Form and Freedom: Writing Communion Prayers

One of my favorite creative endeavors in worship design is writing communion liturgy that incorporates the theme of the worship series. Writing communion liturgy is an ultimate exercise in honing the balance of form and freedom. The dance of ancient and new is one of the most delightful gifts of being a ritual artist. The juxtaposition of the familiar and the eye-opening offers real depth, and communion is a richly layered act with many opportunities to offer extraordinary beauty. In this article, I’m going to take you through one of my own examples of original communion liturgy and explain the choices that I made to craft a unique prayer to fit a particular theme.

In 2013, I designed and led worship at the Earl Lectures, a bi-annual event held at Pacific School of Religion. Each year has a different theme that structures the speakers and workshop choices. The 2013 theme was called “We Are Family: Real Families, Real Faith in the Real World” and was an affirmation of the diverse ways in which we are “families” in the 21st century. The way that Jesus gathered people around tables and created a sense of belonging for folks who were often at the margins of society was prevalent in my mind as I wrote:

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God.
Blessed is your Son who came to gather folks up

and re-name them kinfolk one to another.

Who came to call us to righteous relations in the most unlikely of combinations.

Who came to say “relative, your wellbeing is relative to my wellbeing.”

For those of you who use the ancient form from Hippolytus (c.200), which has become something of an ecumenical standard of the Great Thanksgiving, you will recognize the above portion as the Thanksgiving II, or the part of the prayer that gives thanks for the acts of Jesus in salvation history. “Blessed is the one…” is the format of the ancient prayer at that point and I have simply created an adaptation, expounding on our specific theme in that section. I go on to do that same””using freedom within the form””at the Words of Institution:

On the night in which he gave himself up for love and justice,

He sat down at the table with those that had become family.

At that table were those who adored him and those that would betray him.

He knew this. And he gave bread to all anyway.

“Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you.

Do this in remembrance of me.”

When the supper was over, he took the cup,

invited all to drink from this cup of love, this cup of suffering””

the sign of the covenant of relationship.

“Whenever you gather as family around tables,

whenever you strive to overcome the adversity of being human together,

whenever you need to remember I am always with you, do this.”

Because the worship and sermon that had come before this liturgy had so powerfully pointed us in the direction of naming and claiming the complexity of “families,” when we came to this liturgy at the table, it moved the community in an audibly, powerful way.

My hope is that you will give writing your own communion liturgy a try! Worship liturgy written by your church for your church can be so powerful, especially when you are able to tailor the language to fit the scheme of your worship series. Join us in the Worship Design Studio for more resources on tapping into all the ritual arts as well as years of my ideas for themes for every season and lectionary year.