Thoughts About Serving Holy Communion

Young pastors sometimes struggle over the use of rituals, especially the ritual for Holy Communion.

Their struggle may rise from an aversion to rituals because they seem dull and lifeless. Or the service may feel “unspiritual” because the words spoken are prescribed in advance.

I once heard of a young pastor’s novel come-and-go communion service. The elements were laid out on the communion table and people were invited to come anytime Sunday afternoon and serve themselves, without benefit of ritual, pastor, or possibly even fellow believers.

Or there was the pastor so opposed to rituals of any kind that he simply passed around the elements without any designated invitation, consecration, explanation, or prayer. Any unchurched person would be sure to go away asking, “What was that about?”

Whatever the cause for disinterest or aversion, here are some simple suggestions to help pastors conducting a communion service. They might also be useful for lay persons who attend feeling the need for fuller engagement with this sacrament.

1. During the week prior to the service, live in the four brief New Testament passages that report our Lord’s institution of this ordinance ( Matt. 26:17-30. Mark 14:22-26. Lk. 22:19-23. 1Cor.11:23-26). Let the scene set itself in your imagination and let the words sink in. If the truths seem wrapped in mystery, remember that in the early days of the Christian era the Greek branch of the church, often referred to the Lord’s Supper as the “Mystery.”

2. Also, before the day the Lord’s Supper is served, spend time with the ritual itself as printed at the back of the hymnbook. Read it aloud. Personalize its opening invitation for yourself. Think afresh what the sacrificial death of Jesus meant and turn that understanding into prayer. It is sometimes the “savoring” of words — “putting them under your tongue and sucking them like a sweetie,” as one Scottish divine advised, that releases their power.

3. Practice reading the service out loud slowly and thoughtfully. In doing so you may hear fresh truth for your own need. One teacher of pastors offered this advice to those called upon to read the Bible in public services: Read it as if you are listening to it yourself, not as though you wrote it. The same advice fits the reading of the ritual of Holy Communion.

4. If you have any impulse in your mind to diminish or neglect the serving of the Lord’s Supper, remember that it has often been called throughout history, “the central act of Christian worship”. Better to let that fact refashion your own understanding than to dismiss the fact and leave yourself burdened with a serious misunderstanding.

6. Finally, when it comes to the service of the Lord’s Supper, resist the tendency to seek innovation if you are a pastor, or to look for innovation if you are a lay person. Sometimes in our youth we are inclined to diminish the value of constancy and repetition in the fundamental exercises of our spiritual lives in favor of new ways of saying or doing things. Innovation certainly has its place, but not with a staple ritual such as The Lord’s Supper. Repetition is intended to fix its truths in believers’ minds.

After one communion service at which I had served believers of all ages, an elderly woman, the widow of a minister spoke to me. She had heard the ritual all her life. She said to me with feeling, “The longer I live, the more meaningful the Lord’s Supper becomes to me.”

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