At an adult education class in an Episcopal church near the seminary where he teaches, a parishioner spoke out against children receiving communion. He said, “Children shouldn’t receive communion until they understand it.” Louis, with his face turning red, slammed his open palm on the lectern and said, “I don’t understand it! I don’t understand what happens. It’s a mystery. But it’s a mystery that is open to all of God’s children, all of them.”
The implication, of course, is that if understanding the sacrament is a requirement to participating in it, perhaps none of us can be found worthy.
Being a student of Louis, I share his thoughts, and emotions, on the subject.
Here’s what we do know about Holy Eucharist. Jesus instituted it at his last Passover meal. He said words to the effect of eat this and drink this, all of you, in remembrance of me. (Matthew26: 26-27, Mark 14:22-23, Luke 22:19, 1 Corinthians 11:23-25)
Even 2,000 years ago, there were children at the table for Passover because it is a family meal which is shared and consumed by everyone. We know that the Passover is started with the youngest child retelling what the Passover means.
Captured in Scripture is a list of blessings referred to as the beatitudes. One of the sayings is this: “God blesses those people who make peace. They will be called his children!” (Matthew5:9) There is a story in three of the Gospels about some parents who brought their children to Jesus. The disciples kept the kids away but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and don't try to stop them!” (Matthew19:14, Mark 10:14, Luke 18:16)
“Don’t try to stop them” rings in my ear. In my experience, children are excited to receive communion. Some even try to come up twice.
One child, Troy, when he was around 3 years old, would always sit up and pay attention when I’d say, “Lift up your hearts to the Lord.” Sometimes he’d start yelling, “Bread, bread, bread” and pointing to the altar. Maybe Troy knows more about the mystery of communion than I do.
What else do we know about communion and about Jesus’ last Passover meal? We know the folks around the table were baptized. As such, baptism is the entrance to our life with Christ and our invitation to the holy table.
In the early Church, those who were not baptized would be dismissed from the service before communion began. On the day of their baptism, they’d receive communion (and probably receive it first).
In the 21st century, we do not dismiss those not-yet-baptized and in fact welcome them at the table to receive a blessing. And, in the Episcopal Church, we offer communion to all baptized, regardless of age.
What this means is that there will be kids at the altar rail. And, at times, they’ll be kids; squirmy, loud, and impatient. Yet these are the very people that Jesus said we’ll be like when we become peacemakers for God. These are the very people that Jesus welcomed and blessed. They are the fabric of a meaningful Passover meal and they are the makings of a holy communion.
Let us join together, people of every age, to participate in the sacrament and mystery of Holy Communion,
- Fr. Dave