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Worship Ideas on the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper

In The Worship Sourcebook, a book of worship resources in preparation to be published by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Faith Alive Christian Resources and Baker Book House, the Lord's Supper is described as a physical and tangible ritual action, mandated by Jesus, through which God acts to nourish, sustain, comfort, challenge, teach, and assure us. As a richly symbolic action, the celebration of the Lord's Supper nourishes our faith and stirs our imaginations to perceive the work of God and the contours of the gospel more clearly. The material here about the Lord's Supper is taken from The Worship Sourcebook.

Worship Ideas on the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper
Howard Vanderwell and Norma de Waal Malefyt

“This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me…
This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
1 Corinthians 11:24,25


            The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper
            Ideas for the Lord's Supper Service
            Music Resources for Lord's Supper Services
            Written Resources about the Lord's Supper

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper

            In The Worship Sourcebook, a book of worship resources in preparation to be published by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Faith Alive Christian Resources and Baker Book House, the Lord's Supper is described as a physical and tangible ritual action, mandated by Jesus, through which God acts to nourish, sustain, comfort, challenge, teach, and assure us.  As a richly symbolic action, the celebration of the Lord's Supper nourishes our faith and stirs our imaginations to perceive the work of God and the contours of the gospel more clearly.  The material here about the Lord's Supper is taken from The Worship Sourcebook.

            The celebration of the Lord's Supper has several layers of meaning.  It is a celebration of memory and hope in which we remember the life and ministry of Christ and the hope it brings to us.  It is also a proclamation of Jesus' real, spiritual presence with us, of the forgiveness offered, and the spiritual nourishment he provides for us, as well as a celebration of the unity of Christ's body, the church.

            Reflection on these pastoral themes will convince us that the spirit in which this sacrament is observed ought not to be a somber one, as though we remember only the painful death of Christ, but a time of rich and deep celebration.  This sacrament is appropriate at any season of the church year and the particular theme of each service will be suggested by its location in the year.  In Advent, our celebration can highlight our expectation of Christ's coming kingdom.  During Holy Week, it can emphasize the significance of Christ's suffering and death.  On Easter it's a celebration of Christ's victory.  Whatever the season, there are several themes that must always be kept in focus:

Ø       The Lord's Supper is a celebration of God's grace, not human achievement.  The power of the sacrament is not found in our ability to meditate deeply, but rather on the way in which God's Spirit uses this celebration to nourish our hearts.

Ø       The Lord's Supper is not an end in itself, but also points beyond itself to celebrate God's grace and covenant faithfulness.

Ø       The Lord's Supper is a sign of a relationship that is covenantal, not contractual.  It is based on God's gracious promises to us.

Ø       The Lord's Supper is deeply personal, but never private.  It is a communal action of the gathered congregation which represents the church in all times and places.

            Many denominations provide a complete service for the observance of the Lord's Supper.  Some require word-for-word use of their formularies.  Others allow much more flexibility.  Whatever your practice, it is important to retain the rich pastoral wisdom in the observance of the sacrament and never sacrifice its substance.  To aid us in this the following complete model liturgy is provided in The Worship Sourcebook:

The Declaration of God's Invitation and Promises

The Prayer of Thanksgiving – including thanksgiving for the work of creation, the work of Jesus Christ, and the direction of the Holy Spirit, with appropriate acclamations of praise.

The Preparation of the Bread and the Cup

The Communion

            The Invitation
            The Distribution

The Response of Praise and Prayer

Ideas for the Lord’s Supper Service

            If you are a worship planner who is responsible for communion services on a regular basis, you have likely encountered many of the issues and questions that regularly surface in your attempts to make this time of sacramental worship rich and meaningful.  We present here a list of issues and ideas that have come from a variety of congregations and experiences.

1. Preparation.  Past practice often placed much emphasis on preparation for the Lord's Supper, especially when it was celebrated quarterly.  The week preceding was “preparatory”, with worshipers encouraged to search their heart and examine their faith before coming to the Table.  Much of this emphasis has been lost, but it seems that worshipers are poorer and the sacrament is treated as less important when worshipers come unaware of and unprepared for the sacrament.  We encourage you to include, at least with some regularity, an emphasis in the preceding week that will aid the preparation of hearts.

2. Children.  Many churches and leaders are rethinking the presence and inclusion of children at the table of the Lord.  Your denomination will likely have its own policy, but in any event, children should be in view and not ignored.  You may want to include an explanation of some part of the sacrament to the children each time.  When communicants come forward, encourage parents to bring their children and let the pastor have a word of blessing for them.

3. Passing the Peace.  This valuable historic practice is particularly meaningful at a service of the Lord's Supper.  Some will include it early in the service, some just prior to partaking, and some at the close of the sacrament.  We encourage its inclusion, but we also take note of the fact that most worshipers need to be instructed that the proper greeting is not “good morning”, but “the peace of the Lord be with you” or some similar expression.

4. Frequency.  In the past, the Lord's Supper was observed quarterly by some denominations.  Many churches today are rethinking that and including the sacrament much more frequently in their worship schedule.  Some have gone to weekly observance, but many more schedule it on a monthly basis.  As they do, the events of the Christian year usually determine the scheduling.

