Joshua loves church. Big church. The kind where you sing hymns and listen to music and listen to prayers and listen to sermons, and sit still the whole time. Two years ago I never would've believed that he would be capable of sitting and attending to an hour's worth of church service, but now, every Sunday morning, he asks if he can go to Big Church. Sometimes he gets squirmy, of course, and sometimes he asks questions too loudly, but for the most part he does quite well.
Most United Methodist churches only celebrate Communion once a month, for better or for worse, and most of those that celebrate once per month also celebrate on the first Sunday of the month. Not so at our church. Our leaders are intentional about celebrating at least 12 times per year, but there's no established pattern. One day you just walk in and there it is.
This was one of those mornings, and I probably wouldn't have noticed if Jay hadn't said, "Hey! If Clare's hysteria doesn't drive the nursery people to call us down there, we might actually get to celebrate Communion together!" It was then I realized that we hadn't really chatted with Joshua about Communion. So, in whispers, I explained that at the end of the service we would go to the front of the church and take a bite of bread and a small cup of juice. I told him that it was called Communion and that it helps us remember that Jesus loved us enough to die for us. "OK," he responded.
No need to debate substitutionary atonement, no talk of mystery, no reason to get gory. Just the simple fact that Jesus died because he loved us so much. One day we'll talk about what that means, and we'll be sure to let Joshua know that Christians through the years have understood Jesus' death in any number of ways. And we'll trust that if the symbols of death and resurrection have meaning for him in the context of Christianity, he'll choose for himself what those words mean: Jesus loved us enough to die for us.
As we approached the Communion rail, I was glad to see that we were going to be served by one of the current pastors rather than one of the retired pastors who was also serving. I don't have anything against the retired pastors, but they were an unknown quantity in this situation. I wasn't sure what they would do when they saw a three-year-old on the kneeler, eyes exactly level with the rail itself. But David, whether he is an advocate of children and Communion, or whether he simply trusted that Jay and I were going to do the right thing, followed our lead and served Joshua as well.
I've always served Communion to children. After all, we say that everyone is invited. Who am I to rescind that invitation when a see a child approaching who is under X years of age? And we teach that Jesus says that we must have faith like a child to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And the argument that children don't understand? In our liturgy we "proclaim the mystery of faith." I would argue that our proclamation is an admission that we don't understand it either.
So there was no great celebration, except for the one in our hearts, but Joshua had his first Communion today. He probably doesn't feel any different, but we sure do.