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Developing Effective Communion Meditations

4 steps to great Communion meditations.
Developing Effective Communion Meditations
Image: Mark Galer / Unsplash

Sacrament. To say that word in a worship service of many American congregations will likely draw a raised eyebrow or perplexed glance. But our worship is generally grounded deep within a sacramental framework, and we are—for the most part—completely unaware of it. A sacrament is simply a religious symbol, a ritual activity that points us to a deeper meaning in the practice of our faith. In the Christian faith, we have two central sacraments: Baptism and Communion. Both sacraments are essential to the practice of our faith: one that starts the journey (Baptism) and one that continues the journey (Communion).

Imagine the scene: The worship leader has completed leading the congregation in singing. The band is exiting the stage while a nervous soul moves toward the microphone with their Bible in hand. A rear stage light shines upon a simple table. The table is not fancy, with only a simple phrase etched on a front plaque—Do this in remembrance of me. A small plate sits on one end of the table, a cup or tray filled with wine or juice on the other end. In the middle of the table sits a candle, a Bible, or a cross. The soft music playing in the background certainly signifies a change in tone, one more reverent and with more gravitas. The person opens their Bible, arranges their small sheet of notes and begins to speak. What comes next should be tantamount. However, as we hear the words stammer out of the speaker’s mouth, we discover that this brief message is not as powerful as it could be.

When it comes to writing a really good Communion meditation without a formalized liturgy, we can boil the process down into four simple steps:

Step 1: Decide on a Passage

All good and effective Christian communication begins in a passage of Scripture. I recommend looking at either one of the narratives where Jesus institutes Communion (i.e. Matthew 26:26-30, Mark 14:22-26, or Luke 22:14-23); a passage that focuses on Jesus’ role and function as the Messiah (i.e. Isaiah 53, John 6, Philippians 2:4-11, or Hebrews 9:11-22), or a teaching about the significance of Communion in Christian worship (i.e. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34).

Step 2: Describe the Significance

Many meditations, even those that are well-written, can come across as generic or impersonal. They come out of devotional guides that are well-meaning but not specifically tailored to your congregation. Or we can face the temptation to offer abstract reflections or content aboutthe elements or how to participate in taking Communion. While these teaching aspects are important, they can be disseminated in a teaching sermon.

For example, we have a tradition in my current congregation of declaring the Sunday before Memorial Day as “Communion Sunday.” We partake of Communion each week, but on this particular Sunday, the sermon focuses on a theme like the theology behind or function of Communion. We then engage in a creative experience.

The meditation, however, should seek to answer the question of what Communion means to you. What goes through your head and heart when you eat that piece of bread and drink that cup? What are you thinking or feeling as you gather with your fellow worshippers, whether that is gathered around the table or sitting together in pews and passing the plates? This is the part of the message where we seek to connect with the congregation, sharing with them how meaningful this part of the worship service is to us.

For example, I gave the following meditation for a congregation where I was a teaching pastor:

My personal connection to Communion has evolved over the years. When I was younger, Communion was a membership perk that the adults got to enjoy. When I got older, like in high school and college, Communion was a private devotion between God and me. I would take the elements and bow my head in silent prayer, completely ignoring those around me. Then, while I was in college, I studied abroad in Greece one semester. I remember one evening, while we were in Thessalonica, when it hit me what Communion really means: Communion is about fellowship with Christ and with others. That night, we passed around a piece of pita and poured ourselves a cup of juice, and waited until everyone had been served before partaking. For me, Communion is what brings Christians of all stripes together. In taking the bread and the cup, we are proclaiming our faith in Christ.

In order to demonstrate this meaning, we reenacted the experience that I had in Thessalonica. In closing the meditation, I explained that things would be a little different that morning. Instead of a loose piece of bread and a cup of juice, the bread and juice were packaged together so that we, acting out this proclamation of fellowship with Christ and with each other, could take Communion simultaneously. I offered a prayer of thanksgiving and then, once the trays were passed, invited the congregation to take the bread together and then drink the cup together. After the service, several members told me that this had been one of the most meaningful Communion experiences they had ever shared.

Step 3: Direct Your Meditation

Another issue in writing Communion meditations is trying to cover too much ground in a very short amount of time. Remember, we are attempting to answer the question of what Communion means to us. This is not a sermon and it should last for only a couple of minutes and should center our thoughts on the symbolic nature of the elements and why they are important to us. How does this piece of bread and cup of wine or juice help us connect with Christ and receive our grace to carry on with another week?

Perhaps you’ve heard the story about the starfish. An older guy is walking along a beach and sees a boy tossing starfish back into the ocean. The older guy comes along and scolds the boy for wasting his time, pointing to starfish that are being washed back to shore. “What you’re doing doesn’t make any difference,” the older man chides. The boy looks at the man and then tosses another starfish back into the ocean, saying, “It does to that one!”

This is a touching—if not grossly overused—story. On the surface, it has nothing to do with Communion. Yet, I have heard it used to illustrate Isaiah’s beautiful words about the Messiah carrying us on his scarred back (Isaiah 53:5), which is then followed by a prayer. Not only was the theological point valid, but the imagery of this meditation prepared the congregation—especially non-Christians—for what was about to occur.

Step 4: Draw a Powerful Image

The use of a well-crafted image can accentuate the multi-sensory nature of Communion—sound, sight, smell, taste, and touch with the elements. However, we often miss out on all of these wonderful elements. My friend Daniel Overdorf, who teaches preaching at Johnson University, once preached a sermon where he broke a loaf of bread on stage. The crust of the bread crackled with freshness.

This tactile image emboldened Daniel’s message about remembering what God has done for us, noting that when we take the bread we are recounting Christ’s death and proclaiming Christ’s resurrection. That sermon was five years ago and I still remember it.

Never discount the power of a powerful image that is connected to a thoughtfully developed idea and rooted deeply within a carefully selected passage.

Baptism, Preaching, and Communion

I love wandering through church buildings. I enjoy architecture, especially religious architecture. Why build the building in this way? Why position the artifacts of our faith in a certain place? In most of our buildings, at least the more traditional ones, the Communion table was always a central element of our architecture.

In many of these same buildings, the baptistery is located behind the pulpit. Preaching is what connects all three of these spaces together: preaching leads us to the baptismal waters and preaching moves us to the Communion table. In each activity—baptism, preaching, and Communion—we are proclaiming our faith in Christ, something Paul talked about when he tried to settle a conflict in an ancient Corinthian house church:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread,and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Cor. 11:23-26).

As we gather around our Communion table, let us remember that all we do should proclaim a deep, passionate faith in Christ that was ignited in our Baptism, nurtured through the preaching of God’s Word, and solidified in the regular taking of Communion.

Rob O’Lynn teaches preaching at Kentucky Christian University, Johnson University, and Fuller Theological Seminary, and is a minister in Ashland, Kentucky.

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