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New Communion Words

journey communion

(c) Courtney Perry

This is a guest post by Lenora Rand.

Last year at the Wild Goose Festival, the band, The Liturgists, hosted a worship experience one night, which culminated in communion. I was among several people invited to help serve. As each person came forward and stood in front of me, I tore off a small piece of bread, dipped it into a cup of wine, and offered it, along with the words many people say as a part of this church sacrament, “The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you.”

Every time I’ve gotten the chance to serve communion in this way, I’ve been bowled over by it. I always get the feeling, as I look into the eyes of the person standing a foot away from me, speak to them and offer bread and wine, that I am participating in something way beyond words and actions, something amazingly intimate and absurdly holy.

The Wild Goose Festival draws a diverse crowd but a large number of them come from traditions in which communion is served by ushers passing around big silver trays filled with shot-size glasses of grape juice and broken up cracker-like objects. To receive the Lord’s Supper you, in the quiet of your pew, chew up a piece of cracker and wash it down with a hit of juice. This is a solitary moment of reflection. Usually, the only words spoken come from the minister far away at the front of the sanctuary.

So when people came forward that night at Wild Goose, for a lot of them, taking communion in this more personal way, was a first. I could see it in their eyes, looks of surprise and gratitude, as well as confusion, sometimes sadness, and even, wonder.

I was overwhelmed in that moment with how much I wanted to help feed hope and pour love into the souls standing before me.

I was also suddenly so uncomfortable with the words I have always known to say during communion. As they were coming out of my mouth, my head was swirling with questions about whether these particular words adequately reflected my beliefs anymore.

The body of Christ, broken for you.
The blood of Christ, shed for you.

That night, I’ll admit, I even tried to improvise a little, tried out some other words I thought I could say with more confidence, but to be honest, it wasn’t always pretty. It may have been theologically and poetically cringe-worthy, at times, kinda like George Lucas crossed with Dr. Seuss.  So, I often ended up just reverting back to the comfort and ease of the words I’ve heard all my life.

I started thinking about it afterwards though. Wondering, what do I really believe about atonement? And about this sacrament?  What else could I say with conviction during communion?

So I began doing some research into what other churches and faith communities are thinking about and saying during the Eucharist. And in the process, I ran across a whole lot of people who feel very strongly on the subject  (including a number who are, by the way, very much against the “intinction” method of delivering the elements — the way we did it that night at Wild Goose, and how we always do it at my progressive evangelical church in Chicago — since they feel it’s biblically incorrect).

I also decided to read Tony Jones’s book, Did God Kill Jesus? to help me think through some of my questions about atonement.  In the book Tony looks at the various ways Christ’s death on the cross has been viewed throughout the history of the church and asks 6 key questions about each one.

What does the model say about God?

  • What does it say about Jesus?
  • What does it say about the relationship between God and Jesus?
  • How does it make sense of violence?
  • What does it mean for us spiritually?

Where’s the love?

Now, I’m not a pastor or seminary graduate or person who generally has a whole lot of patience with theological discussions. (And between you and me, I almost giggle a little every time someone says Penal Substitutionary Atonement…you know what I’m talking about.)

However, I am a person who finds myself in a church pew most Sunday mornings, full of questions and doubts and hope and longing…someone who has, for a good portion of my life, been trying to figure out what following Jesus might actually look like, in the midst of an overly demanding corporate job, bills to pay, kids to raise, boatloads of laundry to do. And I found Tony’s book incredibly readable and clarifying. It even occurred to me that his 6 questions might not only be a helpful lens for what Christ’s death on the cross could mean, but also an interesting way of examining a lot of things we Christian-y types believe and do…including how we do communion.

After finishing the book, I ended up writing down some things I felt like I could say with conviction when offering the bread and wine, some things, I realized, I’d also like to hear when communion is being served to me.

Christ is here, in your brokenness
Christ is here, bringing you to life


Christ broken, with us in our brokenness
Christ’s life, flowing through our lives

Or simply…

The bread of life.
The cup of love.

 But, that’s just me, I realized.

Communion is, by its very nature, communal.

So, I began to casually bring up this question in conversations with some folks in my church, including more than a couple, who, I discovered, like me, struggle with the words being said, and find the experience often feels exclusionary, full of hot buttons about who’s in and who’s out.

