When Christ ascended, he gave his church various means with which to remember him. Partaking of the Lord's Supper, or communion, is a significant way we are called to remember Christ and His gospel work. All over the world, ministry leaders often preside over the partaking of communion during their gatherings.
Recently, our worship pastor asked me if I would write an article about various points to bring up when leading communion. He is respectful of the Lord's Table and does not want to use it as a time to express his creativity, but he found himself saying the same thing week-in-week-out when leading the congregation in eating the bread and drinking from the cup. So he thought I might have a few starter points to help him and other ministers of the gospel in leading groups of Christians into a beneficial time of remembrance of Christ and his work. Below are a few ways to approach this time of celebration for what Christ has done. Often, words are not required, but if you decide to share something during the corporate remembrance of Christ, below are some starter points to consider.
To Remember Jesus
"...Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19 ESV)
It is shocking that we need a way to remember Christ, but we are forgetful sheep in need of a way to think afresh about what he did for us on his cross. He did not give the church art or imagery or icons to remember him, but he did give us the bread and cup. So one way to receive communion is to focus on the overall story of Christ. Talk about the brokenness of the world, God's heart to save us sinners, and the coming of Christ to reconcile the world to himself by his blood. Share the overall gospel story. Remember the meta-narrative of Christ's cross.
To Recall the Incarnation
"...This is my body..." (Matthew 26:26 ESV)
Communion provides an excellent opportunity to celebrate the incarnation, for the bread is a reminder, a representation, of his body broken for us. Recall how the eternal word became flesh and dwelt among us. Talk about his humanity, how he came to relate to the very humans he created. Talk about how God's intention for humankind, that we would have dominion over the creation, was lost through sin, but that Christ came as the perfect man to make a new humanity.
To Remember Jesus' Death
"...This is my blood..." (Matthew 26:28 ESV)
Believers are often refreshed when thinking of the death of Christ. I've never thought we need to sensationalize it or dress it up, the simple and truthful details surrounding the death of Jesus will suffice. The beatings, the torment, the mockery, the physical affliction he endured on the cross, the darkness, the aloneness; all of it speaks loudly of the love of God for his people. To talk of the event of Jesus' death helps bring the point of the gospel back to a fresh place in people's minds.
To Remember the New Community He Created
“...Drink of it, all of you...” (Matthew 26:27 ESV)
When Jesus died and rose and ascended, he created a new humanity. This new humanity was seen a little during the last supper, and in every instance of it since. As they gathered, and as we gather, eating the same bread and drinking from the same cup, we are reminded of our unity to one another, a unity provided for by the blood of Jesus. Celebrate how Christ's blood made way for Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free to be brought together. Rejoice over how the wall of separation between humans has been destroyed by Christ's blood.
To Celebrate the Forgiveness of Our Sins
“...Poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28 ESV)
Communion is an incredible opportunity to recall the forgiveness of sins provided for us in the blood of Jesus. People battle the self every single day. We are in need of grace. Constantly, we must hear and know and receive assurance that our sin has been dealt with by our God. To know that our sins have been put away by the Lord is all important. We never tire of hearing that our sin has been put away from us as far as the east is from the west. To hear how Christ consumed our sin into his body while posted on the cross is cause for great rejoicing and delight.
To Refocus on His Mission
“...Which is poured out for many...” (Matthew 26:28 ESV)
Communion is a great chance for the church to refocus on the mission Christ gave to us. When he shed his blood, it was for the world. "God so loved the world he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). To hold the bread and cup is a privilege, one afforded to us because the gospel came to our ears. As we hold them, we are holding a message the world needs to receive. Allow the time of celebration to reflect the mission Christ began there on his cross.
To Long for the Full Experience of His Kingdom
“I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29 ESV)
Jesus said he would not eat or drink this meal until in his Father's kingdom with his disciples. He awaits that moment, and so do we. We live in his kingdom now but are still awaiting its full manifestation. To take communion, as he told us to do, is to take it without Jesus. We await that day when we will partake of the marriage supper of the lamb and rejoice eternally with our risen King. So during communion in the here and now we can celebrate and hope and long for that coming and glorious kingdom. We can center ourselves upon that which truly matters.
To Glory in the New Covenant
“...This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20 ESV)
The New Covenant is a mystery to many modern believers. Many of us struggle along through life trying hard to obey God. Many have a relationship with God today that bears a striking resemblance to the Old Covenant. Through a constant breaking of the law, they feel under constant condemnation, but there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). His blood introduced a New Covenant, and we must continually reintroduce his people to that covenant today. They must know how God promised to live inside his people, changing and shaping them from the inside out. They must see how we are in a covenant of grace, one in which there is always hope for personal growth and sanctification and increased Christ-likeness. They must be reminded they are in Christ, his everlasting possession, and that he will never let go.
To Consider the Love of God
"...which is for you.” (1 Corinthians 11:24 ESV)
This one is obvious. Just holding the bread and cup in your hands makes one feel the love of God. Jesus came. He came because of love which flowed from his heart. The love of God spilled over, manifesting itself in the cross of Christ. But we often forget God's love, at least the real love of God. Humans often imagine a permissive and sloppy love of God, one which is absent of all justice. However, the cross of Christ shows us God's determined objection to humanity's sin, but also his deep love for us. Tell them.
To Proclaim the Hope of Christ's Return
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26 ESV)
Paul felt communion was something the church would do to proclaim Jesus' death until the day he came again. Until Christ comes, we take communion. So, in a sense, partaking of the bread and cup is a way for us to hope in his return. Talk of how one day our Lord will come back for us. Tell the people how Christ is currently preparing a place for his people (John 14:1-3). Show them how he is going to visibly manifest himself and return to earth. Help them anticipate and hope in the second coming of Christ.
To Give an Opportunity for Healthy Self Reflection
“Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (1 Corinthians 11:28 ESV)
The Corinthian church was a messy church, and some sort of sin had spread throughout their corporate feasts together. When they ate together, rich were elevated above the poor, and appetites ran out of control. Part of their meal, it seems, included the taking of communion. Perhaps they had combined communion with the church potluck. But Paul told them they should approach the Lord's table lightly. They should not abuse their brother in Christ while eating the meal. They needed to examine themselves. Now, I write this one in fear and trembling, for I've known people who've taken this too far, way out of its context, but there is a place for healthy self-reflection, Holy Spirit led examination when taking communion. Confession of our sins and recommitment to the Lord seems appropriate during the taking of communion.
To Stir Up Your First Love
“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent." (Revelation 2:4–5 ESV)
Finally, communion is a wonderful opportunity to rekindle the lost flame of love for Christ. The Ephesian church, mentioned in the verse above, had abandoned their first love. They were a fruitful church. They were doctrinally correct and had much devotion to Christ's mission. But the marital love they had to Jesus, the kind which is to mature and grow and develop in intensity, had faded. Rather than grow in love with Christ, they had left their love for him. Communion is a great time to check up and see if our love for Christ has faded, to repent of it and do the works we did at the first. Encourage people to rejoice again in the love of Christ, exhorting them to return to that first love.
My hope is that this small sampling of ways to approach leading believers in communion would be helpful to anyone who would like to remember Christ in this way. Pastors, deacons, worship leaders, parents, male, female, young, and old can all lead others in communion. No hierarchy prohibits one believer from leading others into the Lord's Supper. Small groups, families, and churches can eat the bread and cup together. When we do, we should do it soberly, but with great joy. It is not a funeral, but a celebration of what Christ has done for us. Let us, with gladness, remember our Lord!