ai generated image of a boy taking communion

A woman once called to ask why I served communion to children.

I told her that it was because the Lord said not to forbid children to come to him.

“But they don’t understand it,” she said.

“Do you?” I asked.

“Well … kind of,” she replied.

“Do you understand more now than in years past?” I continued.

“Yes, of course,” she said.

“Jesus didn’t say, ‘Take and understand,’ I replied. “He said take and eat.”

The Service of the Lord’s Table, the central act of Christian worship, like all sacraments embodies, anchors, and incorporates spiritual life into the totality of the human experience. Communion then is more, much more, than can be explained. Indeed, attempts to explain it, especially during the service itself, erodes its purpose and effectiveness.

Just as we would not think it a good idea to read a medical journal about sexual life while trying to make love with a partner, so we should refrain from rational discussions about the meaning of Communion while receiving communion.

Martin Luther, exasperated during a discussion with Zwingli about Communion, took out a knife and carved the words HOC CORPUS EST (this is my body) into Zwingli’s table.

I don’t know what Mrs. Zwingli thought about that, but then again she was not a theologian. So she wouldn’t have understood anyway.

Christians fight fiercely about the sacraments. We argue about what to call them, what they mean, and how to celebrate them. Some, for example, insist that Baptism must be done by immersion and only after a person is old enough to know what it means, but then deny that anything real occurs in the act of baptism.

One might think that if the ceremony accomplishes nothing, then how or when (or even whether) one carries it out shouldn’t matter much. This would require much more consistency than what we are often capable of when it comes to religious matters though.

How much water, what is to be said over the water, how many times one is to be plunged into the water – all of these things can evoke considerable passion from believers.

The core assumption behind a sacramental action of any kind is that matter matters. The gnostic notion that the important part of a human being is imprisoned inside a material body and that spirituality is thus about reaching that inner essence through the obstructing physical body, is officially a heresy. But it continually afflicts us nonetheless.

Standing, kneeling, sitting, raising hands, signing the cross, dancing, hugging, eating and drinking, and shaking hands are all communicative acts involving the whole person. They say that the whole person is receiving or rejecting something.

Water, oil, ash, wine, bread, scent, color, melody, and rhythm – are forms of spiritual communication. They carry meanings not easily put into words, especially if one carves the word into his host’s dinner table!

Queen Elizabeth the First ruled England in a turbulent time when discussions like these might endanger one’s life. Continually pressed to make a statement about her theology on the meaning of Holy Communion, she finally released this —

Twas Christ the Word that spake it,
The same took bread and break it,
And as the Word did make it,
So I believe and take it.

There are zillions of books on Communion and sacramental life, full of Greek and Latin, quotations from prayer books, and theological statements from the Church Fathers, Reformers, and catechism.

I think most of it misses the point. Receiving the benefits of a sacramental act requires a shift in one’s attitude rather than an increase in one’s knowledge. Like a kiss – we know what it means when it happens. Words only intrude.

Children know that already. This is why, unless we become like a child, we will not receive the the life of the world into ourselves.

This is my body. This is my blood.

Take and eat. Take and drink.

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