When to Just Go with It or a Casual (First) Communion

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We were singing the second verse of the hymn in preparation for communion. My mind wandered as I thought about the rest of the day – laundry, dinner, camping later in the week when I felt something push against my leg. I glanced down. It was Desmond – an expectant grin, one full of mischief and pure joy like he’s saying, “Surprise!” It’s his usual smile. I looked up and watched the childcare volunteers come in with Anna and Ozzie. It dawned on me that, oh, right, the childcare providers usually come up during communion…which means, the kids come up, too. 

Oh. The kids are going to be here during this time. For communion. Wait a minute. They’ve never done communion. We’ve never talked about it with them. Wait a minute. What do I do???

As the pastor went through the great prayer of thanksgiving and the words of institution I panicked about them being there. They were fidgety, as would be expected, I mean, when are they NOT fidgeting or squirming or flailing or swinging their legs or in general, quiet? Silence has become a stranger to our home since the arrival of the babies. I shuushed and covered Desmond’s mouth with my hand, which of course, made him louder, because apparently that signals “speak up,” rather than “be quiet,” to him. I squeezed him closer to me as he twisted in my lap. Oz sat on the volunteer’s lap playing with two plastic chickens. Two plastic chickens locked in some epic battle over God-knows-what but the conflict was urgent and again, loud. Anna crouched next to me periodically beaming that gorgeous and irresistible smile at me. And incessantly whispering, “Mom, I have a question for you.” But there were hardly ever any questions. Only statements. Observations. Or gibberish.

“For grace to be grace, it must give us things we didn’t know we needed and take us places where we didn’t know we didn’t want to go. As we stumble through the crazily altered landscape of our lives, we find that God is enjoying our attention as never before. ” -Kathleen Norris

All of a sudden the ushers were there next to us with the plate. And the hesitation melted away as I decided, “oh the hell with it,” just go with it, I nodded, as they looked at me with questioning eyes, “Do we serve the children?” I whispered firmly, “Desmond, Anna, Ozzie, take one piece of bread. This is Christ’s body broken for you.” Desmond declares, “I’m hunky,” (hungry), and Anna says, “I want a snack.” They immediately pop it into their mouths before I can say, “Wait, let’s eat it together with everyone.” Desmond chomps dramatically. Anna smiles even bigger.

I try to say something serious about communion but…I’m at a loss for words. I thought I should at least get them to say the word communion. “Anna, can you say the word ‘communion’? That’s what we are doing right now. Communion. Say ‘communion,'” and all I get in response is: “Mooooo-oooom I want another one.” I see Oz, and the volunteer puts the little square into his mouth, like I would at home if I was trying to get him to eat something but had to do it without disturbing his focus. Because there was no way Oz was going to put down those chickens. As I suspected he didn’t pause even for a moment in his play as he chewed on that piece of bread.

Did I just fail as a parent – a parent who should know how to teach their children about the Christian faith? As someone who wants their children to have meaningful experiences of God and church? Did I fail as a pastor? When I was serving as a minister to youth and children we had workshops for the sacraments. We talked about baptism and communion, and we talked about worship, and all the symbols on the chancel, you know, to explain why we do what we do on Sunday mornings. But I didn’t even have a chance to think about this possibility with the kids before this day. I mean, Andy wasn’t even here. For their first communion.

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“I am the living water…” – Jesus in the Gospel of John

As I was mulling over these thoughts the servers were coming back around this time with the trays of grape juice. I told the children very loudly in my best mom-voice this time to each take one, hold the cup, and not drink it until I said so, mixed in with a speedy, “This is Christ’s blood poured out for you.” We sat there waiting for what felt like an eternity (Desmond spilled half of it on me), and then finally, finally, the pastor said those blessed words, “The blood of Christ,” and we all tipped our little cups into our mouths. Anna chugged loudly. Desmond sipped daintily. I watched Oz drink from his cup and then smack his lips a few times.

I broke inside. How many times do I tell parents, adults, teachers that it’s okay if they don’t totally “get” it – how many of us grownups can articulate with total certainty that we understand the depth and mystery of God’s love for us in this moment? And here I was watching and feeling it all for the first time as a miserably hopeless failure of a parent in need of God’s grace as much as these babies in front of me. They weren’t dressed up in fancy new clothes and I didn’t do any Pinterest-worthy activities to prepare them for this moment, and they certainly had little idea what made this meal sacred and special. It was no different from them sitting in their carseats and me throwing goldfish crackers at them in the car from the driver’s seat because I forgot their snack traps again.

