World Communion Sunday, also celebrating Saint Francis with a Blessing of Animals
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I took my kids to an observatory this summer. A young astronomer was our guide that night. He spoke with great knowledge and enthusiasm about our solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, other galaxies, the whole universe. He described the life stages of stars. He talked about places where stars are born, the breath-takingly beautiful nebulae. In these vast star-nurseries, cosmic forces draw together the basic elements that make up everything. The atoms that form matter are compressed together to release the energy that makes the stars shine, and lights and heats everything around them.
Our sun is made of those elements. So is our planet. Everything in and on and around our planet, including all that lives and moves, and shares in this state of being, everything is made of the same stuff as the stars. We are all made of stardust.
Puppies and guppies, ants and leaves of grass, big blue whales and Honda civics, the silicon and carbon of computers and smart phones. The fine polished wood of this podium, the bread and juice on our communion table. Everything is made of the same stuff. You and me, and the people I met yesterday from Liberia and Sierra Leone. Your neighbours- even the ones you don’t know, and even the ones you don’t like. The universe is a womb from which we are all born. We all come from the same cosmic mother. We are all related.
The first Sunday in October has traditionally been Worldwide Communion Sunday, now called World Communion Sunday. For decades this has been an occasion for Christian communities around the globe to gather, to break the bread and pour the cup, and remember the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. It has been a celebration of unity. We might recognize very little else in a Russian Orthodox liturgy beyond the raising of the bread and the pouring of the wine, but we can at least understand that! That holy sharing crosses boundaries of culture, language, custom, and reminds us that we are connected.
Today we are also remembering Saint Francis of Assisi. In the calendar of the Roman Catholic Church, yesterday, October 4 was his feast day. Francis was the son of a wealthy Italian family who left behind all the trappings of worldly, material success, and lived a life of radical poverty, of dependence on God for all things, and of deep identification with nature, and all living things. His first official biographer, Saint Bonaventure, said “Francis called all creatures, no matter how small by the name of brother and sister; because he knew they had the same source as himself. “
One way Francis is honoured around the world is with services that feature the blessing of animals. This fits with his sense of family connection to all living things. Anyone who has known and cherished a family pet can tell you the way love creates a bond, and joins at least a part of our hearts to a being that is radically different from us. Love helps us see past the differences, and instinctively see the worth, the value, in another created being.
What a good idea that is! Love can help us overcome the things that separate us. Love can help us see that despite our differences, we are actually all made of the same stuff. We are stardust, given breath and life by God. There is great hope in this awareness. Amen