Officially Not the First

Sunday was special for William. It was Will’s “Official First Communion.”

It most certainly wasn’t the first time Will has tasted the Communion elements. Will is a clergy kid. He has been raiding my communion kit for years and sampling a wafer or 3 or 4 or 6 since he was a toddler. Will has been carefully sipping grape juice from those teeny – tiny cups for just as long.

The McFarland sons have been the beneficiaries of the extra Communion elements following worship for most of their lives. When we lived in Wabash – Karen always saved the extra bread for Jack. It was deliciously wonderful bread! Folks often jokingly asked for “bigger pieces” at Communion.

Will likes the grape juice and he really likes the little cups. (I agree. Those teeny tiny cups are delightful and fun!)

This “post-worship buffet” has often been part of the pastor’s kid territory for the McFarland sons. It goes hand in hand with being the first to arrive for worship – being the ones to set-up Communion – and sitting in the front row during worship.   I am guessing it is like this for lots of clergy kids.

Sunday also wasn’t the first time Will received Holy Communion in worship.

I cannot bring myself to exclude anyone from the Lord’s Table.   I do not believe it is my place to exclude folks. I truly believe ALL are welcome. That once you start turning Christianity into an exclusive club – you aren’t being very Christian anymore.

If you believe Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior then you are welcome to receive Communion when I am officiating. I am not going to quiz you on your theological understanding of Holy Communion. I am not going to check your church membership. I am not going to ask you to explain the concept of consubstantiation to me – although that might be kinda fun . . .

(Consubstantiation is the Lutheran understanding of Holy Communion. Consubstantiation means the body and blood of Jesus Christ are present along with the bread and the wine/grape juice in Holy Communion. It means the bread and wine coexist with the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion once the bread and wine have been blessed.)

As soon as that sweet – pudgy – toddler hand opens and the child has an awareness that he is being excluded from the table I yearn to include him. I wouldn’t dream of excluding a child from my family table in my home if they asked me to feed them and I can’t bring myself to exclude a child of God in our church home either.

And because Will is a McFarland son (and Jack too) – I didn’t even need to pull Will’s parents aside for a quick conservation the first time I saw him stick out his sweet little hand during Communion hoping to receive the body of Christ. I already knew what his parents believe. They both believe that – “The body of Christ is given for you too little one!”

After all – our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ declared –  “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” – The Gospel of Matthew 19:14

When Jack was little I had a church leader (rather snottily) challenge both my parenting and my pastoring on this. She did not think young children should be permitted to receive Holy Communion. So she asked me in a meeting of the church elders – “if at 4 years of age Jack had already grasped and could share with the congregation the concept of consubstantiation?” (She couldn’t remember the word for consubstantiation. She called it transubstantiation. Lutherans don’t believe that. Transubstantiation is the Catholic understanding of Holy Communion.   But I understood what she was getting at . . .)

“Can you and your teenage children?” was my response.

Perhaps it wasn’t my finest moment. . .   But she was messing with my kid!?!?!? I can be a tad touchy about/defensive of the McFarland sons. I have noticed other parents feel very the same way about their offspring.

Consubstantiation is tricky even for those of us who have had entire seminary classes on the topic. Most of us can’t even remember what it is called (or spell it) without the help of a quick Google search!

Consubstantiation was summarized to me as a “Holy Mystery” by more than one of my seminary professors.   So if – folks who dedicate their entire lives to the pursuit of theological study call consubstantiation a “Holy Mystery” – I don’t think I will sweat it if my 4 year-old hasn’t nailed it just yet . . .

What he did understand was he wanted to be included. He wanted to be a part of this most sacred of meals. His church family was doing something really important – and he wanted/needed/longed to be a part of it.

Taste and see that the Lord is good – little one. God’s grace is AWESOME and glorious and amazing. God’s forgiveness is transformative!

Wow – has Will gotten tall! Or I have gotten short!?!?!?

Jesus loves you! God forgives you! You are welcome! You belong here! WELCOME to the family! Jesus is your Savior! That’s enough for me – because that is grace. That is transformative. That is the heart of the Good News.

You have a place at the table! You belong!

So – Sunday wasn’t the first time William Andrew received Holy Communion. Nope our boy has been partaking in the sacrament of Holy Communion for years. BUT Sunday was a really big deal all the same. It was a big deal because Will had completed his First Communion classes.   He had completed his “Intro. to Holy Communion 101” coursework.

Will had spent time digging in and exploring and learning more about his faith and his Lord and Holy Communion. He and his classmates had spent time discussing Jesus and God and faith and thinking really BIG thinks about what it means to be people of faith.

I am so proud of our boy and his classmates! They dazzled and delighted and amazed me.

I have taught many classes of First Communion kids over the 2 plus decades I have been a clergyperson. Many – many – many classes.

Each class has a distinct personality. Each class is delightful in its own way. But this class was special. This class was truly unique. This class developed a special bond with one another. And they were actually disappointed when their classes ended!?!?!?!?!   Seriously – I am not making this up.   They wanted to keep having First Communion classes . . . This has never – ever – ever happened in my 20 plus years of teaching First Communion classes!

I am not deluded enough to think it was my brilliant and inspiring First Communion instruction they missed and longed to continue. They were not longing to hear more of my whit and witticisms or my intriguing theological insights. Nope – it was the group bonding they loved. Tag and hide and seek and whatever else they figured out to do together was the draw for them.

But that is just as important as the Bible verses we read together. They formed bonds. They learned more about the joys of Christian community. Saint Stephen became just a bit more “their church” as they raced around playing tag and laughing and hiding and seeking and chasing and chatting and chattering and clamoring and making a cacophony of noise.   A place where they belong. A place with which they are deeply familiar.

Saint Stephen is their church home and they are sisters and brothers in Christ!

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