Some Random Pastoral Ponderings…
On June 12th, we will be welcoming four young people who will take their place at the altar to receive their first taste of the bread and wine of Holy Communion…the visible words of God’s love and forgiveness for them and all of us. Kayla Hoffman, Evan Hoffman, Cameron Hermel, and Tyler Tolzman…along with their parents, have participated in the First Communion, preparation class and are ready to enter a new phase of their spiritual journey of growth in faith. Please keep these young people in your prayers in the coming weeks.
When I announced that we would have the first communion class for any third graders or older, someone asked me, “When did we change from having first communion as a part of confirmation?”
My response was three-fold. First, the ELCA has, for many years, allowed young people to receive Holy Communion before confirmation. For many years, churches set fifth grade as the cut-off age. Gradually that evolved to third grade as the acceptable cut-off age. So, my first answer is that it has become part of the accepted practice of the ELCA.
Secondly, in Martin Luther’s explanation of Holy Communion in his Small Catechism (which many of you had to memorize as part of your confirmation instruction), he asks, “Who, then, receives this sacrament worthily?” He answers that “a person who has faith in these words, ‘given for you’ and ‘shed for you for the forgiveness of sin’ is really worthy and well prepared.” His explanation allows a great deal of latitude regarding when a person is ready. It is not something that a pastor, parents, or the governing body of a church can decide. It doesn’t demand that we know “about” it or understand the miracle that is part of it…(none of us really do!) It is simply a matter of faith on the part of each individual. True to our Lutheran heritage, participation in Holy Communion is a matter of grace…and Martin Luther once said, “Who am I to stand in the way of someone experiencing this expression of God’s grace?” That leads me to the third part of my response.
One Sunday, during my first call to Faith Lutheran, a small church in Marcus, Iowa, I was moving along the altar rail serving the bread during the communion meal. As I came to each person, they would hold out their hand, and I would place the wafer in it and say, “The body of Christ, given for you.” I came to our daughter, Siri, who was about six years old at the time, and instead of bowing her head for a blessing, she followed what everyone else had been doing and held out her hands. Laura gave her a little jab in the ribs, and she quickly withdrew her hand, bowed her head, and I gave her a blessing.
Later, at the dinner table, I asked Siri how she felt at communion that morning. Her reply floored me…and I remember it to this day. She said, “I felt ashamed…like I had done something wrong”. I was deeply saddened. That was the last thing someone should feel when they come to the communion table! From that day on, I have never refused anyone who has come to the table and reached out their sin-stained hands seeking the love and forgiveness Jesus offers in this simplest of meals. As the title of the book we used as part of our class says, “There is a place for you (which means you as an individual and you as the plural “everyone”). May you know that there is always a place for you at the Lord’s Table.