5. Visuals.  The sanctuary should visually speak to worshipers the moment they enter.  Banners that convey the message of the sacrament can be posted.  The communion table is usually highly visible. 

6. Methods.  In some traditions the most common practice is for all communicants to come forward to receive the elements.  In some congregations they will take the elements to their seats/pews and all partake together.  In others they will partake as soon as they receive them.  Some will practice intinction (dipping the bread or wafer in the cup before partaking.)  In other traditions it is most common to be served the elements in the seats/pews.  It is often helpful to vary the practice so that on occasion worshipers leave their pews to come forward to be served. 

7. Elements.  Some congregations will use wine.  Out of consideration for others, some use grape juice.  Some use small cubes of bread, some wafers, some a loaf from which pieces can be taken.  Others choose multigrain breads as a symbolic representation of the diversity yet unity of the body of Christ.

8. Serving Time.  Whichever method is practiced, being served in pews or coming forward, worship planners often wonder how to provide a meaningful setting for reflection and meditation during that time.  We suggest several possibilities:  the congregation can sing familiar songs that express their faith and hope; the choir or praise team can sing similar songs; the accompanist can provide music that will aid private reflection by worshipers; or the pastor or others can read appropriate passages of Scripture that reflect on the ministry, suffering and victory of Christ and the assurance and confidence of the Christian.

9. Great Prayer of Thanksgiving.  In historic Christian practice the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving has been an integral part of the service.  This prayer usually includes a celebration and thanks for God's actions in history, a petition for the work of God's Spirit through the sacrament, and an acknowledgement that the power of the sacrament does not come from the bread and cup themselves but from the Holy Spirit who unites us with Christ through the sacrament.  You can find a helpful formulation of this Great Prayer, with sung responses, in Sing! A New Creation (SNC) 250.

10. Response. Many generations of Christians have found that the profession included in Psalm 103 is a very fitting response to their participation in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Such a profession forms the conclusion of the sacrament. Sometimes the liturgist reads it; other times the congregation reads it in unison; or it can be rewritten as a responsive litany. Or you may want to sing a formulation of it. As a matter of fact, the worship service to be provided here for next week is a theme service based on the entirety of Psalm 103, entitled "Praise That Won’t Forget." You may want to consider including the Lord's Supper in that service.

Music Resources for Lord’s Supper Services

Possible Congregational Songs:

As in last week's baptism service, each denomination and individual congregation has its standard and beloved Lord's Supper hymns that are most often used with the sacrament.  The song suggestions given here are Lord's Supper hymns written or arranged within the last 30 years.  They too are given as supplements to your present treasures, not as replacements!  They include a variety of styles - from classic hymn structure to responsorial settings, from contemporary folk settings to African American spirituals.  All are taken from Sing! A New Creation (SNC).

“As We Gather at Your Table” (Pleading Savior, North American Shape Note) [SNC245]
“As Your Family, Lord” (Kum Ba Jah, African-American Spiritual) [SNC246]
“Eat This Bread” (Taizé - Responsorial) [SNC254]
“Haleluya! Pelo tsa rona/Hallelujah! We Sing Your Praises” (South African) [SNC261]
“Holy, Holy, Holy Is the Lord of Hosts” (Praise and Worship) [SNC251]
“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord” (African-American Gospel) [SNC252]
“Lamb of God” (Liturgical Folk) [SNC253]
“Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ” (Linstead, Jamaican) [SNC258]
“Now the Feast and Celebration” (Liturgical Folk - Responsorial) [SNC248]
“Psalm 34/Taste and See” (African-American Gospel - Responsorial) [SNC255]
“Psalm 103: Bless the Lord, My Soul” (Taizé - Responsorial) [SNC256]
“Remembering with Hope and Love” (Land of Rest, North American Shape Note) [SNC249]
“Santo, santo, santo/Holy, Holy, Holy” (Salvadoran, from La Misa Popular Salvadoreña) [SNC259]
“Somos pueblo que camina/We Are People on a Journey” (Somos Pueblos, Salvadoran, from La Misa Popular Salvadoreña) [SNC260]
“Table of Plenty/Come to the Feast of Heaven and Earth!” (Liturgical Folk) [SNC247]
“This Is the Feast of Victory” (Festival Canticle, Classic Hymn Style) [SNC262]
“This Is the Threefold Truth” (Acclamations, Classic Hymn Style) [SNC257]

Possible Anthems:

The following suggestions encompass a variety of anthem types – some that are scripture-based, some that incorporate the congregation, some that focus on remembering Christ's great sacrifice for us and some that celebrate the victory that is ours through Christ's resurrection.

