In my work as a minister to children, parents often ask me, “can my child take communion before their baptism, or do they have to wait.” My rather unclear answer is, “that’s really up to you.”
I usually go on to say that I personally feel that God’s grace is big enough to cover those who are young and not yet ready to understand the full meaning of the bread and the wine. Taking holy communion can then be seen as an act of faith that is in the process of realization.
On the other hand, I say to the parents that if they want that moment to feel particularly significant and memorable, they can wait until the child’s baptism. On that occasion, we would honor their first communion at their baptism and mark it in a special way.
How’s that for riding the fence? Honestly, I am okay with whatever decision a parent makes for their child. I also am aware that different traditions treat communion for children in different ways. I respect them all.
What I have enjoyed over the years is watching the ways that children receive communion and bring their childlike approach to this sacrament.
My friend Ann bakes the most delicious communion bread. It is fragrant and sweet. It is a taste to savor. On communion Sundays when you enter the sanctuary, the aroma of this bread calls you to “come, taste, and see that the Lord is good.”
On one particular Sunday, I had made my way to the front, received my taste of the bread and cup, and walked back to my seat. As I sat on the aisle where others passed me on their way back to their pews, I watched as a very young boy around the age of four walked back to his seat with his bread in one hand and his cup in the other. As he walked, he would take a small nibble of the bread, and then a small sip of the cup. He continued with his small nibbles and sips all the way back to his seat. By the look on his face, I could tell that he was enjoying every small bite and every little sip, and he wanted to make it last.
I am sure that this young boy had no idea that he was taking part in a sacrament, but he knew the pure delight of the taste and the smell. He was experiencing joy as he walked to the front with his family and received the gifts of God for the people of God. He walked with pride back to his seat having shared a place at the table of God.
I remember other children who brought their own twist to receiving communion. Some would take a taste and sip from their parent’s elements. Others would wait until the service was over and ask for a taste of the bread. One young friend of mine used to clink his father’s small communion cup as one would do when making a toast. That one gave me pause and led me to consider that he might be on to something. It was his way of saying, “cheers to you, Jesus for your good gifts to us.”
What children have taught me over the years is to take delight in the table of God. They have taught me to taste the goodness of the bread and wine, to delight in the fellowship of those who walk to the table with me, and to know that God allows us to bring our true selves with us to the table. God will receive us and feed us no matter who we are, no matter our age or our mindset. God simply invites us to come and taste holy love.