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Until He Comes: Six themes for the Lord's Supper

>Dear RW,

During the last few years my congregation and I have been learning together about the Lord's Supper. It all started one day when I was studying Luke's account of the Last Supper and compared it with Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 11.1 was struck by how rich the Scripture's teaching about the Supper really is.

I got out my pen and jotted down some notes—remembrance, fellowship, thanksgiving, proclaiming, self-examining, and celebrating till He comes. As I wrote, I was struck by how infrequently we celebrate the Lord's Supper— only four to six times a year. It occured to me that our reluctance to celebrate the sacrament more often might have something to do with the sameness of our celebrations. And I began to wonder what would happen if we were to celebrate in a variety of ways—perhaps building our celebrations around the ideas I had jotted down—over the course of a year.

The service outlines on these pages are the fruit of my thinking that day— descriptions of how our congregation worshiped as we considered together the complete meaning of the Lord's Supper. Each service focused our attention on the riches of God's grace given to us in Christ. Word and table combined to teach and apply the truth of the good news—Jesus saves! And we now celebrate communion more frequently—once a month.

I hope you find these ideas useful and that they will enrich your celebrations of the Lord's Supper. When the communion service, including sermon and songs, is built around the given theme, over the course of the year, the whole congregation will begin to sense and celebrate the many-faceted grace of God demonstrated in Christ through the Lord's Supper.

In Christ, Peter Kelder

THEME 1: REMEMBRANCE

Psalm 77:11-12; Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25

The theme of remembrance is one of the most familiar, yet powerful motifs inherent in the Lord's Supper. One would hardly think that those who have been redeemed would need to be reminded of God's grace shown in Jesus Christ. But we do.

So almost every time we meet at the Lord's table we are reminded of his command to remember: "Do this in remembrance of Me." Though familiar to us, these words deserve special emphasis—perhaps on Maundy Thursday.

The message may include the following ideas:

  1. Retrace the final events of Jesus' life leading up to Calvary, reminding the congregation of his suffering and death on our behalf.
  2. Note that remembrance is commanded. We have authority for doing this—ordained by Christ himself.
  3. Note that remembrance is visible in the bread and cup—'This is my body" and "This is my blood."
  4. Note that remembrance strengthens us. Our faith is strengthened and built up through eating, drinking, and remembering. Zwingli said, "Eating is believing and believing is eating."
  5. Note, finally, that while this remembrance is historical, it is also personal. Jesus doesn't ask us to remember the date, place, etc. We are never told to "Do this in remembrance of my death." The command is "Do this in remembrance of me." Our relationship with Christ is a personal one: "Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
RESPONSE OF REMEMBRANCE

Remember, O Lord, Your great mercy
and love, for they are from of old (Ps. 25:6).

Remember not the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways; according to your
love remember me, for you are
good, O Lord (Ps. 25:7).

"The time is coming," declares the
Lord, "when I will make a new
covenant with the house of Israel...
For I will forgive their wickedness and
will remember their sins no more (Jer. 31:31,34).

The Lord is gracious and compassionate.
He remembers his covenant forever (Ps. 111:4-5).

Remember the gracious love of our
Father in heaven

who made us children of his own possession.

Remember Jesus Christ, sent by the
Father to share our human nature, to
live and to die as one of us, and so to
move us from the alienation of sin and death,

to reconcile us to God our Father by
his perfect sacrifice, and through his
suffering, death, and resurrection to
save all who put their trust in him.

Remember the Holy Spirit, who teaches us these things

and makes the effects of Christ's salvation real in our lives.
Psalms and Hymns

Psalm 103 (HB 8, 121; PH 103, 297, 583, 627; RL 7, 145; TH 70, 72, 97)
According to Thy Gracious Word (HB 444, PH 298, TH 360)
"Twas on that Night (HB 448, TH 359)

THEME 2: PROCLAMATION

John 6:25-40; 1 Corinthians 11:26

Proclaiming the Lord's death, as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians, includes heralding Christ's atoning sacrifice and its benefits for us, all incorporated in the good news of eternal life. As heirs of eternal life and possessors of all things in Christ, we preach a sermon without words as we eat and drink at the Lord's table.

John 6, in which Jesus declares himself to be the bread of life, highlights Jesus' affirmation of his person and work. He proclaims that he is life, to be believed and embraced by us all.

