I grew up in a very “low church” worship environment. Our Nazarene Manual directed us to receive the Lord’s Supper at least once a quarter and, apparently, we saw that as a maximum rather than minimum frequency. As a young pastor I followed that same schedule but over time I moved to a monthly observance, trying to find a middle way between seeing the sacrament as the featured act of worship at one extreme, and as a mandated add-on at the other extreme.
While I don’t think there is a right or wrong approach in how most churches observe the sacrament I do think that the freedom to vary the emphasis and approach and even mechanics of observing it can be an advantage for less liturgical churches. Whether or not you agree with me here, I hope you’ll find some of these thoughts helpful.
Communion is more of a celebration than anything else. We don’t believe Jesus dies again each time we receive communion and it isn’t only about shed blood and broken body. Mainly, we’re celebrating the amazing love the Lord has for us. Jesus willingly went to the cross because “God so loved the world.” There, on that old rugged cross, he conquered sin and death. His victory has become mine. We don’t celebrate the brokenness and bleeding but we do celebrate the reason for it and what it has accomplished in and for us. “We come today to celebrate the greatest act of love, the most beneficial sacrifice ever accomplished….”
Communion is the perfect platform for inviting people to come to Jesus. As a young person I somehow had the idea that the Lord’s Supper could be hazardous to one’s health. We were to examine ourselves and if we had experienced any spiritual failure we might be wise to skip communion that quarter. Over time I began to understand that, while it was possible to receive communion in an unworthy manner (that is, without showing proper reverence) that, honestly, no one is worthy of receiving these emblems of the Lord’s body and blood. Had we been worthy, he would have never had to go to the cross in the first place. With that in mind, I began to see the sacrament as an invitation to Christ. As I examine my heart and realize that there are spiritual failures I’m not disqualified from the bread and wine. Rather, I’m being given an opportunity to avail myself of the mercy and grace of the Lord in a fresh way. If I come, viewing my receiving communion as a substitute for repentance and faith I’m moving into the “unworthy” territory. If I come seeking forgiveness and restoration, though, I find life in that sacrament. “The Bible says we’re to examine ourselves before receiving communion. So let’s do that. If, as you consider your relationship with the Lord and find that things aren’t what they ought to be, that doesn’t mean you can’t receive communion today. Instead, this is an opportunity to make things right with the Lord. As you receive the bread and wine, receive Jesus into your life all over again.”
Communion is a great way to introduce your child to Jesus. Honestly, I think our liturgical friends with their emphasis on “first communion” have a great approach. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t advantages to a less structured, low church approach. As a pastor I allowed parents to bring their children forward to receive communion provided the parent agreed to have a discussion with that child about allowing Jesus to be their Lord and Savior before the day was over. Symbols are powerful and children can grasp spiritual realities earlier than we might think. I let parents decide if their children are “there” yet. “Parents, I’ll let you decide when your children are ready to receive communion. If you do allow your child to come today, I ask this of you: let’s agree that before this day is over you will sit down with your child and talk about the meaning of communion and how it is that a person places their faith in Jesus.”
Communion ought to be the focus of at least one service a year. Baptism has been called the “entry sacrament” to our life in Christ. Communion is the “continuing sacrament.” One Sunday a year the church service should be all about the Lord’s Supper (World Communion Sunday is the first Sunday of October). Sing songs about it, read the appropriate scriptures, and preach a sermon that reminds us why we celebrate communion. Talk about our unity with believers across the ages and in the various traditions of Christianity. Talk about God’s love for us and Christ’s willingness to die for us. Remind people of its connection to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Tell them why the Lord’s Supper is called a “means of grace.” Then, invite people to the table of the Lord. Pastor, on this Sunday, you do all the serving, taking the role of Jesus, himself. “Today is World Communion Sunday and we’re going to join Christians of many traditions around the world in receiving communion. Before we do that though, let’s think about the meaning and purpose of this sacrament of the Church.”