The Lord's Supper
Almost every autumn, pastors in some churches feel a push to preach about giving. This year we wanted to do more than focus attention on the church budget. We wanted to set the tone for a positive and “big picture” conversation about stewardship.
This kid-friendly litany is intended for use at the beginning of a new church school year. The two sections may stand alone or be used together as a prayer of illumination for learners and a commissioning for teachers and other leaders. The language is broad enough to include Sunday school, midweek programs, and small group ministries for children through adults.
An acquaintance who has two sons in the Marines marveled at their loyalty and commitment to the unit and the Corps. One of his boys recalls the whole barrack yelling in one voice at bedtime, “I want to be a Marine like Chesty Puller.” General Puller, a veteran of WW II and Korea, is one of the Marines’ greatest heroes.
If you build it, they will come.” This familiar quote from the film Field of Dreams has often been associated with church building projects—probably too often. We usually think that the words “they will come” refer to people. But at our church we discovered that “they will come” actually refers to a limitless set of questions about how to build and furnish a worship space. If you build it, they—that is, ideas, questions, options, choices, decisions—definitely will come. So how do you legitimately address all those issues?
This is the fourth in a series of articles with suggestions for how to be deliberate about encouraging faith nurture in your congregation’s worship.
Several articles in this theme issue explore the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper—or Holy Communion, or Eucharist—all names that offer different angles on the mystery of our union with Christ. We can discuss the sacrament and we can experience it, but we will never fully understand the mystery expressed in Jesus’ teaching in John 6: “I am the bread of life” (v. 35). The bewildered disciples respond, “This is a hard teaching” (v. 60). Indeed.
In her book Stilling the Storm (2006, The Alban Institute. Available at www.FaithAliveResources.org), Kathleen Smith sings the praises of the “intentional interim pastor.” This person can greatly assist a church that is transitioning from a long pastorate that has ended well, recovering from a ministry that has ended poorly, or regrouping after the senior pastor of a multi-staff church leaves.
“Do this in remembrance of me.” For most Christians, these familiar words of Christ trigger the sweet scent of grapes and the taste of bread. We all know that Lord’s Supper services are intended to help God’s people remember Christ. But how can we help God’s people better retain knowledge of Christ—and translate that memory into lives of worship?
The following teaching service was originally used on a Reformation Sunday, but it could be used in many other contexts. Your service may not include all the elements referenced here, or it may use different names for the elements or include them in a different order. We encourage you to adapt this service to fit your own context.
If you do not want to do an entire teaching service, consider adding one of these “teachings” in each service throughout a month-long period or including them in your bulletin or church newsletter.
If you are a preacher in a typical Reformed congregation, you know that on most Sundays the congregation expects the table to be bare even as they expect the pulpit to be filled. Many people who wouldn’t bat an eye at a service without either of the sacraments would find a service without a sermon vaguely scandalous.
Q What should we call the sacrament of the Lord’s table: the Lord’s Supper, Communion, or Eucharist?
A Each of these names is theologically and pastorally significant.
“The Lord’s Supper” conveys that Jesus is the host of this meal and we celebrate the sacrament because of his command.
If you’re looking for a good read that will refresh your understanding and especially your experience of the Lord’s Supper, the writings of John Calvin might not immediately come to mind. They are, admittedly, old and occasionally laden with arguments for or against (usually against) the views of certain contemporaries. But, ultimately, neither their age nor such disputation should be held against Calvin’s works, as they are also imbued with rich pastoral insight and devotional depth.
On April 17, 2007, a gunman killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, which was the deadliest school shooting in United States history. This article tells how Blacksburg churches, who had been working together to make ecumenical connections with the help of a Worship Renewal Grant, were able to respond to the tragedy as a community.
I called my pastor, Gary Schroeder, early on a Saturday morning before leaving for my son’s soccer game. “Sorry to bother you at home,” I said, “but I have some good news. We got the grant!”
Certain experiences are pregnant with new insight, usually more than we recognize at the time. One of those experiences gave me new insights on the Lord’s Supper.
CICW Begins Second Decade
On the tenth anniversary in 2007 of the founding of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (CICW), director John D. Witvliet wrote:
We identified ten core principles and practices to present as our central convictions about vital Christian worship. We pray that these ten convictions have already been at the heart of our work so far, and we pledge that they will be even more formative . . . in the work that lies ahead of us.
When my now-grown sons were young, we took a lot of car trips. On one particularly long journey, after we’d exhausted the usual repertoire of the license plate hunt, Riddly Riddly Ree, and Twenty Questions, the boys came up with a game of their own. They made two signs on pieces of drawing paper. One sign said “Hello!” That one went in the front passenger window. The second said “How is your day going?” The boys held that one up in the back passenger window. It then became my job to pass as many cars as possible.
One of my favorite churches is the beautiful Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, California. While this church has many striking and meaningful features, I especially love the majestic earth-toned tapestries hung along each side of the nave.
In an old movie titled Joe Versus the Volcano, Tom Hanks plays a young man who’s been shipwrecked. He survives by floating on his luggage, which he’s tied together to form a raft. At one point, delirious from thirst, he sees the moon slowly rising over the horizon, incredibly huge and brilliant. Astonished, he cries out, “God, whose name I do not know, thank you for my life. I forgot how big. Thank you, thank you for my life.” It is a moment of awakening for him—a moment of recognizing great truth and mystery.
As I was walking on campus, I was stopped by a student who wanted to know if she could ask me a question.
