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Lift Up Your Hearts...and Voices: Involving the congregation in the Communion liturgy through song

On occasion I have attended churches where much of the liturgy was sung, allowing the congregation to become more active participants in their worship. I thought that we had been missing out on a rich worship experience by not having this kind of service at Plymouth Heights. After discussions with our preaching pastor and liturgy committee, I was encouraged to develop such a service.

The following liturgy is adapted from one we used first on World Communion Sunday 1997; only the Lord's Supper part of the service is included here. We intend to use this liturgy about four of the eight times that we celebrate communion during the year. In order to be able to reuse these service folders, we printed text and music (melody only) on card stock (8" x 14" folded).

The liturgy is taken from the 1994 revision of the Service of Word and Sacrament in the 1987 Psalter Hymnal (p. 972); the revision is available in Agenda for Synod 1994, page 178 and in Forms and Confessions on Disk, available from CRC Publications. All the songs are from the Psalter Hymnal or Songs for LiFE. To introduce the congregation to the concept, I sang some of the songs in the previous two communion services. On the Sunday evening before we used the new liturgy the service folders were in the pews, and we sang through all the songs (choir first and then congregation) as part of the Preparatory Exhortation for the Lord's Supper. (We explained that the introduction for each song would be simply one note from the organ.) This gave the congregation a bit of the flavor of the communion service that next week.

On the whole, this approach was positively received by the congregation. Comments included "refreshing," "It made the service come more alive," and "It was more celebrative."

THE SERVICE
The Preface

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the gospel tells us that on the first day of the week, the day on which our Lord rose form the dead, he appeared to some of his disciples and was made known to them in the breaking of the bread. Come, then, to the joyful feast of our Lord.

The Thanksgiving

[All sing:]

Let us give thanks to the Lord.
It is right for us to give thanks and praise.
With joy we praise you, gracious God,
for you have created heaven and earth,
made us in you image, and kept covenant with us—
even when we fell into sin.

[Insert here the section of the prayer appropriate to specific seasons of the church year; see box below] herefore we join our voices with all the saints and angels and the whole creation to proclaim the glory of your name.

[All sing:]

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty
all the earth shall praise your name
in earth and sky and sea.
Holy, holy, holy!
Merciful and mighty
God in three persons,
blessed Trinity.

The Institution

We give thanks to God the Father that our Savior, Jesus Christ, before he suffered, gave us this memorial of his sacrifice, until he comes again. At the last supper, the Lord Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it [here the minister breaks the bread] and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, he took the cup, after supper, [here the minister pours the wine] and said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this in remembrance of me." For whenever we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:23-26). Therefore we proclaim our faith as signed and sealed in this sacrament:

Memorial Acclamation

Each phrase is sung first by the leader, then repeated by all.

Prayer of Consecration

Lord, our God, send your Holy Spirit so that this bread and cup may be for us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we and all your saints be united with Christ and remain faithful in hope and love. Gather your whole church, O Lord, into the glory of your kingdom. We pray in the name of Jesus, who taught us to pray,

Our Father in heaven,... Amen.

[The Lord's Prayer can be spoken or sung; see PsH 207, 208; PH 571, 589, 590; TH 725; TWC 632]

The Invitation

Congregation of Jesus Christ, the Lord has prepared his table for all who love him and trust in him alone for their salvation. All who are truly sorry for their sins, who sincerely believe in the Lord Jesus as their Savior, and who desire to live in obedience to him, are now invited to come with gladness to the table of the Lord.

[Indicating the elements, the minister proclaims:]

The gifts of God for the people of God.

The Communion

The bread which we break...

[During the distribution, communion hymns are sung, including "O Christ, the Lamb of God" (PsH 257); other forms of the Agnus Dei are found in many hymnals, including TWC 833]

The Thanksgiving

Congregation in Christ, since the Lord has fed us at his table, let us praise his holy name with thanksgiving.

Hymn ofThanksgiving: "Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven" PsH 475, PH 478, RL 144, TH 76,77, TWC 25

The Dismissal

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ, our Lord; and the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always.

Amen.

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
Parting Song: "The Song of Simeon" PsH 216

Postlude

Excerpt
PORTION OF THE THANKSGIVING PRAYER
APPROPRIATE TO SPECIFIC SEASONS OF THE CHURCH YEAR

for regular Sunday use

We give you thanks for Jesus Christ, our Lord,
who by his life, death, and resurrection
opened to us the way of everlasting life.
Therefore

for Advent

We give you thanks for Jesus Christ, our Lord,
whose coming opened to us the way of salvation
and whose triumphant return we eagerly await.
Therefore;

for Christmas

We give you thanks for Jesus Christ, our Lord,
who came among us as the Word made flesh
to show us your glory, full of grace and truth.
Therefore

for (or after) Epiphany for Pentecost

We give you thanks for Jesus Christ, our Lord,
who came as the light of the world
to show us your way of truth in parables and miracles.
Therete;

for Lent

We give you thanks for Jesus Christ, our Lord,
by whose grace we may triumph over temptation,
be more fervent in prayer,
and more generous in love.
Therefore

for Holy Week

We give you thanks for Jesus Christ, our Lord,
who became the true Paschal Lamb
that was sacrificed for our salvation.
Therefore

for Easter

We give you thanks for Jesus Christ, our Lord,
who by his glorious resurrection
overcame the power of sin and gave us new life.
Therefore

for Ascension

We give you thanks for Jesus Christ, our Lord,
who was exalted as King of the universe,
that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.
Therefore

for Pentecost

We give you thanks for Jesus Christ, our Lord,
and for the pouring forth of your Holy Spirit
who equips us for service and leads us into your truth.
Therefore

 

FROM A FORTY-SEVEN-YEAR-OLD PASTOR

Sometimes my experiences with the Lord's Supper seem so ordinary and mean so little. But other times the experiences have been profound—I can remember distinctly some of the places where I was standing and the people I was with. The Lord's Supper connects you with other Christians in very special ways.

For instance, I was part of a group of pastors and other church leaders who went to the Crystal Cathedral for a conference. All kinds of people from all over attended, including a rather large contingent of Korean Christians. At the end of the conference, we participated in a service of communion. It was very moving for me to be part of a community of believers from all over the world.

I took part of my education at an old, ivy-covered Anglican college at a secular university. At the chapel services there, we would have communion. The setting made me very aware of the long string of history connecting me to other Christians. It was almost as though Oliver Cromwell were kneeling beside me. Those experiences of the Lord's Supper are really a means of grace, reminding me of the greatness and vastness of God's kingdom.

 

FROM A THIRTY-NINE-YEAR-OLD SURVIVOR OF CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE

I committed my life to the Lord when I was in my early twenties, but I haven't lived a very good Christian life. I've only ever partaken of communion once. I often wonder if I'm good enough to participate and if it's really meant for me.