CALL TO WORSHIP

Posterity will serve him; future generations
will be told about the Lord. They
will proclaim his righteousness to a
people yet unborn—for he has done it
(Ps. 22:30-31).

Listen, O heavens, and I will speak;
hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.
I will proclaim the name of the Lord.

O praise the greatness of our God!
Hymns

As We Walk Along Beside You (PH 299)
O Jesus, Joy of Loving Hearts (HB 215, PH 307, RL 273, TH 549)
Lift Up Your Hearts (PH 309)
Eat This Bread (PH 312)
How Great Thou Art (PH 483, RL 466)

THEME 3: FELLOWSHIP

Matthew 26:20-22; John 15:1-8; 1 John 1:1-7

The intimate scene in Matthew of Jesus reclining at the table with his disciples is a depiction of the theme of fellowship at the Lord's table.

Indeed, it is possible for us to enjoy fellowship with God only through the perfection of Jesus Christ. As we abide in him, and he in us, we thrive and are fruitful.

The passage in First John gives both the vertical and horizontal focus to fellowship. At the Lord's table we celebrate both fellowship with God and fellowship with each other.

(For churches with flexible seating, this service would be enhanced by facing each other in a circular or square arrangement around the table.)

LITANY OF FELLOWSHIP

Fellowship with God: 1 John 1:1-4

We proclaim to you what we have seen
and heard, so that you also may have
fellowship with us.

That which was from the beginning,
which we have heard, which we have
seen with our eyes, which we have
looked at and our hands have
touched—this we proclaim concerning
the Word of Life.

The life appeared; we have seen it
and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the
eternal life, which was with the Father
and has appeared to us.

Our fellowship is with the Father
and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
Hymn: In Sweet Communion (HB 126, PH 554, TH 557)

Fellowship with One Another: 1 John 1:5-7

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you:

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

If we claim to have fellowship with him
yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not
live by the truth

But if we walk in the light, as he is in
the light, we have fellowship with one another,

And the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies
us from all sin.

Hymn: Blest Be the Tie that Binds (PH 315, HB 473, RL 407, TH 285)

Jesus said, "If anyone loves me, he will
obey my teaching. My Father will love
him, and we will come to him and make our home with him" (John 14:23).

This is fellowship with God.

Jesus said, "I pray that all of them may
be one, Father, as you are in me and I
am in you" (John 17:21).

This is fellowship with one another.

 

Hymns

Taste and See (PH 301)
Let Us Break Bread Together (HB 447, PH 304, RL 545)
Come, Risen Lord, as Guest Among Your Own (PH 308, RL 550)
I Come with Joy to Meet My Lord (PH 311, RL 534)
In Sweet Communion, Lord, with You (HB 126, PH 554, TH 557)

THEME 4: SELF-EXAMINATION

1 Corinthians 11:27-32; Matthew 26:20-22

Jesus' simple statement, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me," made each of the twelve disciples uneasy and led them to self-examination. "Surely not I, Lord?" each of them asked at that Last Supper. Later, Paul taught that not only the disciples but all Christians must examine themselves before meeting at the Lord's Table. He warned that those who didn't ask "Surely not I, Lord?" were eating and drinking judgment unto themselves.

The meditation before communion can be a very powerful reminder of the integral and wholesome element of examining oneself in relationship to the Lord's Supper.

First Corinthians 11:29,32 reminds us to (1) recognize the body of the Lord, and (2) examine ourselves so that we will not be condemned.

I knew a man who refused to participate in the Lord's Supper because he never felt worthy. When we recognize the body of the Lord, we see his grace applied to our unworthiness; when we faithfully examine ourselves in light of this unworthiness, we are not condemned, but forgiven.

CALL TO WORSHIP

Psalm 98:1-3

Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has
done marvelous things;

His right hand and his holy arm have
worked salvation for him.

The Lord has made his salvation
known and revealed his righteousness
to the nations.

He has remembered his love and his
faithfulness to the house of Israel; all
the ends of the earth have seen the salvation
of our God!
Prayer of Consecration

Help us, our Father, to see behind these
elements of bread and wine, the body
and blood of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Enable us to see your great love for us.