“Sure, shoot,” I said.
With a searching tone, she asked, “Why don’t you offer an altar call every week?”
If you’ve been reading this column for any length of time, you’ve already heard me whine about my struggle to reconcile the fleeting nature of projected visuals with the more tangible and tactile nature of permanent or semi-permanent worship visuals. Bright shiny pixels versus wood and cloth! Here I give up the battle and admit that projection is here to stay.
This conversational drama was the centerpiece of a service examining the significance of taking Christ’s body and blood during the Lord’s Supper. It includes four narrators in costume: Jewish scholar, Man-on-the-street, Scientist, and Nurse. A table in the center holds chemicals and glassware for a science demonstration. If possible, obtain a few slides (see list of props) to project at appropriate points as a visual aid.
Throughout Scripture, God reveals his table grace to us. We are given a feast of themes and images to interpret the Lord’s Supper. Poets and musicians have highlighted these biblical themes and images in their songs. You’ll find some of them listed below, along with songs that accentuate them. Use these songs to surround the Table with music that proclaims the grace of God and deepens our participation in the Lord’s Supper.
Gather Us In; Taste and See; Holy, Holy, Holy Lord; Holy Is the Lord; Go, My Children, with My Blessing; Hallelujah, We Sing Your Praises
During the past generation, a wealth of new worship songs have been written. Many were inspired by the reforms of Vatican II during the 1960s, when the Roman Catholic Church translated their liturgy into the vernacular and began to encourage congregational singing. It should come as no surprise, then, that many of those new songs assume both Word and Table every Sunday. Also, since most Protestant churches celebrate the Lord's Supper more frequently than they did a generation ago, most hymnal sections on the Lord's Supper have steadily increased in size.
Every June issue of Reformed Worship is a theme issue, and every year the Reformed Worship staff and editorial council weigh various themes. Some of our theme issues have dealt with "hot button" topics of our time. Last year, when the RW editorial council discussed what the next theme issue should be, the Lord's Supper was clearly at the top of the list.
RECOMMENDED READING ON THE LORD'S SUPPER
- Table and Tradition: Toward an Ecumenical Understanding of the Eucharist by Alisdair Heron (Westminster Press, 1983).
- Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace by James Torrence (InterVarsity Press, 1997).
- Bread of Life and Cup of Joy by Horton Davies (Eerdmans, 1993).
NEW HYMNAL SUPPLEMENT PROGRESS REPORT
Different Flavors for Different Seasons: Six service plans for celebrating the Lord's Supper throughout the Church Year, page 2 of 2
WHILE IT WAS STILL DARK
John 20:1-18; Acts 10:34-43
In the movie Before and After, a young girl reflects on a murder that she says divided her family's life into "before" and "after." Nicholas Wolterstorff makes a similar observation in his book Lament for a Son. About his son's death he writes:
The puzzled look in her eyes told me I would have to suspend judgment and get back to her after I had studied the matter.
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give God thanks and praise.
Different Flavors for Different Seasons: Six service plans for celebrating the Lord's Supper throughout the Church Year, page 1 of 2
From its very beginning in the early seventies, Church of the Servant has celebrated the Lord's Supper every Sunday. When I came to the church in 1983,1 did not immediately take to the weekly practice. It was not in my past, and I feared familiarity and a wearisome repetitiveness. Over time, however, the practice has become immensely satisfying and an essential part of Sunday worship.
A Journey with Worshiping Communities Around the World: Prayers and songs for World Communion Sunday
On the first Sunday of October, increasing numbers of churches participate in World Communion Sunday, a time when Christians everywhere celebrate what it means to belong to "the holy catholic church, the communion of the saints." Indeed, the church is the one body of Christ, our head. In Holy Communion, we most deeply celebrate our oneness in Christ.
Bo Meredith could have made commercials for Skippy peanut butter. He was the penultimate darling little boy—round face, apple cheeks, floppy red hair, and a glorious Lone Ranger's mask of rusty freckles ear to ear. Terry, his mother, the daughter of a Lutheran preacher from Indiana, had been coming to Fort Anderson Church off and on for six months. Bo's father wasn't a believer, she'd said, and from her sketchy descriptions, Pastor Jack had developed the sense that the marriage wasn't in great shape.
Shortly after I made public profession of faith in the Christian Reformed Church I grew up in, several members of our church (including our youth group and my parents) attended a Roman Catholic folk mass in our town. A group of priests had been attending a lecture series in our church, and they, in response to our hospitable welcome, invited us to worship with them. Towards the end of the service, everyone was invited to come forward to receive the Eucharist.
A visitor to our seminary chapel once asked me to show him the "sign language" I used when presiding at the Lord's Supper. He thought that it made the service "dramatic," but was confused that I gestured throughout the course of the eucharistic prayer, since during prayer eyes were to be closed and heads bowed.
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 setting was a campfire on a summer night at church camp. A young lady who had not spoken a single word all week stood up and haltingly proclaimed, "I love Jesus." That was twenty years ago, but I still remember it as the moment I realized that this child (and many others like her), so loved by God, would never be able to join us at the table to celebrate our Lord's Supper. Because of her mental impairments, she would not be able to meet our expectations for those who could make profession of faith and be welcomed to the table.
There is a telling soliloquy in Walker Percy's Love in the Ruins that neatly sums up my concern in this article. Dr. Thomas More, Percy's Catholic protagonist, is having some conflict with his Protestant wife, Ellen, on matters of religious practice.