Thursday, February 05, 2009

Let the Little Children Come to Me

Lauri writes about her 3-yr-old's desire to commune. Joy too writes of her toddler's distress over not being communed. All my children have been communing now for four years. I am stubbornly sticking my head in the sand and refusing to acknowledge the fact that my grand-daughter is not communing; I'm trying desperately to convince myself that I don't know she's excluded from the altar. [Fingers in my ears. La lala la lala lala la. Not gonna open my eyes to the fact. Blindfold on! La lala la la la la....]

What is a parent to DO when they have no answer for a child as to why he cannot eat Jesus' body and blood??? And my gut-level reaction is to say, "Don't let him know about it in the first place." If we do not teach them the sixth chief part of the catechism, they won't learn it, and thus won't know what they're missing. If we don't talk about the Lord's Supper at home, and how we long for it, and what a treasure it is, the kids won't learn. Oh sure, they'll still know that this is something we do every Sunday and they will deduce that it's important. But the less we talk about it, the less we teach them of their sin and their need for forgiveness, the less we let them know about our own deep desire for Sunday to come so that we may be joined yet again with Jesus' body, the less the children will be taunted by their exclusion.

And then I thought,
The solution is to hide God's word and His blessing from them? The solution is to avoid parts of the catechism? The solution is to refrain from teaching certain hymns?

I'm not going to discuss infant communion or age of first communion right now. But here's the question: Why has this become such a huge issue for parents in recent years?

We didn't used to have toddlers holding out their hands, begging the pastor. We didn't used to ache over this denial of Jesus to our little ones. We didn't used to care. Why do we care now?

And I think....
the answer has to do with ...

what we're teaching now,
what we believe about the Supper now.

We used to commune once a month. Now it's every Sunday (or hopefully more frequently). The children see that this is something we do every week. It must be important.

We used to have children begin learning the catechism in 7th grade. They didn't start learning when they were only 1 or 2 that "it is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself, for us Christians to eat and to drink" and that "in the Sacrament, forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us."

Sunday School used to be about Bible history and learning to be nice to our friends and telling other people about Jesus. Now our children are learning that the Bible is not just history stories, but also stories about how we have failed and how our God rescued us and continues to give of Himself to us who are not worthy. We are teaching our children about their baptism and about the Lord's Supper in a way that we didn't several decades ago.

The pastors are preaching more now than in years past about the Sacraments, connecting the Gospel reading to what Christ gives at the Table. The pastors wish to incite in their parishioners a yearning for the Supper.

And you know? Those little urchins LISTEN. They hear what we're teaching them. They hear the hymns and liturgy. They hear the catechism. And they believe it. And they long for that Supper which Jesus has provided for His lambs.

What else would be expect the children to do?

So we have only three choices. We can put off teaching them. Or we can take Jesus' words to heart: "feed My lambs." Or we can continue to weep over the fact that we are tongue-tied when our wee ones ask why they cannot commune.


  1. What you said about the little urchins listening to their parents and pastors teach and preach the Word of God--that is precisely why kids should sit in church from the time they're born, NOT in the nursery during the service.

  2. But if we did leave them in the nursery during the Service, they wouldn't know about the Lord's Supper, so they wouldn't want it, and we wouldn't have to tell them, "No, no, you have to wait until you're old enough." Maybe wide-spread use of nurseries in years past (and still in some places today) is part of the reason 3-yr-olds weren't begging to commune a decade or two ago.

  3. I know this is one of Those Issues That Get People Bent Out of Shape (TM), but mercy, when a child asks outright... to say, "Oh, SORRY, you've got to wait," seems so very wrong.

    ::groan:: My Sparkle hasn't asked. Yet. I don't know what I'm going to tell her. I'm kind of surprised that she hasn'tasked; she always goes to the Table with us.

  4. It's important to emphasize to the kids all the gifts they have in their Baptism. There they receive forgiveness of sins, are rescued from death and the devil, and receive eternal salvation.

    This is not to say we don't speak of the great benefits found in Christ's body and blood. But in the age we live in, sometimes there's a necessity in going without the Lord's Supper. It sounds cruel- but the children will make it! We all did. There are people in some countries who went decades without the sacrament because they didn't have pastors. I say this not because they wouldn't benefit from it, but because certain factors in our church prohibit them from communing. I feel badly for the children, but they join Christian children for the last 1300+ years in waiting to come to the Lord's table (and possibly longer depending on one's view of the historical documents!). They'll make it- don't have any doubt about that :)

    I say this not to say it isn't a good thing to have! But just so you don't worry that they're less Christian or less saved by not being able to come! The situation isn't perfect, but then- it never is. Rejoice they at least hear true confessions of the truth of the Supper. Rejoice in all the gifts they have, gifts which even the church a century ago would envy!

