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New prayers for communion

by Mike Farley on March 03, 2023

We are a church that seeks transformation through the renewing work of Jesus, and this vision applies to our worship. In order to more clearly communicate the renewing work of God in Christ in our liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, we are planning to make two small additions to our prayers at the Lord’s table in 2023 starting in March.

When we celebrate communion, the pastor always offers a prayer of thanksgiving, and this prayer will begin by actively involving the congregation in the following dialogue:

Lift up your hearts!
We lift them up to the Lord!
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give him thanks and praise!
Therefore, with the whole company of heaven and the whole church on earth,
we give you thanks for your great glory, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The pastor will then continue with the rest of the prayer of thanksgiving, which includes thanksgiving to the Father for salvation in Christ, and a petition for the Holy Spirit to enable us to receive the life of Christ through this sacrament.

After the words of institution, the prayers and Scripture at the table will end with the following dialogue:

Now let us celebrate the feast of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

These changes will help make our worship a richer experience in several ways. First, these words are widely used in communion prayers in churches around the world. Moreover, the opening lines of the first dialogue have served as the beginning of the church’s communion prayers since the 2nd century. Thus, like the words of the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, these words are a living link that connects us to the great tradition of the whole church across space and time.

Second, these short dialogues involve the congregation more actively in the prayers of the Lord’s table. Rather than simply listening to the words and prayer of the pastor, these responses draw the congregation into the liturgy of the table more directly. And with regular use, these words will be memorized, providing another opportunity for very young children to participate even before they can read.

Third, these responses orient our spiritual focus in the right way at the Lord’s table. They enhance the theological depth of our liturgy because they express several important biblical truths that the Lord’s Supper embodies in sacramental form.

The first dialogue, “Lift up your hearts. . .” focuses us on giving thanks to God. This emphasis follows Jesus’ example, for Jesus offered prayers of thanks when he established the sacrament (Matt. 26:26-27; Luke 22:17, 19). The church historically followed Jesus’ pattern by devoting great care to developing thoughtful prayers for communion to give thanks for work of the triune God from creation to Christ to the consummation of all things. Thus, the first dialogue ends in praise of the glory of the Trinity.

The direction “up” refers to heaven, and it alludes to the theological truth that communion is a moment when we very tangibly experience the union of heaven and earth. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, and in communion–and in the whole liturgy–the worship of “the whole church on earth” reflects and participates in the ongoing worship of “the whole company of heaven” (see e.g., Rev. 4-5; Heb. 12:18-24). This happens because the presence and power of the Holy Spirit unites us to the resurrected Christ, who reigns in heaven at the right hand of the Father (Heb. 1:3-4; Eph. 1:20-23; 2:6; Col. 3:1-4). From heaven, Jesus today leads us in worship as our high priest (Heb. 2:12; 7:1-10:22), and the Lord’s Supper is a participation and communion in him (1 Cor. 10:16-17).

This focus on the vertical dimension of communion and our “ascent” by the Spirit to be joined to Christ in the worship of heaven has been a strong emphasis of a Reformed theology of the Lord’s Supper from the beginning. For example, John Calvin’s teaching on Christ’s presence in communion places great stress on Christ’s ascension to heaven and our “ascent” in the Spirit to receive his resurrection life by faith through the sacrament (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.17.10, 18, 26-32). In his own liturgy of the Lord’s table in Geneva, Calvin said,

So let us first believe in these promises, which Jesus Christ, who is the infallible truth, spoke with his mouth, namely, that he truly wishes to make us partakers of his body and blood; that we might possess him fully, so that he might live in us and we in him. And since we see only bread and wine, yet we do not doubt that he accomplishes spiritually in our souls all that he demonstrates to us outwardly through these visible signs, namely, that he is the heavenly bread that feeds and nourishes us for eternal life. So let us be grateful for the infinite goodness of our Savior, who spreads out all his riches and goods on this table to distribute them to us. For by giving himself to us, he testifies to us that all that he has is ours. . .For this purpose, let us lift up our hearts and our spirits to where Jesus Christ is in the glory of his Father, and from where we await him in our redemption. . . So our souls will be inclined to be nourished and revived by his substance, when they are thus lifted above all earthly things to reach heaven and enter the kingdom of God where he dwells. (emphasis added)

Other Reformed liturgies also use the same ancient language to express our union with the risen Christ. Thus, Reformed theology emphasizes the vertical, cosmic dimension of the Lord’s Supper as a tangible union of heaven and earth through the Holy Spirit’s presence and work through the actions of the sacrament.

The second dialogue concludes our prayers at the table with a horizontal focus that expresses our connection to the history of God’s saving works in Christ. The Lord’s Supper has past, present, and future dimensions, and the concluding dialogue communicates these truths in short, memorable way. In communion, we celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection for us in the past, participate in communion with the risen, ascended Christ in the present, and have a foretaste of our future hope in his second coming to make all things new, which we will celebrate with him at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9; cf. Paul’s reminder in 1 Cor. 11:26 that in communion we celebrate Jesus’ death “until he comes”). The dialogue uses an important New Testament word to frame this historical perspective by calling the sacrament “the feast of the kingdom.” The kingdom of Christ is the saving reign of God that Christ established in the past, builds in the present, and will bring to full consummation at his second coming. And since the future dimension of the Lord’s Supper is one of the most underemphasized aspects of the sacrament, it is helpful for the second dialogue to direct our prayer toward the future: “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!” May the Lord renew our hearts with greater gratitude and wonder as we pray together and receive his grace at his table.

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