The Service of the Lord's Supper at LPC
The Lord’s Supper is one of the most important parts of God’s worship. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, sometimes called Communion or the Eucharist, is a sign and seal of God’s covenant. In giving and receiving the bread and the cup, Jesus’ death is demonstrated to the church and world. By eating and drinking in faith, recipients of the sacrament truly and spiritually partake of the body and blood of Christ. In him we find nourishment and grace for our souls, and fellowship with God and each other. In it, God reassures us of his pledges that we are his and have found salvation through the death of Christ.
The more often we do this in worship, the better. What makes the sacrament special isn’t the sentiments we attribute to it (that would mean God’s gifts are special because of our feelings!) but because in it we truly and graciously receive Christ. There is no drawback to receiving Jesus more frequently.
In the Lord’s Supper we don’t have an altar, but a table. Altars are for sacrifices, and Jesus’ sacrifice was once for all on the cross. We have a table, because this sacrament is a meal for the family of God. Jesus at the Passover meal before his death gave us food and drink, and as his people we gather together at the Lord’s table to feast by faith on Christ, our true passover (1 Corinthians 5:7-8, 10:16-17, 21).
The table should be simple: it supports and presents the sacrament and should not distract from it. The worship of the old covenant was elaborate and showy, because it anticipated the glory of Christ’s redemptive work. The worship of the new covenant is simple and direct, because now we rest in what Christ has done by faith, not by sight. The table should simply and directly present what is necessary for the administration of the sacrament.
The table of the Lord is a table of communion. How could a family meal be anything else? The pastor administers the sacrament, but it is the gift of God for the people of God. Having the table of the Lord close to the people of God communicates this. Minimizing the distance between the administration of the sacrament (breaking the bread and pouring the cup in the words of institution) and distributing the sacrament is valuable in signaling that the sacrament is a meal, consecrated by God, given to and among his people. As a church we come forward to receive the meal and return to our own seats and partake together. This signals the meal-like fellowship we have with each other in the sacrament.
The Christian church has historically divided its worship service into two segments: the liturgy of the word (everything before and including the sermon) and the liturgy of the table (the parts of the worship service surrounding the Lord’s Supper). Having the table below the pulpit and after the sermon reminds us that we only receive Christ by faith through the guidance and direction of God’s word. The way in which we go about administering the Lord’s Supper at LPC is therefore based on scripture, learning from the good practices of the church in the past. The order generally follows:
The Exhortation. To exhort someone is to encourage them to a course of action. Paul does this in 1 Corinthians 11 when he explains the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. The exhortation at the table is the pastor teaching on the Lord’s Supper and holding forth the benefits and value of partaking. It is an encouragement to respond and receive the sacrament in faith.
The Creed. A creed is just a statement of faith. Since the Lord’s Supper should be received in faith, it is appropriate for the church to lift our voices to God together declaring what it is that we believe. Sometimes we recite creeds from church history, sometimes statements from scripture about who God is and what he has done as our confession of trust.
Fencing the Table. The Lord’s Supper is the meal for God’s people. That means those who are part of God’s family should come to the table. People who are baptized (the sacrament of admission into the family), have professed their faith to the church (sometimes called confirmation), and are repentant of sins are welcome to partake. This part of the liturgy includes a warning, following Paul’s guidance in 1 Corinthians 11, against coming in an unworthy manner. It also includes an invitation, to come and receive Christ by faith, even if we are weak.
Lifting Up Our Hearts. The Lord’s Supper is not a sacrifice, but a gift. Christ presents himself to us and we present ourselves to him. The Sursum Corda (Latin: Lift Up Your Hearts) is an ancient Christian declaration of our joy in responding to God’s invitation which we recite. Sometimes we also additionally respond in joy by singing the Sanctus, an ancient, scriptural Christian hymn of praise.
Prayer of Thanksgiving. The Lord’s Supper does not work by magic, but by divine appointment. That means it is not our faith that makes the sacrament God’s gift, but God who makes it God’s gift. In prayer, the pastor asks the Lord to be faithful to his promise to use the common foods of bread and wine to provide us Jesus through his Holy Spirit. This is a glorious gift, and we thank God for it. Sometimes we as a congregation will then prayer together, gratefully acknowledging to God that we receive humbly from him though we are not worthy on our own.
Words of Institution. Jesus commanded his disciples to imitate him in administering his Supper, which we see Paul do in 1 Corinthians 11. Christ’s words that the bread is his body broken for us and that the cup is the new covenant in his blood poured out for us are repeated, along with breaking the bread and pouring the cup. We as a congregation then acclaim in faith what we are showing forth: that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
Distribution and Partaking. We come forward to the table to receive the meal. While the bread that is physically broken by the pastor in the administration of the Supper is not passed out, the distribution from the same table represents partaking together of the singular loaf and cup of Christ. We come forward to receive from the same table, and then sit and partake together as the one family of God.
Prayer of Dedication. It is wonderful to receive from God his grace in Christ. In this prayer, the congregation together thanks God for what he has given and done, and asks that he would be faithful to use his gifts to work grace and faithfulness in us as we forward into the world.