As is the practice in this congregation, children usually do not receive Communion until: 1) their parents consent, and 2) I, as Pastor, have had a period of instruction with them. Before the reception of their First Communion, however, all children, upon coming up with the parents, receive a blessing from me: “May the Lord bless you and keep you all the days of your life. Amen.” Sometimes when I have a line of five young kids who are not receiving Communion, it can take a little while to repeat the same blessing to each one; but just as each person individually receives bread and wine—hearing the promise: “The body of Christ given for you” and “The blood of Christ shed for you”—so also it is important that each child receive a personal blessing. These words of love, hope, and promise spoken to every little one—whether carried, wrangled, or walking forward on their own—are the same words I speak to my little guy.
My wife and I—each having slightly different upbringings in the church—have talked numerous times about our personal beliefs regarding a child’s reception of Communion, and agree that for us it is important that at the very least our son be able to speak before he receives his First Communion. While the ability to talk is not a prerequisite for reception of the sacrament, we share in the belief of instruction being good and necessary for a child to receive. If our son cannot speak—though we can still tell him all about God’s love for him in Jesus Christ—it is nearly impossible for us to have any kind of conversation about how this translates into the practice of Holy Communion and him ask any faith-probing questions. This is not to say he must “understand” what it means—because, as Lutherans, we believe what happens in, with, and under the sacrament is a mystery to be received in faith. Plainly stated, my wife and I believe Holy Communion is a gift of God’s grace and love shown and shared through Christ, by which we receive forgiveness of our sins—and as such, it is a faith practice we hold as important and want to be able to discuss with our son.
This being said, our son—amidst his terrible twos—is in this inquisitive (if that’s the correct word) phase where he is beginning to notice things we have either taken for granted or sometimes overlook. For instance, when he sees everyone else receive something, but he is unable to share in it, he makes a mental connection and quickly seeks to voice loudly his disapproval. Heck, we could be passing out raw onion to everyone and he would still want one, even if only to take a bite, immediately spit it out, and toss it to the side. Therefore, each week as he watches others go forward for Holy Communion, hold out their hands, receive the bread and then dip it in either the wine or grape juice; but then he not receive it as well—even as his hands are held out like everyone else—he feels like he is being denied something, and goes berserk: crying profusely in response. Seeing or hearing it from afar—without being aware of the full context—one might think otherwise: “Oh, it’s Pastor’s kid making a ruckus again…” Yet, this is not the case. My son cries as he is passed over during Communion because, even at two years old, he notices a discrepancy—others are receiving something, and yet he is being denied despite doing the same thing.
What then, does this mean? Does he understand what it is he’s not receiving, or why he is being passed over? Who knows, perhaps not. (Although the kid proves to be smarter than I often give him credit.) Nevertheless, his hands covering his face with tears running down his cheeks as he is carried back to his seat demonstrates, at the very least, how even the youngest of our worship attendants can (and often do) notice things others of us adults either disregard or don’t consider with much detail. Does his outburst mean I should just disregard the practices of the congregation and make an exception—giving him the bread? While it tugs at my heartstrings, I wouldn’t immediately jump to that response. For me, it’s not about rules being rules as much as appreciating the value of instruction given at a more appropriate time where it can shape a person in a larger, more affirming way. I by no means believe if he were to take it right now it would lead to his damnation from a lack of knowledge, but I—as a parent who made a promise at his baptism to instruct him in this and other faith practices of the church—want to walk with him through discussing where the practice comes from, why we hold it as important for us, and what it means for his daily life lived with others. I want to listen and affirm him in his adolescent incessant series of questions: “But why, dad?” “But why?” “Why?”
I guess, as my heart breaks when he cries at Holy Communion each week, I think of it as the growing pains of faith—growing pains he and I must both endure as we traverse this lifelong journey of living out our baptism. We are both—no matter our differences in age or experience—growing in faith, from the moment we are washed in the waters of Jesus’ death and resurrection all the way until that day when we finally breathe our last and rest in God’s loving embrace. These growing pains are felt most acutely as we notice confusing discrepancies in practices and are confronted by mysteries that sometimes bring us to tears. No matter what you may think when you hear my child cry during Holy Communion, when I witness it I think to myself: “Soon these tears will turn to joy. The Spirit that affirmed God’s never-ending love for you in baptism; the same Spirit that has brought you to this place of worship week in and week out to learn and grow; this Holy Spirit will give you faith and wisdom as you one day receive Christ in the bread and wine. Until then, my son, know that God is here wiping away your every tear and promising to remain with you always—even before you share in Holy Communion.”