“Amazing Grace”, Daniel Kallman  Morningstar MSM-50-9073 [1995] (SATB with keyboard)
“Bread of the World”, Dennis Eliot  Exaltation 10/1593S [1997] (SATB with keyboard)
“Come to the Table”, Allen Pote  Coronet Press 392-41678 [1992] (SATB with keyboard)
“Gathered Now”, Francis Patrick O'Brien  GIA G-3772 [1992]
    (SATB with keyboard and opt. congregational refrain)
“Gift of Finest Wheat”, John Ferguson  GIA G-3089 [1987]
    (SATB with organ and opt. congregational refrain)
“I Am the Bread of Life”, S. Suzanne Toolan  GIA G-1693 [1966]
    (SATB with keyboard and opt. congregational refrain)
“Jesus Took the Cup”, Hal H. Hopson  Agape AG7292 [1993, 2001] (two-part mixed with organ)
“Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ”, Austin Lovelace  Choristers Guild CGA619 [1993]
    (two-part with keyboard)
“Take and Eat This Bread”, Francis Patrick O'Brien  GIA G-6738 [1992]
    (SATB with keyboard and opt. congregational refrain)
“Taste and See”, Francis Patrick O'Brien  GIA G-3775 [1992]
    (SATB with keyboard and opt. congregational refrain which is also found in SNC255)
“Thee We Adore”, Ralph Johnson  Kjos 6261 [1996] (two-part mixed with keyboard)

Possible Service Music [SNC, Sing! A New Creation; PsH, Psalter Hymnal]:

“Amazing Grace” [PsH462 – New Britain]
            “Amazing Grace”, Cynthia Dobrinski  Lake State HB 00067 [2000] (2-3 octaves handbells)
            “Folk Hymns for Piano”, John Carter  Hope 240 [1987] (piano)
            “For All the Saints”, Robert A. Hobby  Augsburg ISBN 0-8006-7537-1 [2002] (organ)
            “How Sweet the Sound”, John Leavitt  CPH97-6891 [2000] (piano)
“As We Gather at Your Table” [SNC245 – Pleading Savior]
            “Seven Hymn Improvisations and Free Accompaniments”, set 1 Michael Burkhardt 
Morningstar MSM-10-847 [1992] (organ)
            “Six Meditations on Folk Hymns”, Charles Callahan  Concordia 97-6140 [1992] (organ)
“Come, Let Us Eat” [PsH303 – A Va De]
            “Partita on ‘Come, Let Us Eat' ”, Tim Fields  Morningstar MSM-10-824 [1998] (organ)
“Gift of Finest Wheat” [PsH300 – Bicentennial]
            “Gift of Finest Wheat”, Jeffrey Honoré  Concordia 97-6578 [1996] (3-5 octaves handbells)
“I Come with Joy to Meet My Lord” [PsH 311 – Land of Rest]
            “Seven Settings of American Folk Hymns”, Wilbur Held Concordia 97-5829 [1984](organ)
“In the Quiet Consecration” [PsH302 – Kingdom]
            “Interpretations vol. 9”, David Cherwien  AMSI SP-106 [1992] (organ)
“In You Is Gladness” [PsH566 – In Dir Ist Freude]
            “Five Hymn Preludes”, Theodore Beck  Concordia 97-5391 [1976] (organ)
            “Orgelbüchlein”, J.S. Bach  Concordia 97-5774 (organ)
“Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ” [SNC258 - Linstead]
            “Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ”, Mark Sedio  Augsburg 11-10718 [1996] (organ)
            “Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ”, Sondra Tucker  Agape 2146 [2001]
                (3-5 octaves handbells)
            “Three Global Songs”, John Behnke  Hope 8057 [1999] (organ)
“Lift Your Heart to the Lord” [PsH515 – Salve Festa Dies]
            “Partita on ‘Salve Feste Dies' ”, Charles Callahan  Concordia 97-6821 [1999] (organ)
            “Three Hymns of Praise set 5”, Robert A. Hobby  Morningstar MSM-10-760 [1998] (organ)

Written Resources about the Lord’s Supper

            Reformed Worship, a quarterly journal of CRC Publications in Grand Rapids, MI, is a valuable resource for worship ideas.  The following is a partial bibliography of helpful articles written about the Lord's Supper (issue and page numbers given).  In addition we encourage you to consult issue 48 which is a theme issue on the Lord's Supper.

            For more information, please contact CRC Publications at (616) 224-0819, 1-800-333-8300, or visit Reformed Worship.

“Chalice and Loaf or Cups and Cubes”, Howard Hageman, 13:17.
“The Lord's Supper – How Often?”, David T. Koyzis, 15:40.
“Until He Comes – Six Themes for the Lord's Supper”, Peter Kelder, 15:42.
“The Heart of Holy Communion”, Daniel Meeter, 22:34.
“Old-Fashioned Innovations”, Harry Boonstra, 22:37.
“Service Planning: Different Flavors for Different Seasons”, Jack Roeda and Carol Petter, 48:3.
“Grateful Words”, Stanley Hall, 48:14.
“Too Spiritual for Our Own Good”, Leonard Vander Zee, 48:18.
“Should Seekers Be Invited to the Table?”, Tony Maan, 48:22.
“More Than Words”, Karen Westerfield Tucker, 48:34.
“Lift Up Your Hearts…and Voices”, Douglas De Vries, 48:36.
“Signal the Sacraments: Lord's Supper”, Dean Heetderks, 54:backcover.