We thank you for this supper and seek
to be built in faith through it. Help us to
be rid of unrighteousness, we pray, in
the name of Jesus, who taught us to pray.

Lord's Prayer
Hymns/Psalms

How Blest Are They Whose Trespass (HB 281, PH 32, RL 97, TH 462)
Bread of the World (HB 445, PH 310, RL 551, TH 358) In the
Quiet Consecration (PH 302)
O Christ, Our Hope (PH 485, TH 120)
Now the Solemn Feast Is Done (PH 306)

THEME 5: THANKSGIVING

Matthew 26:26-29; 1 Corinthians 11:24;  Luke 17:11-19

It is significant that Jesus gave thanks when he took the bread and the cup. History has captured this important emphasis in referring to the Lord's Supper as the Eucharist, a term based on the Greek word for "giving thanks."

Our thanks, however, are based upon the completed work of Jesus Christ for us. We have been made whole and therefore are grateful. The Lord's Supper speaks graphically of the good news of salvation, the forgiveness from sin, for which we give thanks.

CALL TO WORSHIP

Give thanks to the Lord, proclaim his
greatness; tell the nations what he has done.

We will sing praises to God and tell of
the wonderful things he has done.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.

Be glad that we belong to him; let all
who worship him rejoice.

Grace to you and peace from God our
Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen!
Hymns

Father, We Give You Thanks (PH 314)
Praise the Lord, Rise Up Rejoicing (PH 313)
A Parting Hymn We Sing HB 443, TH 363

THEME 6: EXPECTATION

Luke 22:14-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

There is always a note of hope or expectation in the celebration of the Lord's Supper. Jesus refers to the fact that he will not drink the fruit of the vine until he drinks it anew in the kingdom. He is referring to what is about to happen—his crucifixion and death. But his words also point to the hope of the kingdom of God, the great banquet feast in the presence of God and all his people.

Paul expresses it this way: "Do this until he comes..." The Lord's Supper is temporary in that we will share in it only until he comes. Yet, when he comes, he comes as bridegroom for his bride and will take her to the great banquet feast. There all his people will see and enjoy him, face to face!

(This message of expectation is especially appropriate for Advent.)

THE INVITATION

People of God, our Lord has prepared
his table for all who love him and trust
in him for their salvation. It is a
foretaste of that great banquet that
awaits his return. Come expectantly,
then, for all is ready.

BENEDICTION
May this day serve to equip us as your
servants in the power of the Holy
Spirit for the establishing and increasing
of our faith and for hope of life in
the age to come through our Lord
Jesus Christ.

To you, O Father, with him and with
the Holy Spirit be glory forever. Amen.

THE DOXOLOGY
Honor, glory, might, dominion
to the Father and the Son
with the ever-living Spirit
while eternal ages run. (St. 5, PH 332)
Psalms/Hymns

Till He Come! (TH 357)
Come, Let Us Eat (PH 303)
Clothe Yourself, My Soul, with Gladness (PH 305)
Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding (PH 332)
Hark, the Glad Sound! The Savior Comes (PH 335, RL 251, TH 162)
Wake, Awake, for Night Is Hying (PH 613, TH 231)

SUMMARY THOUGHTS

In each one of these services we focused on one theme inherent in the Lord's Supper. We developed that theme in the worship service as a whole, in the preaching of the Word, and in our celebration of the Supper. As we planned these services, we paid careful attention to the church year and its significance, developing our ideas within that context.

Some things to consider:

  1. Remembrance—Maundy Thursday: Begin Maundy Thursday with a shared meal; remain at tables for worship and communion with candlelight.
  2. Proclamation—Pentecost: Stand (in a circle or otherwise) for the sharing of bread and wine to symbolize proclaiming.
  3. Fellowship—last Sunday in August: Arrange seating (if possible) so that people are facing one another.
  4. Self-Examination—worldwide communion Sunday: Prepare a dramatic reading based on the Scripture shared.
  5. Thanksgiving—Epiphany: Demonstrate thanks by coming forward with offerings to the table in front.
  6. Expectation—Advent: Reinforce the theme of hope and anticipation of the Lord's coming through Advent candle ceremonies.

Hymns were selected from the following hymnals: The Hymnbook (HB), Psalter Hymnal (PH), Rejoice in the Lord (RL), Trinity Hymnal (TH).