“I know it’s good to remember Jesus’ work on the cross but it’s so very hard.”
I felt for her. She had been battling to remember that Jesus’ love is real – that his grace is sufficient – but the words never gained traction in her mind, they never truly sunk in. She described it as “truth that stayed on the page”. And that is what it felt like to me too. She understood, she assented but gospel truth wasn’t making a difference in her life. We were both struggling to work out where to go next.
We talked for a while – various passages and techniques got tried – and then she uttered the words that began an exciting exploration of change, “A physical reminder would help – not just words – something I can touch”.
It didn’t take long before a very obvious way forward came into view. Jesus knew we would all need assistance to remember his sacrificial work. He knew that sometimes the physical helps. That’s one of the reasons we are called to remember his death with a regular meal. Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist – call it what you will – is Jesus’ gift to us, to help us remember, in ways that are deeply tactile.
Communion and pastoral care
But how often do we consider the pastoral implications of taking the bread and wine? How often do we intentionally talk about this sacrament when walking alongside a hurting friend?
The pastoral importance of the Lord’s Supper is wide-ranging:
- It reminds us we are forgiven. By casting our minds afresh upon the sufficient sacrifice of Christ on the cross, we can remember we are clean.
- It reminds us we are united. All Christians believe in one Lord, with one faith in one act of salvation, bound together by the one Spirit – we are not alone.
- It reminds us we have abundant reasons to be thankful. As we reflect on all Christ has done, our eyes can be lifted from our profound earthly struggles to our powerful and generous Saviour. That can bring hope and joy.
And, as we physically take, touch, taste and swallow the bread and wine, we are actively impressing on ourselves that, in Christ, those things are true of us. Not just partially true – or possibly true – but deeply, profoundly, and personally true. And that can be a significant spur to truth becoming more than just words.
Communion and our hearts
How we approach the Lord’s Supper matters, therefore. It’s not something to be undertaken by rote. And by that I don’t just mean that we need to be reconciled (where that is possible) to a brother or sister in Christ with whom there has been a falling out (1 Corinthians 11:28). But also in the sense of helping people maximise the pastoral benefits of taking the elements together in church.
How can we help people engage in the Lord’s Supper well? We can:
- Encourage each other to approach communion with our questions, doubts or struggles in mind. There’s no merit in leaving problems at the door – pretending we’re ok – far better to bring them to the one who is already at work in our lives.
- Ensure we are clear how Jesus’ work on the cross makes a difference to our pain. Before the service, we can actively think through how Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection speaks into the problems we face.
- Invite each other to avoid just going through the motions of swallowing and sipping and, instead, actively thank God for all he has done in Christ.
- Encourage each other to respond to the act of taking communion with a personal prayer accepting that God’s promises truly apply to us.
- And, when doubts and struggles return, encourage each other to look back to Sunday and reflect – how did the bread and wine help us remember what’s true and engage with the One who is truth?
Communion and hope
My friend and I tried it for a few months and little by little things began to change. The physicality of taking communion, combined with the astonishing gospel truths that act recalls, helped her move to a place of thinking, “those truths aren’t just out there – they’re for me – they’re real – they’re happening now”.
There’s no quick fix happening here. Sacraments don’t change a person’s state before the Lord. Being intentionally reflective about the Lord’s Supper does not guarantee specific pastoral results. But doing something can help us grasp truths in ways that just talking about them can’t. Taking and eating involves our whole body. It invites us to see the gospel truly is for me.
The Lord’s Supper is a “means of grace” – a God-ordained way of helping us grow – and that makes it a wonderful forum for helping our friends see, and keep seeing, that God is gracious and kind. So, why not think about how you too can invite people to take and eat – and see that the Lord is good?