This Sunday I got to do something very special. Something near and dear to my heart. I got to serve 3 children communion for the first time. It was icy and snowy Sunday and therefore had about half out normal size for the 11:00 service. We decided to gather around the table to serve communion. As we did the three siblings were brought by our Christian educator to stand in the circle with us.
After the prayer she started mouthing something to me. The elder next to me asked what was going on, I told her, “I have no idea.” Finally, I figured it out. The children had never taken communion before. Their parents were standing next to me, I asked them if they could, the mom asked me if they could. “Yes!” I quickly answered.
This family has been attending our church for about 6 months, I had noticed before that the kids hadn’t come forward during communion. The mom told me the kids had been baptized and I knew the kids had an understanding of God and faith.
It didn’t need to be me “the pastor” to give them their “first communion” that is not our faith about the table, but I wanted to do it. As the plate and cup made it’s way around the circle I knelt before the kids. “Mom won’t let us!” the middle one told me. “Mom said it was okay” I told him. All 3 of them leaned around me to look at their parents. Mom gave the head nod.
As the plate and cup approach I ask them if they believe in God, I tell them that the bread and cup are one of the many ways God reminds us that Jesus loves us and was God on earth. Do you believe that?
The older two shake their heads yes. The youngest looks at me and says, “I don’t want any juice!” I smile, “It’s just grape juice, you don’t like grape juice?” He shakes his head no. “Well, then just dip the very corner in and you’ll never know.” We talked about saying “amen” or “thanks be to God” afterward.
The plate and cup arrive. I stopped and turned to the circle, “everyone this is the [family name]’s first time taking communion. The organist stopped, they all watched with the pride of family. I said each of their names and “the body of Christ, broken for you.” “The cup of salvation, poured out for you”. The youngest dipped just the corner in the cup and smiled reluctantly.
The super quick version of my story goes like this: I was born to a Roman Catholic father and a Presbyterian mother. By the time I was 3 they were divorced and I split my time between the two churches, one week Catholic, one week Presbyterian. Mother remarried to a man who was Methodist by his previous marriage, so one week Catholic, one week Methodist. After some time they left the Methodists and we went to the Southern Baptist Church (the church my step-father was raised in). You guessed it. One week Catholic, one week Southern baptist…
But not for long. I was 8 or 9 and my interest in church was waining. Dad had stopped taking us to the catholic church after he moved away and let’s just say the Southern Baptist church and I never really got along.
But some rituals of the churches stuck. Prayer, worship, reading of scripture, and surprising one… first communion.
Here’s what I remember about communion: It was off limits. I remember my grandmother (an life long Irish-Catholic) specifically telling me on Christmas Eve to “stay here” and how awkward it was to have people step around us to get out of the pew. I was in the nursery at The Presbyterian Church during communion and the Methodists went forward and knelt at the altar fence (sorry, I’m sure it’s called something great and awesome, but as a kid that’s what I thought it was!) and it seemed weird to me.
I was thinking about it this morning. I don’t EVER remember communion in the Southern Baptist Church. I really don’t. My family attended there over 10 years and not once do I remember having communion. Really not surprising, but interesting given people who put so much emphasis on the blood of Jesus.
ANYWAY…. time went on and I never took communion. I had never received my “first” and therefore wasn’t allowed.
My First Communion: At 16 I started attending the Presbyterian Church (again) by myself. I was just there to sing in the choir, but eventually I went to youth group. I was on a mission trip. We were working in a church in Eastern Kentucky, the Appalachian Mountains, the poorest part of the country and the Youth Pastor and I were discussing the whole communion thing.
“I don’t take communion” I explained. He went through a dissertation on why as Presbyterians we believe all who have been baptized and believe in God are allowed to participate in communion. It was the first time I heard the phrase “open table”.
I was not buying it.
I don’t know, I needed it to be special. Eventually, he figured this out. “What if we did it here, just us (meaning the youth group) just your friends, your adopted family, what if you let us make it special?” I reluctantly agreed, I saw my grandmother’s face telling me to “stay here.” I took a deep breath.
Everyone gathered in a circle and we waited, there was commotion in the kitchen, my youth pastor and one of our adult leaders argued a little. A few minutes later they come out, looking sheepish. The youth pastor prayed, prayed for me, for our group work, talked about the great things God had done, for the body and blood of Christ, for the spirit to descend.
That’s when we realized, all of us, what the commotion was about. “On the night of his arrest Jesus took the bread…” we giggled, the only bread they could find, the body of Christ in that moment, were hot dog buns. “…He blessed it and broke it and gave it to them saying…”
“In the same way when the meal was over he took the cup…” He held up a styrofoam cup, and poured the contents of the cup into another styrofoam cup. It clumped and splashed. It was strange.
He walked up to me and said, “Shannon, the body of Christ broken for you” I looked down and tore off a piece of hot dog bun, and dipped it into the cup. They had been unable to find grape juice, but they did have grapes, which they had quickly smushed with a fork. I smiled. It was exactly what it should have been.
It tasted terrible, but it was one of the most precious moments of my life. Jesus is the body and blood of this Holy Communion, even if the visible sign comes in the form of a child who doesn’t like grape juice, or comes in the form of hot dog buns and smushed up grapes. Thanks be to God, Amen.