Having briefly laid out the theological underpinnings for a more robust celebration of the Eucharist (here and here) within the Evangelical community (a lot more could be said), offering some practical suggestions as to how this might look is next.
First, continually help people to understand the significance and reasons why the Eucharist should be central to our Christian life. This would include helping people to remember that we never come to the Table because we are worthy, but only because Christ has made us worthy through his death and resurrection. In his treatment of the Lord’s Supper in Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin writes about being worthy in this way:
Therefore, this is the worthiness—the best and only kind we can bring to God—to offer our vileness to him so that his mercy may make us worthy of him; to despair in ourselves so that we may be comforted in him; to abase ourselves so that we may be lifted up by him; to accuse ourselves so that we may be justified by him; moreover, to aspire to that unity which he commends to us in his Supper; and, as he makes all of us one in himself, to desire one soul, one heart, one tongue for us all” (Book IV, ch. xvii, 42).
The point of examining ourselves is not for us to feel vile, guilt and shame because we are so sinful, but to realistically face the sin in our heart in order to more fully experience the Trinity’s great love for us. This could be done through a time of guided prayer in the service. The church could also help people do this in their homes in the days leading up to the celebration through guided prayer exercises and Scripture reading at home.
Second, use a real loaf of freshly baked bread to break off from. More than just using real bread, find people in the congregation to bake the bread. I can almost guarantee that in any church of any size, finding a person to bake bread for the Eucharist would not be difficult. This allows the church to experience what Paul writes, “And is not the bread we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Cor. 10:17). This simple practice helps the church realize that the Eucharist is not only about communing with Christ but communing with one another. To quote Calvin again, “For what sharper goad could there be to arouse mutual love among us than when Christ, giving himself to us, not only invites us by his own example to pledge and give ourselves to one another, but inasmuch as he makes himself common to all, also makes all of us one in himself” (IV.xvii.38).
Third, have a leader, be it an elder or a pastor, serve communion to each person. I think it is important to be audibly reminded as we break the bread, “This is the body of Christ broken for you,” and drink the cup, “This is the blood of Christ shed for you.” Or invite eight to ten people to the Table at a time and have them serve each other. There is something very powerful and moving both to receive the Eucharist as someone reminds you, “This is the body of Christ broken for you; this is the blood of Christ shed for you,” and to offer the Eucharist to another as you remind them. I understand this might be daunting for some people to do, but imagine how far this simple act might do in fostering and demonstrating reconciliation to a very fragmented world.
Fourth, once every two or three months, center the whole church service around the Lord’s Table, making it a reflection and celebration service. The possibilities on how to organize such a service are limitless—from singing, to the reading of Scripture corporately, to guided times of prayer, to hearing testimonies, to incorporating art (This is where engaging people who are creative would be a great idea). I think that after such a service it would be great to do a church-wide barbeque or potluck.
Fifth, along similar lines, encourage small groups within the church to participate in a potluck every time the Eucharist is celebrated. The idea is to help people engage in deeper relationships with one another. Depending on the size of the small groups, two groups could collaborate together, especially if the small groups are divided between life stages.
Sixth, each time the Eucharist is celebrated, encourage people to donate food to a local food bank, or even better volunteer the Saturday before or soon after the celebration. A lot of people eat out after church on Sunday, so what if we encourage people to fast from that meal on Sunday and donate the money? The idea is to remember that although we feast freely, not everyone does, and that we have a responsibility to help rectify this. While we celebrate the Kingdom coming to earth, and look forward to the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9), we cannot forget that we still live in a world enmeshed in sin, a creation that groans “as in the pains of childbirth” (Rom 8:22). In the words of L. Shannon Jung, “To participate in the supper means that we follow the example of Christ’s healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and caring for all people…. Moreover, acts of violence and destruction and starvation are rampant in the world. The Eucharist does not celebrate those; rather, it unmasks evil and sin. As a ritual of hold eating, ‘the Eucharist contains God’s radical protest against this ongoing victimization and violence in our world.’ Moreover, it also allows us to rededicate ourselves to the mission of loving others as God loves us” (Sharing Food, p. 140).
As I have been reflecting on the celebration of the Eucharist and discussing it with Claire, I realized that my strength in this matter is more offering the theological underpinnings of why we should celebrate the Eucharist. I love to think, but I want my thinking to move people into a fuller participation in the Kingdom. In order to fully do this, especially with the Eucharist, I want to involve more creative people who are more gifted in the how we could celebrate. I think the celebration of the Eucharist is a great way to involve creative people in the planning and execution of it.
My hope is that my simple thoughts will help others, more creative than me, to come up with even better ideas on how the Evangelical church can experience the Eucharist in the fullness that Christ intended us to.