One thing I have noticed, except in the more highly liturgical churches, is that Holy Communion has become less of a focal point in our church services and more of a tack on occurrence. In my younger days, I recall communion Sunday as a day when the pastor’s message would be somewhat shorter and much more time was given to “the ritual” with its Scripture readings, congregational responses, and high reverence given to the elements. As a youngster, I remember the phrase, “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time have most grievously committed…” It seems we have been bewailing very little in recent years.
Today’s Holy Communion services are often communion light and generally fall into two serving methods. The first I refer to as “drive by” communion whereby communicants form a line, or several lines, and quickly pass through two or three stations depending whether or not intinction* is used. The advantage to this method is that a large numbers can be served quickly and efficiently. The second mode I refer to as community communion. Here the elements are distributed to all congregants at their seat. When all have received both the bread and cup, all eat and drink at the same time as directed by the pastor. Again this method is fairly quick and efficient.
There is nothing wrong with either of these methods. However, they can become rather mundane and perfunctory if used time and time again. So I would make three suggestions to churches relating to serving Holy Communion.
- Mix it up– When events become rote they tend to lose their meaning or purpose. Variety builds anticipation, increases interest, and produces more memorable experiences.
- Go deep occasionally– There are times when more than a cursory look into the directive, “do this in remembrance of me” is needed. Devoting an entire worship service including music, prayers, as well as in-depth teaching/preaching will deepen its significance.
- Think and act outside the box– Some of the most meaningful and memorable instances of Holy Communion have been those where some creativity was utilized. I think that would be true for most congregants.
Below are a few out of the box experiences I have have experienced:
- A number of years ago I attended a conference at Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, OH. The conference closed shortly before the first of six weekend services they conducted and the conferees were invited to attend the service if we wished. The service closed with Holy Communion whereby loaves of bread in large woven baskets were passed. Each person would tear off a portion of bread until all in attendance had a piece and then we all ate the bread together. Following the eating of the bread, more baskets were passed around. However, this time they were filled with clusters of large grapes. Each person was asked to take a single grape. When all had a single grape, each person tilted their head back, held the grape over the open mouth, and crushed the grape allowing the juice to flow into the mouth. It was a different way to receive the fruit of the vine and the symbolism of me causing the grape to be crushed was poignant.
- When I was still attending my home church a long time ago, we had a communion service unlike any we had experienced before. Normally, those that could would come to the altar which would accommodate about 22 people, kneel, and receive the bread. Well, sometimes it was bread. More often than not it was broken up saltines (Did I mention I grew up in a small country church?). Every now and then we would have those little pellet-looking pieces of unleavened bread. Anyway, at the altar we would receive the bread and the wine, which was actually Welch’s grape juice. However, on this particular occasion, the pastor counted off 11 people and asked them to go into the fellowship hall. There he had set up a table with 13 chairs. He took the center chair from which he served the 11 congregants that were now seated. The 13th chair was tipped over on its side, signifying the seat from which Judas Iscariot hurriedly fled. After the elements had been served and a benediction was given, the 11 were dismissed down the hall and outside the building. That Holy Communion was talked about for quite some time.
- Several years ago, our oldest son asked if I would serve communion at our annual family Christmas gathering. Now this may give some a bit of heartburn but I thought about it for about two seconds and said, “Absolutely!” I just figured I would claim my title as a member of the royal priesthood according to I Peter 2:9 and go for it. As it turned out, it was a special time and nice addition to our family gathering. What would be the impact if a local church promoted and equipped families to do this?
- Woodinville Community Church in Washington formally celebrated Holy Communion once a month. However, each week a table was set up in the sanctuary with elements having been blessed. During the singing of a song the table was open to anyone who wished to participate. This afforded and opportunity for people that may have missed the monthly serving or were otherwise desirous to partake.
Holy Communion is too special to be a rote exercise. It seems to me great latitude can be found in the words of Paul, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (I Cor 11:26 ESV). May we use that latitude to create memorable experiences of Holy Communion that proclaims the Good News.
*intinction – the act of dipping the bread in the wine and consuming both at the same time during the sacrament of Holy Communion.