A couple of years ago, my church, out of convenience, began supplying the congregation with prefilled communion cups with a wafer attached to the top. I’m not much of a traditionalist; however, these sterile elements really bothered me. I struggled to know why. The bread and cup are just symbols, so quality shouldn’t matter, should it?
I studied the scriptures and a little church history, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the quality of the communion elements matters a great deal – especially in Protestant churches. Using the right elements will greatly enhance the communion experience for men.
First, a little church history lesson.
God created us with five senses, and for centuries the church built its worship services around all five. Christian worship involved sight, sound, touch, taste and smell.
But during the Reformation, Protestant ministers came to mistrust the multisensory approach to worship. Based their reading of Romans 10:17 (Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God), these ministers closed off every path for the gospel except the ears. They stripped their sanctuaries of statues, icons and adornments of every kind. “Smells and bells” were banned; preaching became the only trusted conduit for the gospel.
Not much has changed since the 1500s. Even today, more than 80% of what we experience in Protestant worship comes in through our ears; including music, preaching, and announcements. In recent years, a visual component has elbowed its way back into our worship spaces (the big screen), but very few churches display compelling visual content on their screens.
Now back to communion. The Lord’s Supper is the one and only time Protestants allow themselves to worship God with all five senses. They hear God’s Word as the minister gives instruction. They see and touch the elements in their hands. And they smell and taste as the bread and cup come to their lips.
And that’s why a styro-wafer and pasteurized juice just don’t cut it – especially for men. It’s hard for us to imagine Christ’s broken body if it tastes like a packing peanut.
Communion is not only a remembrance of the Lord’s death. It’s also a foreshadowing of the great wedding feast of the lamb, a glorious celebration we’ll all enjoy in heaven one day. In the early church, the Lord’s Supper was an actual feast – of such quality that people were eager to dig in, and some even got drunk! (1 Cor. 11:20 ff) While it’s not practical to serve a meal in our worship services today, we can still make communion a celebration worthy of the Lord himself.
Here are some recommendations for a communion feast that will help men experience God:
- Use the freshest, most aromatic, full-bodied bread you can find. Buy the good stuff. I prefer multi-grain bread, because the body of Christ is not just white people. Of course, a quality unleavened bread is also good, since that’s what Jesus would have eaten with his disciples.
- Instead of pre-cutting the bread, allow the saints to tear off individual pieces. This reminds us that we are the ones who broke his body.
- Encourage men to take a big piece of bread if they choose. Christians are used to taking a tiny morsel, but why? It’s the Lord’s Supper, not the Lord’s Snack. Let a man take a mouthful if he chooses, as a symbol of his hunger for Jesus. Buy (or bake) plenty of bread and donate the rest to the local homeless shelter.
- Instead of serving people in their seats, invite them to come forward. This symbolizes the fact that each of us must come to Jesus. The more you engage a man’s body in worship, the better.
- If your church rules allow it, it’s good to use real wine. The early church used real wine (see 1 Cor. 11:20 ff) Wine stings the back of the throat. This tiny bit of discomfort reminds us of the suffering of Jesus. (Of course, have juice available for those who abstain from alcohol).
- Some churches have begun to perform distracting, vocal music during communion. I would discourage that. Keep any background music soft. Use deep bass notes to suggest the seriousness of Jesus’ sacrifice.
I don’t know about you, but communion is one of my favorite times of worship. Partaking of the bread and the cup is a profoundly moving experience for me. We enhance this experience for men when we use quality elements.
Next time, I’ll write about a couple of ways we can make baptism more relevant for men.