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.
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.
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.
“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?
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 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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.