The Bible says very little about how we are actually to go about observing communion, yet most Christians have strong preferences, if not convictions, about how to do it. I want to expand your thinking in one area — observing communion regularly in your small group. As we will see, this is more than just a good idea.
No Wafers and Juice Cups in the Bible
Most of us (assuming an audience which holds the “symbolic” view of communion) have observed communion primarily in corporate gatherings, with a short message and Bible reading from the pastor, followed by a collective ingesting of a wafer and a small plastic cup of grape juice. Let me say, I have no problem with the wafer and grape juice! Observing communion in this way has been a major part of my life’s spiritual formation. But my strengthening conviction is that small group members should observe communion together at least once per semester/term.
At LCCC, we view small groups as not just another ministry or Bible study, but as the “church scattered,” in homes, throughout our community, engaging in directives of church which are not possible in a corporate setting: knowing, serving, loving, taking care of each other; digging in and applying Scriptures together; obeying the Great Commission together; having things in common; bearing each others’ burdens; and “being devoted to the breaking of bread and prayer” (Acts 2:42-47).
Communion in the Bible most always centered around a meal, and small groups allow a better opportunity for that than anything else in the church. At the Last Supper, Jesus effectively changed the Passover Meal into Christian Communion, and He strategically placed the observance of bread and wine within the course of this meal. (Read more about that here.)
Is it wrong, then, for us to observe communion without a meal? Well, no. One of Christianity’s unique characteristics is the freedom Scripture gives regarding church polity and practices; freedoms which enable Christian churches to thrive and transform culture anywhere, at any time, on the planet. Additionally, in 1 Corinthians 10 Paul does allude to the bread and cup without a meal (10:16-17) and in chapter 11 even tells them to STOP the meal because they were abusing it! So, the meal is not required, nor should it replace the Lord’s Supper as the focus of our gathering.
But, would it be appropriate; constructive; healthy for us to observe communion more as the New Testament Church did – as part of a relational, worshipful meal together? That is the more important question. And I believe the answer is a most definite YES!
Guidelines for Leading Your Small Group in Communion
So, to help you lead your group in communion this very semester, here are some guidelines for leaders or any spiritually mature member of a small group who wishes to lead.
1. Don’t be intimidated by this! You are already viewed as a “shepherd leader,” and this is one of the most significant and joyous acts Jesus gave us to do together.
2. Spend some time in the communion passages (Matt. 26:26-30; Luke 22:14-20; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 10:15-22; 11:17-34, and many others if you want to study the significance of the Passover, its link to Jesus’ sacrifice and blood, and the biblical rules for it.)
3. Use other resources from books, websites, etc. There are tons of good resources out there. I’ll give you a couple of mine:
First, as a kind of template for you, here on a Word document is the communion manuscript from my recent sermon on Philippians 3:13-14 – Communion Manuscript from sermon – What to Remember, What to Forget
Second, from the engaging little book, Going to Church in the First Century, which I have given to all of our small group leaders, below is a copy of the pages which I used to lead my own group in communion just a couple weeks ago.
After explaining the premise of this book – the observations of a young man on his first visit to a house church – I passed around the elements and read the following pages, followed by the 1 Corinthians 11 verses. We then “ate” and “drank” in celebration of the gospel as part of our meal together. It was a fun and worshipful experience. If this appeals to you, I encourage you to try it at your group’s next meal together!
FROM PAGES 19-21 – THE BREAD:
Before we began to eat, however, Aquila took up a cob of bread which his wife had laid on the table before him, and said he would like to give thanks. Instead of offering part of the bread to their god, Aquila reminded the people present that their god had offered something for them instead. His only son, no less, who died that they might live.
‘Just before he sacrificed himself for us,’ he went on to say, ‘he took part in a meal with his followers just like the one we’re having now. During this meal he shared around bread and told them that it represented him. Just as they needed bread in order to live physically, so, even more, they needed him if they were to experience real life. And so do we. This is why he wants us to continue having meals together and this is why we are meeting together today.’
Just how a dead person was going to do all this wasn’t at all clear to me. But then Aquilawent on to say that after this person was executed, he’d actually come to life again. I could hardly believe my ears, I can tell you, but that’s exactly what he said! He’d gone to his father after death and this put him in a position where he could share his life with anyone who followed him, wherever they were and no matter how many there were of them. A bit of him living in each of them, so to speak, or at least that’s how I understood it.
‘This means,’ continued Aquila, ‘that although he isn’t physically with us in the room, he is nevertheless really present among us. As we eat the meal together, beginning with this bread’ (which he was now breaking into substantial portions and passing among the guests) ‘we’ll experience him directly within ourselves, as well as through our fellowship with one another as we eat.’
He concluded all this with a brief prayer, if you could call it that. For it was made up on the spot so far as I could tell, and spoken in quite a normal voice. In it he thanked his god for all this and told him how much we looked forward to the meal and everything that went with it. Then he sat down to a chorus of ‘yes’, ‘indeed’, ‘amen’ and the like and began to eat.
FROM PAGE 35 – THE CUP:
At this point we were interrupted by Lysias who, at Aquila’s signal, had begun to refill the cups at our table. Felix was doing the same at the other. Aquila then took his cup in both hands and said:
‘The wine that we’ve been drinking has been part of our meal and a help to our fellowship in the Lord. But it means more than this. For, as Jesus explained, it reminds us that he is the one who has created this bond through his death. It also stands as a promise to us of the fellowship we shall have one day with him when we sit down at his table and dine with him face to face. So as we drink this cup together, let us take these things to heart and be grateful for them, looking back with appreciation on the one and looking forward with anticipation to the other. And may our meetings express that oneness that we have with him more and more so that they are, as it were, a little taste of heaven on earth.’
In this spirit we all drank.
However the Holy Spirit directs you, I pray that observing the Lord’s Supper with your small group will become a pivotal moment in your life together — one that you will repeat regularly, in remembrance of Jesus.
Blessings on your homes,