Yesterday, Richard Beck posted the following quote from Jurgen Moltmann:
Because this fellowship comes into being on the basis of Christ’s unconditional and prevenient invitation, the fellowship will be an open one. It cannot limit Christ’s invitation to its own account. Everyone can participate who wants to participate in the fellowship of Christ. The communion is the answer to Christ’s open invitation…
Because of Christ’s prevenient and unconditional invitation, the fellowship of the table cannot be restricted to people who are ‘faithful to the church’, or to the ‘inner circle’ of the community. For it is not the feast of the particularly righteous, or the people who think that they are particularly devout; it is the feast of the weary and heavy-laden, who have heard the call to refreshment. We must ask ourselves whether baptism and confirmation ought to go on counting as the presuppositions of ‘admittance’ to the Lord’s supper. If we remember that Jesus’ meal with tax-collectors and sinners is also present in the Lord’s supper, then the open invitation to it should also be carried ‘into the highways and byways’. It will then lose its ‘mystery’ character, but it will not become an ordinary, everyday meal for all that, because the invitation is a call to the fellowship of the crucified one and an invitation in his name to reconciliation with God…”
I loved this quote for a couple of reasons, one because of my past experience and the other because of my daughter’s recent experience.
At the church where I grew up, the rule was you couldn’t take communion until you were baptized. To be honest, I have no idea why. This was not a faith tradition where baptism saved you. It was simply the way it was done. What makes that even stranger is that we were a New Testament restorationist church – we were all about doing what the early church did.
But no one really knows what the early church did. The New Testament does not ever define who should or should not take communion, except warning that those who do should not do so “in an unworthy manner,” which isn’t especially helpful. The earliest document describing the rituals of the young church, the Didache, written about 100 C.E., is actually unclear on whether children who haven’t been baptized can take the bread and the cup.
Nevertheless, I didn’t take communion until after I was baptized at 13. Some friends of my parents, who had started a little restorationist house church of their own, took it a step further. If you weren’t baptized, you couldn’t even partake in worship with the rest of the group. They were a lovely, sweet old couple, but how this was supported by scripture is beyond me. Nothing makes God less attractive to a preteen than being told he wants you out of the group.
Fast forward 20 years or so, and our oldest daughter is 3. She knows what communion is and what it represents because she’s asked us about it. But following in the tradition in which my wife and I were raised, we’d been passing the plates over her head during worship.
But during my Worship class in January, our professor and a friend of mine engaged in discussion that threw this tradition into doubt. My friend lets her children take communion before baptism, and my professor acknowledged there was no basis – not in scripture, nor in recorded tradition from the early church – to prohibit her from doing so.
Two weeks ago, our church did communion down front, “Catholic style.” We all stood up and took the crackers and the little plastic cups from servers at the front of the auditorium. I brought my daughter, mostly because I didn’t want her getting into trouble way in the back while we were at the front. After I had taken communion, the sweet older ladies who were serving us leaned down to my daughter’s level and said (paraphrasing): “Jesus loves you very much, and this is the life he gave for you.” And she took her first communion.
After the first wave of confusion and doubt, I felt nothing but pride and relief. Pride that my daughter had done it without spilling grape juice all over herself, that she knew what to do at all, that she had done it, and that I knew she knew exactly how important it was. Relief that no lightning had come down and incinerated us all. Relief that another barrier rooted in my childhood keeping me from truly understanding God had been broken down. I hadn’t even known it was there until it was gone.
Because the more I think about it, the more I realize: If the God you worship wouldn’t let her take communion simply because she hasn’t gone through whatever steps you think she needs to take, then I don’t think we worship the same God.
The next week, last Sunday, she asked us if she could take her first communion again. I still hesitated, unsure if she wanted to for the right reasons or just because she would eat every minute of the day if we let her. So I asked her why. Her response: “Because I want to praise Jesus, too!”
The days of passing the plate above her head are over.