But who are hungry for it. Desperately hungry to feel God’s presence, dying for a gulp of God’s amazing grace.

After hearing that, and with my own questions, I recently took another step. I asked my pastor if we could gather a small group of people in our church, a mix of seminary professors and “regular people” — men and women, old and young, from different races, different occupations and religious backgrounds (in short, a cross section of our church) to look at all the words we say during communion, through the lens of the Bible and church history and also personal histories and experiences. My hope is that we could, together, make sure what we’re saying is what we really believe, and what can truly fill us.

She thought it sounded like a good idea too, and it’s something we’ve decided to try to do during Lent. I’m very appreciative that she’s willing to help convene a conversation about this. Willing to wrestle with it herself within our community.

Sure it’s just a few words… but every time I remember those faces from the Wild Goose communion last summer, those eyes looking up at me as I served them bread and wine, hungry for hope, thirsty for blessing, I know that these are words that matter. Maybe more than we know.

When she’s not working at her very full time job, Lenora blogs about her quest to be more godly when you’re not very good at it at Spiritual Suckitude and helps direct The Plural Guild, a collective creating music, prayers, visual art & liturgy for people of faith and doubt, who are trying to follow the Jesus who so loves the world. She also writes lyrics for the band The Many.

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  • I, too, have been troubled by the traditional words spoken at the Lord’s Supper. I really like intinction, but that’s another comment. I really like the Christ is here… phrasing you use. Thanks for the thoughts.

    I’ve been given to saying

    The body of Christ, given for you
    The cup of the New Covenant, filled for you.

  • Greg Johnson

    Like you, I want the best for those I serve the Lord’s Supper. I feel a basic scriptural duty to succinctly nudge them out of any distractions to focus on what Jesus has done for us, per 1 Corinthians chapter 11. If the communion meditation of the day suffices to that end, why elaborate? A thankful smile might suffice.

    The various phrases offered here so far and a few similar ones are all fine for me. At a given service I stick to the same words for each person. But for the next recurring opportunity I would use slightly different words, so there is no mistaken notion that the words are special, some kind of Harry Potter incantation.

  • Rev. Tom

    Full disclosure: I AM a pastor, and a seminary grad, and I love theological conversations, so there’s that. I also love communion by intinction because it provides ME with an intimacy with my congregation from which I do not benefit when we offer it in the traditional Congregational form. But I think you mischaracterize the theology of the act when you suggest, “To receive the Lord’s Supper you, in the quiet of your pew, chew up a piece of cracker and wash it down with a hit of juice. This is a solitary moment of reflection. Usually, the only words spoken come from the minister far away at the front of the sanctuary.”

    I can’t say that all such congregations have a complete understanding of this form, but the intention here is an egalitarian one. Rather than making the sharing of the elements fully dependent on authority of clergy, early congregationalists encouraged the sharing of the elements neighbor to neighbor. When offered more traditionally, the congregational style is for each person, as they “pass” the tray, to verbally offer the element to their neighbor. A participation in, rather than a simple receiving of, the ritual.

    As to the words used in offering the meal. In our church we usually offer some variation on, “The bread of Life,” or “The bread of heaven,” “The cup of peace,” or “the cup of God’s blessing.”

  • surfnetter77

    I am a Roman Catholic converted as a young man by my own “Damascus Road” experience from the atheism that was foisted on me from my alcoholic narcissistic parents, both from European Roman Catholic lineage. I was scandalized away from “papist” theology by the typical stuff and for years coarsed through nearly every Protestant denomination locally available. After having given up the search for the “true church” for a few years I finally found comfort in the denomination of my parental forebears for its own and my own ancient links to the past and my more recent memories of growing up in post WWII Levittown, Long Island that was then populated by a vast majority of devout Roman Catholic families. Soon after coming back as a father of four young children I was “volunteered” as an emergency replacement extraordinary (translation — “unordained”) minister of the Eucharist. The “ordination” is really the only difference that still separates Catholics from Protestants today. The refusal of the more conventional Protestant denominations to recognize the authority of the Papal hierarchy in administering Holy Orders to the priests who preside over the consecration of the sacrifice of bread and wine is what’s keeping us officially “apart”. But I don’t believe that God recognizes nor that He participates in that separation. This is evidenced in the experience described in the above blog post. Being a long time ordained “extraordinary” (a holy oxymoron?) I can report I have had the same experience every single time of the hundreds of opportunities I have had to hand out the little round wheat wafers universally used in the Catholic Mass. And we just hold it up at eye level to the awaiting parishioner and say “The Body of Christ.” For the few instances where the Cup is offered to the congregation we hand it to the awaiting communicant and say “The Blood of Christ.” It’s just a beautiful and unique spiritually rewarding experience of real “holy communion”.