And, it was really, truly okay. I was so happy for a moment that I clutched Desmond a little too hard and he squealed like one of their bath toys being stepped on. Everyone’s heads swiveled towards me as I looked toward the ceiling pretending not to notice. I know I was being judged and questioned, and now more eyes looked my way, but who cares? I watched the way they ate and drank, and I loved that they had no idea what we were doing right then and there, why or what it was called anyway. It was a gift. They were there. And they ate. And…that fed me. It filled me. It led me to Jesus’ table in a new way. Because I imagined what it would have been like for children to have been at that last supper with Jesus. I’m sure they would have been loud and disruptive, but then periodically solemn and watching everything like Desmond and Anna. Maybe some of them would have been coloring or playing quietly with toys and would be handfed by caretakers, too, like Oz. I thought that Jesus would have been more than okay with children being at that meal. In fact, in so many ways it would make sense that it wouldn’t have just been the male disciples, but whole families, men, women, and even children all gathered together, for Passover, for communion.

“I wonder if children don’t begin to reject both poetry and religion for similar reasons, because the way both are taught takes the life out of them.” – Kathleen Norris

I remembered then how we take ourselves out of the story sometimes. And, many times those in power take over the narrative, and they take the least of these out of the story, too. Then everyone misses out, misses something, we all lose out, we then make it rote and routine, mindless, because it’s bland and homogeneous, we aren’t on the edge of our seats, we’re sitting back, eyes glazed over, but in these odd and ordinary moments – these moments when we have to pay attention in another way, when we have to make a decision about who should be there, then we listen to the words, and taste the dry crumbs from a carefully slice loaf of bread, remembering that these moments together, even in the casual, even in the unplanned, unexpected, and uncertain, these are moments of resistance. Our words, our prayers, our songs, our sipping lightly from plastic cups that will later be tossed in the recycling bin – in fresh ways, in uncomfortable ways, these are acts of resistance, our protest against the darkness, against hopelessness, against the normative, against all who would say, “No. You shouldn’t eat at the table because you don’t understand it, you don’t deserve it, you don’t look or sound like us.”

As Nadia says, “Jesus still calls the tax collectors and prostitutes and housewives and social workers and Pharisees into the very heart of God. So come and join me at his table, at this holy of holies, not because you have made it past the velvet ropes, but because the ground at the foot of the cross is level and there is room for all of us.” There’s so much that can gather us around God’s table, but these days, what feels provocative and compelling, what feels like living and life is the struggle – it’s the struggle that binds us together, the struggle and angst, the drama and grief, and the clinging to utopia, that makes me keep going back to that table. Even when I don’t feel like it. When I don’t feel it. And even as we sit at the table, squiriming, flailing, playing with our damn plastic chickens, what matters is that we are there, and we receive, and that’s all we need to do in the end, is just receive and eat – who cares if we know what it’s called – just open our mouths, and chomp and chug like it’s the best snack in the world.

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6 thoughts on “When to Just Go with It or a Casual (First) Communion

  • October 7, 2014 at 7:26 pm
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    i get it….maybe, communion without children might be something like God without Jesus.

    • October 8, 2014 at 9:45 am
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      That’s an interesting thought. Would love to hear more.

  • October 7, 2014 at 8:25 pm
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    For what it’s worth, both Enoch and Moses have taken communion with John and I ever since they were tiny little babies. I remember at my ordination, Enoch spent the entire thing sobbing uncontrollably in the hallway. After it was all over, he was with me, alone in the sanctuary. I handed him the cup and he drank all of the juice right out of it. Being together, drinking some juice, eating some leftover bread. It felt like communion.

    • October 8, 2014 at 9:45 am
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      I love this image. Thank you, Kelly!

  • October 8, 2014 at 8:55 am
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    This is one thing C. S. Lewis had to say about Holy Communion: “I do not know and can’t imagine what the disciples understood Our Lord to mean when, His body still unbroken and His blood unshed, He handed them the bread and wine, saying THEY were His body and blood…The command, after all, was Take, eat: not Take, understand.” Your kids will grow up never remembering a time when they DIDN’T take Communion. I think that’s a Good Thing.

    • October 8, 2014 at 9:45 am
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      That’s a wonderful quote. Thank you, Laura!

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