    All the while this could serve to teach the children of their baptism. The foundational sacrament Christ has given to His Church. Remind them of all that Christ gave to them there. Remind them to thank God for that, and return to it daily. Remind them to pray in joyful expectation of the day they can come to the Lord's table- and to diligently study their catechism that they might have a strong faith and knowledge in what they receive.

    Remind them also of the spiritual eating they enjoy as members of Christ's church through the Holy Spirit. Augustine said "believe and you have eaten" and this is true. The children are in no way excluded from Christ's body because they cannot yet partake of Christ's body. I don't know how helpful (or orthodox) a practice this is- but when you receive the Lord's Supper, tell your children to imagine they are. In faith, they too are nourished by Christ's body- all thanks to all that was given them in their baptism.

    Pastor Petersen points out here ( that he wouldn't have the practice of early Communion if not for a few mothers. So also, pray- and bring these issues up with your pastors. Bring them up at voter's meetings. Ask people to consider why your child isn't being allowed to the Lord's table. Make it a point at synodical conventions.
    It's not neccesary for salvation that they be there, but perhaps it is a helpful practice- so cry to God that He deliver His gifts to your children.

    Infants are not excluded from the altar- they are partakers of the Heavenly banquet the same as we are. Just because they haven't partaken yet doesn't mean they won't- and God is not bound by temporal things. In Communion, you not only kneel with every Christian who has come before- but also all Christians yet to come. Your great great grandchildren (God willing) commune there as well, for they are part of an eternal banquet that has no end.

    Christ has taken these children into His arms in baptism. He will keep them secure until He carries them to His table. If not in this life due to accident, then most certainly in the life to come. We must be sure to always dwell on the salvation received in baptism when circumstances prevent us from coming to the Lord's table. There is no less life and salvation found in those cleansing waters than there is anywhere else.

    Do not let your hearts be trouble, or be afraid. Your baptized children belong to God. He will feed them in his own time. They do not truly suffer- and God in no way holds these circumstances against you (or them!).

  5. Jeff, what you wrote about baptism is beautiful.

    But I can't agree with you about telling the children about "spiritual eating" or to imagine that they are receiving the Supper. There's something very important about the physicality of eating and drinking the elements. Extolling the wonders of the child's baptism and the blessings of the absolution is a good good thing. But "spiritual eating" is not an ethereal or imagined thing: it is something the physical mouth does with the physical bread, even though "spiritual eating" is different from a person's mouth chewing up a piece of toast. Remember when Pastor talked in class about 1 Cor 10, "and they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them"? It was a real rock that Moses hit. It was real water that flowed out of it. It was real manna that they cooked in their skillets, chewed with their teeth, and filled their bellies. But it was "spiritual food." Don't confuse "spiritual" with "non-material."

    With the exception of that one bit, almost everything you wrote was spot-on!

  6. Well, that's a debatable point- Read the Solid Declaration of formula of Concord, Article VII: 62 (and 64).

    My point is mostly that while it's not a perfect situation, it's not nearly as bad as it could be. Our flesh wants the optimal- and in this case, we can hardly blame it. But we bear under our crosses- and we watch our children bear theirs and suffer with them. But all the while we pray God would deliver them unto His table, in His time- according to His will.

    Things are happening which would have seemed impossible even a decade ago. Christ is reforming and strengthening His Church. Let us not grow despondent. More opportunities are available to our children to hear the true Gospel, to hear the word preached faithfully, and to commune more often and at a younger age than ever before! Thanks be to God!

    Things are not perfect- they never will be this side of Heaven. And no matter what your thoughts on infant (or toddler) Communion, the stories you linked to above are heart-wrenching. But God is faithful. He is loving. He will care for us and also for our children. If an even younger age for admittance to the Lord's Supper is His will, let us pray that be done. If it is not His will- let us take comfort that His will is good and holy- and will never fail us. Changing the way the Church has done things for over a thousand years is hard, but with him all things are possible if they be His will.

  7. I too wish the idea of early communion would be discussed more from a theological point of view, instead of Well we have always done it this way or but we have never done that before. Typically here in the good ole South, you must have two heads to even bring it up. It is sad, and we have children put their hands out when the Pastors come by, and all they get is a blessing. Not that is a bad thing, I just wish that they could get the same deliverance of the gifts as us old and wiser (not) grown-ups. Debbie Theiss

  8. For all of the 46 years I was a Lutheran I could never understand this practice of receiving children into the faith via baptism and then promptly excommunicating them.