There are three basic parts to the liturgy of Holy Communion: confession and forgiveness, proclamation of the Word and celebration of the Meal. Perhaps the easiest way to remember how the basic pattern works is to think about a family gathering with people eating together and sharing stories. We are God's family gathered together to share family stories and the family meal.
Luther said that we should renew our baptism every day. God does this by graciously cleaning up our lives and encouraging us to sort out our relationship with others. The Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness provides such an opportunity whenever it is used at worship.
There are many times when I would like to forget that I have sinned against God in thought, word and deed, and that I have not loved my neighbor as myself. This part of the service helps me to remember that I'm not quite the wonderful person I would like to believe I am. At the same time, I am reminded how wonderful and gracious God has been and continues to be. This in turn encourages me to respond to God's love by living as faithfully and lovingly as I can.
In the next part of the service, we tell family stories as we share and celebrate around the Word of God. Every Sunday has a different theme. The Prayer of the Day and the Bible lessons for this day reflect that theme. There are usually three lessons or readings — normally one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament and one from one of the four Gospels—after which a sermon is preached to help us to understand the implications of these readings for our lives.
Then comes Holy Communion, the family meal. This meal is provided to strengthen us as Christians. Through it we are touched by grace, receive forgiveness, celebrate Jesus' presence among us, are connected to all Christians of every time and place, and much more.
Although each congregation has the freedom to choose its own practice, the norm for us is communion of the baptized. Our church officially teaches "eucharistic hospitality." This means that every baptized Christian is welcome to receive the sacrament, including the youngest child. Because this is a fairly recent decision for us, you may find that the congregation where you are attending worship has not yet adopted this practice.
You may need to ask someone at the congregation where you are worshipping to explain their practices to you because communion practices vary widely from congregation to congregation. Most Lutherans receive the bread in their cupped hands and bring it to their mouth with both hands. If you prefer not to drink from the cup (chalice)—perhaps you have a bad cold and don't want to pass it on—you may choose to hold onto the bread until the chalice comes, and dip the bread into the chalice before eating it. This custom is called "intinction."
Most congregations use wine, although some use grape juice or offer it as an option. Many use a common cup, while others offer individual glasses, or the option of either.
Whatever the congregation, I hope you will be met with common sense and courtesy and that we treat you as graciously as the One who is host of this meal.
Jesus meets us here in words of hope and promise: "The body of Christ given for you. The blood of Christ shed for you." Christ's presence in this sacrament is as real as the bread we chew and the wine we sip. Those words "for you" mean just that; whether you are burdened, celebrating, struggling, worried, hopeful, troubled, timid or feeling great.