an articulate, clear-thinking leader. His father began to wonder if Derek might be the next great hope for the white supremacists. By this time, Don and Derek were doing a daily radio show where the so-called “white genocide” taking place in our country was discussed in depth. Again, Derek’s calm, clear-thinking demeanor established him as a leader for the movement.
After attending a community college, Derek transferred to New College of Florida in Sarasota. Because New College was and is known for being just about as liberal as a college can get, it seemed an odd choice for a white supremacist. But Derek was interested in studying medieval history and New College had a strong history program.
Not wanting to draw attention to himself, Derek kept mostly to himself and didn’t announce his views around campus. Always interested in people, though, Derek did make some friends, including an immigrant from Peru and an Orthodox Jew.
The next summer, while he was vacationing in Europe–which included a visit to his godfather’s cabin, David Duke–a New College student, who had discovered Derek’s posts on Stormfront, outed him as a white supremacist on the school’s online forum. The responses were swift and strong…from, “Maybe he’s trying to get away from a life he didn’t choose,” to “I just want this guy to die a painful death along with his entire family. Is that too much to ask?” When Derek returned to campus the next Fall, he no longer felt safe and moved off campus.
An Orthodox Jew, Derek’s friend Matthew hosted Shabbat dinners every Friday for 8-10 people. The intimate gatherings became a high point of the week for the diverse array of friends.
When his friends learned Derek was a white supremacist, they were surprised. They’d always found Derek to be a thoughtful, interested listener and a good friend. What they were learning didn’t square with who they’d known him to be.
When the truth of Derek’s ideology sank in, most of his friends felt betrayed. How could Derek keep something so significant from them?
Matthew had an idea. Why not invite Derek to Shabbat one Friday evening? The first Friday Derek came to the Shabbat meal, most of the regulars stayed away. Matthew was clear that the purpose of Derek’s coming was simply to share the meal, not to try to change his ideology. Those gathered discussed ideas and classes well into the night.
After that first night, Matthew kept inviting Derek, and Derek kept coming. Eventually, most of the other Shabbat regulars came back, too.
Eventually–it took a couple of years–the extended conversations with his friends and lots of research (Derek is an intellectual) Derek realized that his white supremacist ideology no longer made sense. He studied medieval history, in part, to search for what he thought were the foundations of white supremacy. His research showed him instead that, during the Middle Ages, white Europeans were, in large part, following the lead of Islamic intellectuals. He also learned–contrary to what he’d been taught–that there is no correlation between race and IQ. In fact, he realized that race isn’t genetic at all, but rather is a social construct often used to subjugate marginalized people.
Derek’s story is told in a book titled Rising Out of Hatred. I highly recommend it…especially, if more of the specifics of how his thinking changed are of interest to you.
Today, I share Derek’s story with you to demonstrate the power of the table, of breaking bread together. When we eat together, something happens, doesn’t it? When I sat down at one end of the porch at our last potluck and saw all of us seated, eating, talking with each other, I experienced this moment of light, and I thought, This is the kin-dom of God. When we prepare food, when we eat food together, yes. Beth Horvath had it right–God shows up, love shows up.
Because he had such a wide public forum before his awakening, Derek still struggles with how to make up for the harmful ideas he introduced…which is a reminder that the world doesn’t change by flipping toggle switches–everything’s bad one minute and good the next. No, the world changes one conversation, one letter, one email…one table at a time.
As we celebrate World Wide Communion, as we continue living into the reality that followers of Jesus are one in Christ and that all human beings are one in love, as we remember that we are all connected and that our lives intertwine, I wonder…who else might we invite to our table?
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan ©2022