ARE you deeply burdened for those in your congregation who need to be elevated in thought, purified in heart, and transformed in character? A beautiful and meaningful communion service may perform a miracle in many of their lives.
Have your ordinance services bogged down into perfunctory ritualism? Has the beauty and holiness of that hour become common by familiar dullness? Ellen G. White says: "The ordinances that point to our Lord's humiliation and suffering are regarded too much as a form."—The Desire of Ages, p. 660. This need not be so. "To those who receive the spirit of this service, it can never become a mere ceremonial."—Ibid., p. 651.
How can we make these services more beautiful and more meaningful? How can we keep them from becoming mere forms? The Spirit of Prophecy answers. "Christ has instituted this service that it may speak to our senses of the love of God. . . . Our senses need to be quickened."—Ibid., p. 660. The minister's mode of re-enacting the drama of those last twenty-four hours largely determines whether sacred emotions are awakened or not. Those twenty-four hours so packed with action, love, beauty, and meaning are rich in sense-quickening resources. The story, the characters, and the symbols may be familiar, but the wealth that Jesus bequeathed during those hours can never be tarnished with dull sameness if the minister takes time to remit them properly to the poor in Laodicea. These treasures can stir the soul and restore to us the love feasts of our fathers.
Revel in Its Preparation
To present this service in beauty and holiness you must revel in its preparation.
Spend time reading all the accounts of those precious hours from the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. Such books by Paul 0. Bradley and Taylor C. Bunch, published by the Ministerial Association in 1952, provide invaluable inspiration.
In your private devotion let your heart be broken as was Peter's; let the selfless service of Jesus possess you; let His loveliness and beauty permeate your being. Your face will shine as you come forth from the presence of the Lord to speak to His people. And your prayerful planning will bring them health and vitality; and it will invigorate the missionary spirit so needful at the present time.
The call to Communion should be given a week ahead of the scheduled services. This should be more than an announcement from the desk or the bulletin. The call could well consume the whole sermon. Let your congregation read in concert with you Psalm 139:23, 24: "Search me, O God . . . " A hasty examination on Communion day is not enough. Several days may be required to set things right between brethren. Letters may need to be written. Without becoming personal, point out specific and common faults that need to be corrected that our people may not eat and drink damnation to themselves. This is the minister's responsibility. F. D. Nichol's books furnish an abundance of soul-searching material.
End the call sermon with a definite and solemn entreaty such as this: Our eternal interest demands that we look to the cross. The communion service is the pointing finger of Jesus. You neglect this service at the peril of your soul. "Every disciple is called upon to participate publicly."—Ibid., p. 656. To you who willfully absent yourselves from this service, Jesus says, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me." You are refusing the higher cleansing, and rejecting the Lord. Jesus says again, to you who "know these things, happy are ye if ye do them."
Planning With Prayer
A few days before the scheduled service call a special prayer and planning session for all the persons preparing for, or participating in, the meeting, including the musicians. Share with them the burden of making a real spiritual feast. Lead them to set an example in self-examination, and in forsaking questionable practices. Suggest that they wear inconspicuous clothing without ornamentation for the service. Impress them that they who bear the vessels of the Lord must be clean. Pray earnestly together for a refreshing from His presence. Plan with them every detail and provide each with a typed order of service.
When the ordinance of humility must be held in a small area the following arrangement works nicely. Set up two rows of chairs facing one another about six feet apart. Those in the two serving lines will have their backs to each other. Place a container of fresh water and one for the used water at each end of this arrangement. Then your traffic on one row can move in the opposite direction from the other. Two rows with twelve chairs in each will take care of forty-eight people.
Jesus did not set the example of preaching a sermon, in the usual sense, at the first communion service. The order was one of audience participation. It was a social meeting where the disciples expressed themselves individually and collectively. Jesus made it a true communion of brethren with brethren.
With careful planning something of this sort can be carried on today even with large audiences. Precious personal testimony seasons can be conducted by dividing large audiences into sections with a leader for each, following the pattern of early morning camp meeting devotionals. For variety have the testimony service during the ordinance of humility, after it has gotten under way. This social service is an old Advent custom that we can revive with profit. But it need not be practiced at every observance. Alternate with other types of audience participation.
Every communion service should have a season for quiet reflection, a soul communion with the Lord. This season can be varied by using an earnest pastoral appeal, a fervent pastoral prayer, or silent prayer. Occasionally direct the silent prayer by suggesting specific requests at appropriate intervals, as "First, let us pray that we will take time for family worship."
Quiet reflection is often prompted by special music if the singer has definite spiritual appeal. This is not the place for display of talent. Read the words yourself of a song with strong feeling to soft organ and piano accompaniment. Have you ever heard a congregation singing to itself? It is lovely! Without accompaniment lead your people in singing The Old Rugged Cross. They lose themselves in meditation. In case of your inability a capable song leader is a must, but it makes for more smoothness if the minister does it himself.
Stand at Foot of Cross
Ask your congregation to stand as if at the foot of the cross for two or three minutes while you bring to their remembrance the scenes of Calvary. A true vision of the cross marvelously transforms character. Vivid descriptions to draw from are found in Desire of Ages and In Remembrance of Me, page 15. We are to show the Lord's death till He come. Many contemplative poems are found in the books already mentioned and in the Review and Herald. Ways of creating this needful soul communion are limited only by the amount of prayerful thinking you do. But do not use too many of these variations on any one Sabbath. Too much change is distracting.
There are many themes around which to plan your service. Taylor C. Bunch mentions thirty-two in Memorials of Calvary. Take a suggestion found in 1 Corinthians 11:25: "This cup is the New Testament in my blood." Another translation reads, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood." The words "covenant," "testament," and "sacrament" all have the connotation of a compact or an oath of allegiance. The marriage covenant represents the relationship of Christ and His people. Every Communion is to confirm anew our vows.
This theme can be developed beautifully by capturing some of the atmosphere of a simple wedding ceremony, but take care not to be too sensational. The duet "My Prayer" in Gospel Melodies fits well as special music. Read a description of the wedding banquet from Revelation 19:1-9 and Early Writings, page 19. Renew vows by reading in concert such texts as Psalm 119:15, 16. Instead of the customary dismissal song, use "0 Jesus I Have Promised" or "Now I Belong to Jesus."
The pilgrim theme is a good one to enlarge. Until the children of Israel were settled in Canaan they ate the Passover while standing, to indicate their wayfaring condition. This idea can be brought over meaningfully into the ordinance of the Lord's Supper. Just before the bread is served a vocalist sings "Is It Far to Canaan's Land?" Then to emphasize our pilgrim status have the congregation quietly stand to eat the bread. Another special, "I'm Homesick for Heaven," is given before the wine is passed, taken also while standing.
Time spent with Jesus in preparation for this service will charge your people with the mysterious love of Jesus. They will go forth clean and strengthened by the lovely re-enactment of the old, old story.