In the following two essays, I explained the basic structure of the two parts of a Christian worship service:
In those essays, I posited a Generic Christian church—something on the order of an Orthodox Catholic Anglican Protestant church—that is ecumenically broad enough to be in Communion with all contemporary mainline church organizations, yet historically deep enough to be true to our common Christian heritage: In other words, if time-traveling fourth-century Christians were to visit this church, they’d feel at home.
In churches with infrequent Communion, it’s common for Communion services to be overly long, because it is a special occasion. There is the problem of making it too somber, as if it were a funeral for Jesus. This service should show you how to avoid both problems.
Avoiding Problems and Bloopers
But first, some important things for clergy who compose their own liturgies or who conduct extemporaneous Communion services:
- Teach the congregation why you are making a change before you make it.
You might not succeed if you try to push it through on your own authority. I heard of a pastor who tried to get his congregation to stand for the gospel, but met up with fierce resistance. It would have been easy if he had explained that it is a general practice, and that it is a corporate memory of the time before there were pews. When pews were new, people felt it was disrespectful to sit for the gospel reading.
- Be careful with the prayer of confession.
I remember a clergyman who discovered at the last moment that the prayer of confession, in which he intended to address self-esteem issues, effectively had the congregation asking God to forgive them for asking for forgiveness!
- Do not misquote Jesus.
Jesus said, “This is my body,” not “This represents my body,” or “This symbolizes my body.” You can lose credibility or even parishioners if they perceive you as creatively misquoting Jesus—even if they agree with your interpretive intent. For the purposes of a church rite, it doesn’t really matter what the meaning of “is” is. Save that discussion for Sunday School or the sermon.
- Do not say “this is my body, broken for you.”
That is a poorly attested variant reading of 1 Corinthians 11:24. The gospel writers go to a lot of trouble to assure us that Jesus’ bones were not broken. The Passover lamb, and thus also the Lamb of God, would be disqualified by any broken bones. I know a pastor who got a tongue-lashing from a biblically literate parishioner over this.
The word “broken” appears in the King James Version because it is in the Textus Receptus, which was compiled without modern textual-critical methods. Most ancient Greek manuscripts do not have the word “broken.” The current speculation is that “broken” was inserted by a scribe who was thinking of the Eucharist. The Greek word for “this” could refer either to the bread or to the body, which makes it ambiguous. The correct meaning is “This bread, which is broken for you, is my body” rather than “This bread is my body, which is broken for you.” Nevertheless, it’s best to omit the word “broken,” because most people interpret it as meaning that Jesus’ body was broken, which is not true.
In English, “this is my body, for you” is awkward. It sounds like a word was left out. If you insert the word “given” (“this is my body, given for you”) it does not change the meaning but it makes better English.
- Be careful with inclusive language; it can backfire.
I remember a female minister who became severely embarrassed when she used a Communion liturgy without reading it thoroughly beforehand. It had been composed by a male colleague, who attempted to use inclusive language but overshot his mark. She turned the page and found herself in the middle of an eloquent prayer that inadvertently taught the divinity of Mary!
The Service of Communion (The Eucharist)
Now I’m going to show you a Communion liturgy. The footnotes indicate which Scripture is being obeyed, quoted, or alluded to. Click on the footnote number to see the footnotes.
The member of the clergy who leads Communion is called the ‘celebrant,’ because they are celebrating the resurrection.
If you are clergy in a denomination that requires or recommends a specific Communion liturgy, don’t stray from it. However, if you are clergy in a denomination that does not give you that sort of guidance, you can use this as a resource for a historic, orthodox, scriptural, and complete Communion service.
The congregation and celebrant together:
O Lord Jesus Christ,
We confess that we have sinned against you
in our thoughts, words, and deeds.
We have had anxieties about the future,
even though we proclaim you as Lord.
We have failed to love our neighbors,
and we have disobeyed your commands.
Have mercy upon us, Lord Jesus,
Forgive us our sins
and cleanse us of all unrighteousness
That we may walk in your ways
and serve you in grace and love.