    Some years ago I would watch a 30 minute sermon by a Catholic monk on a Catholic TV channel. One early morning he spoke of how the Church no longer believes in the “transubstantiation” of the offerings, as electron microscopes can now evidence that there is no “substantial” change of the bread and wine after consecration by an ordained priest — it remains elementally bread and wine. I forget the term he used but what he said amazed and thrilled me. He reported that the Church now believes that the change occurs in the heart of the faithful when they partake. I was thrilled because I realized that there was no difference now between the Catholic and Protestant rites of communion — that this now opened the door for the lifting of the Roman Rite requirement of the recognition of Holy Orders. The change was accomplished in the heart of the believer — and God is the only Authority who can make that judgement and affect the change. Unfortunately when I checked with our local priestly authorities this monk was premature in his declaration. Although this was being “discussed” by the Magisterial bishops the issue has been “laid on the table” more or less permanently, as it were. And as I kept searching for this monk’s program for clarification I came to realize that he had been canceled.

    Maybe after this latest generation of elderly “cradle Catholics” goes on to their just rewards — as such a drastic shift might be seen as having hastened this eventuality ….

  • So glad you’ve had a similar experience serving communion… and yes, I believe ultimately all kinds of change begins/continues in the heart of the believer…Thanks for sharing your story..

  • Nudging us awake, out of our everydayness, into some sense of the sacred in our lives, is an important calling. Glad you’re out there doing it.

  • I haven’t heard “The cup of the New Covenant, filled for you…” before. Nice. Love those pouring/filling images as it relates to the cup…

  • I don’t think the traditional words fit only one idea about the atonement. I think the hard, cold facts of what Jesus suffered for us are an important part of the meaning of the communion experience. The traditional words are shocking words, and the New Testament accounts are even more shocking. I need to be shocked into really thinking about my commitment to Christ. Sometimes alternative words I’ve heard have seemed too soft to really do the job.

    I also don’t believe there are magic formulas, so it doesn’t need to be done identically each time. At my church, we follow a shared leadership model (with no pastor) so it’s seldom the same person leading the communion 2 weeks in a row. The person leading that part of the service is free to do it as s/he feels led. That person will state words to use, which are sometimes the traditional ones and sometimes other ones – sometimes ones that specifically tie to what has happened earlier in the service. The elements are then passed among the worshippers so each person is offering them to the next person. Usually not everyone winds up saying the same words.

  • surfnetter77

    And thank you for sharing yours. I firmly believe that God is not obliged to recognize the divisions we create and embrace with our own ideations. The Mystical Body of Christ is firmly and inexorably unified and God is getting exactly what He wants out of us — despite our best efforts to get Him to do it our way. God bless you!

  • I agree, the traditional words can be understood in many different ways. And yes, I think the suffering of Jesus is important to look at, not ignore or hide. For me, however, the traditional words are pretty tied in with the church of my youth’s singular view of atonement. I really appreciate what your church is doing, offering people a variety of words, not always the same ones. Sounds like a good idea.

  • Kathryn Helmers

    Well said, Lenora. Wish I could have been there!

  • Pingback: the words of the eucharist | Following Jesus()

  • Thanks Kathryn. Maybe this summer? I’m planning to be there again!

  • Sharon David McCart

    My theology emphasizes the choice that Christ made to enter fully into our world and that we are saved by the love that drove that choice. I like the words, “The bread of heaven, shared with you.” “The cup of blessing is yours.”

  • We have been using the words “Bread of Life, Cup of Salvation”

  • George Waite

    Church is boring

  • George Waite

    Sure, why not tinker some more, you’ve clearly nothing better to do with your time.

  • Stephen W. Houghton

    THE Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.

    THE Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.