Children in communion Texas USA

Communion in Nature with Children

Carmen Retzlaff, Pastor at New Life Lutheran Church in Texas, reflects on the special place of children in communion, with readings and reflections for Holy Week.

Matthew 21:1 “Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.”

So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:

“Hosanna to the Son of David!

‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’

Hosanna in the highest!”

And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?” So the multitudes said, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.”

Children Communion Peacemeal Texas USA

Matthew 26:17 “Now on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?” And He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.”

So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover. When evening had come, He sat down with the twelve. Now as they were eating, He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” And they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, “Lord, is it I?”

He answered and said, “He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me. The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, “Rabbi, is it I?” He said to him, “You have said it.”

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”

Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”


Children Communion Texas USA Peacemeal

As we approach Holy Week this year, I am watching the children. I am watching them run and play and climb trees and work in the garden, here at our outdoor church in the Hill Country of Texas. I am watching them and thinking about how they experience church here. And, more than that, how they lead us into a deeper experience of church and the presence of holiness.

In artistic depictions of Palm Sunday, there are often children. Artists show children joyfully waving branches, running alongside the donkey, even climbing trees along the roadway during this celebration. And so it must have been; and so it is.

On Palm Sunday at New Life, as we process down the hill, the children are enthusiastic about waving branches and shouting – things that children, and the children in all of us, love to do. Worship with movement, covering distance, is appealing to children.

Embodied worship, enacted ritual. They are so needed on Palm Sunday, because they help the adults remember to smile, and to have fun. To lay aside our self-consciousness and enjoy walking and waving and shouting. Because Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem that day was a celebration. Children lead us.

In contrast, artistic depictions of Maundy Thursday, the day we commemorate the Last Supper, rarely show children. We are most familiar with the painting by Leonardo DaVinci, which is an accurate portrayal of the meal from the point of view of the residents of the monastery in which it was hung— twelve Northern Italian men at a meal.

A different depiction was painted by Polish artist Bohdan Piasecki in 1998, commissioned by an Irish Catholic group which advocates for women’s ordination. It includes women and children—as a Passover supper would have, and really, must: The Passover ritual is one of passing on the faith and the story of the people to the next generation.

Last Supper Painting Peacemeal
Image credit: http://wearechurchireland.ie/last-supper/

And I find it interesting that children are easily seen in the rowdy, celebratory parts of the story, and less frequently shown at the serious moments. As if they are never serious, or thoughtful. As if they do not have a sense of the mystery and solemnity of our rituals and our stories.

At New Life, children often help serve communion. They hold the cup and say the words with reverence, “The blood of Christ, shed for you.” At New Life, children take communion. Their eyes are often wide as I place the bread in their hands, “This is the body of Christ, for you.” Or their eyes are averted. They understand the intensity of this moment, in a way that adults have forgotten.

Again, they lead us. They take mystery at face value. Which is to say several things: they question it boldly, and they accept it willingly. Often they confess to me a slight revulsion toward the words and the ritual—“Why are we eating Jesus’ body and drinking his blood?”

Children Communion Texas USA Peacemeal

But they watch, and they see the adults come forward with care, and sometimes even with tears in their eyes. And they understand. And what they understand is what we who are older have often forgotten. That some things are impossible to understand.

Children can sense the change in the mood. They can, I believe, feel the very presence of the Holy Spirit, because they are open to such things. They have not closed off those receptors.

They understand that sometimes the only understanding comes in the uneasiness itself. And in the risk of coming forward. And in the tasting and the chewing—taking the ritual and the history and the mystery into the body itself.

Christianity is a corporal religion, based on the story of a God who took on our flesh, was born to this world and walked in it, and died our very death so that we could know once and for all how precious we are, and that love and life win in the end.

As we enter Holy Week, let us follow the children. Let us feel and taste and touch the mystery of the crucifixion and the resurrection. Watch how they willingly take on sorrow and fear, and then are able to fling themselves full force into joy. If you are fortunate enough this week to be served communion by a child, know that you are blessed.

About New Life Church

New Life Lutheran Church meets in Dripping Springs, Texas, USA. The following is taken from the New Life Church website:

“We worship outdoors, year round. We care for the beautiful piece of the Texas Hill Country with which we have been entrusted, and we create space on the land for others to enjoy nature and sanctuary. We value and intentionally include children. We work together in our community, getting to know and serving our neighbors.”

 

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