This we ask in your holy Name
The Lord Jesus Christ is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness; therefore you are forgiven! You are cleansed of all unrighteousness, and you are worthy to partake of this holy meal.
The celebrant, with congregational responses in italics:
The Lord be with you!
Congregation: “and also with you.”
Lift up your hearts!
Congregation: “We lift them up to the Lord”
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God!
Congregation: “It is right to give him our thanks and praise.”
The whole Communion service is essentially one big prayer. The celebrant begins with wording that is appropriate to the occasion or the season, then continues:
It is a right, good, proper, and joyful thing, at all times, and in all places to give you thanks, Lord God. We join our voices with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven who forever sing this song:
The celebrant, the congregation, the choir, a reader, or a singer:
God of power and might
Heaven and earth are full of your glory
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord
Hosanna in the highest!
In the beginning, O Lord, you created us for yourself. But even though we have fallen through our disobedience to sin and death, you in your infinite mercy, grace, and love sent your only begotten Son our Savior Jesus Christ, to live among us as a man, born of a virgin. He suffered every hardship and adversity, every trial, trouble, tribulation, and temptation that we face—except without sin. Finally, He stretched out His arms upon the cross in perfect obedience to your will and offered Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.
On the night on which our Lord Jesus was given over to suffering and death through the betrayal of a friend, He took bread, and after He had blessed it and given thanks to you for it, O Lord, He gave it to His disciples and said, “Take, eat, this is my Body, which is given for you.” After the supper, he took the cup, and after He had blessed it and given thanks to you for it, O Lord, He said, “Drink of this, all of you. This is my Blood of the new covenant, which is shed for the remission of your sins and the sins of the whole world.”
Therefore, as often as we eat this bread and drink of this cup, we eat the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We proclaim His death until He comes again. Let us proclaim the mystery of our faith:
The celebrant and the congregation together:
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ is coming again!
Lord Holy Spirit, you are the giver of life in whom we live and move and have our being; consecrate this bread and wine to be, for us, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and consecrate us, O Lord, to partake of this holy meal. (Additional wording can go here.) All this we ask, Lord Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the glory of His Father, Amen. Therefore we pray the prayer our Lord taught us, saying:
The celebrant and the congregation together:(The Lord’s Prayer)
As Paul said to the Corinthians, I say to you: Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Let us keep the feast!
May the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you unto eternal life.
If the people come forward, the Communion servers might be tempted to pray long prayers with each parishioner as they take Communion, but that only lengthens the service and bores the congregation. It’s best to keep it short and meaningful, and to say the exact same thing to each person, so no one feels like someone else got special attention or that they were publicly singled out. Remember, this is Communion, not the altar call.
The person giving out the bread could say to each person, “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven,” or other words to that effect.
The person distributing the Communion wine could say to each person, “The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation,” or other words to that effect.
If one person is giving out both, they could say, “May the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you unto eternal life,” or other appropriate words.
We thank you, Lord God, that you have fed us with these holy mysteries of the Body and Blood of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. By eating His Body, we become members of His Body, and thus His agents in this world. Help us to be the distributors of your blessings, the agents of your providence, the instruments of your grace, and the ambassadors of your love to all the people we meet in our everyday lives. By drinking His Blood, we have taken on His life, which was not finally pierced by the cross nor smothered in the tomb, but lasts for evermore. We thank you for this, the medicine of immortality; the antidote to death. All this we pray in the most holy and precious name of Jesus Christ, because He is alive, and He reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit. You are one God, now and forever, Amen.
 1 Corinthians 11:27-29
 1 John 1:9
 Ruth 2:4, KJV; 1 Samuel 17:37
 Lamentations 3:41
 Isaiah 6:3
 Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:9-10, John 12:13
 Hebrews 4:15
 1 John 2:2
 1 Corinthians 11:26-25, 1 John 2:2
 John 6:53-59
 John 6:53-59
 Acts 17:28, John 6:53-59
 1 Corinthians 5:7-8a
 John 6:56
 Genesis 9:4, John 6:53