One of the greatest joys I have as a minister is giving communion to children. I love watching the looks on their faces as they receive the bread and dip it into the cup.
Once children reach a certain age, they are not so bashful about asking for a big piece or asking for seconds. And the younger the children, the more tentative they are at receiving the bread, the more demonstrative they are of their appreciation of it.
This past Sunday was Communion Sunday at my churches and when I saw little Madison’s aunt carrying her in the communion line, I couldn’t help but smile. Madison is a happy, healthy baby. She is always smiling and has reached that age where she jabbers away at everyone and anyone. She delights in music and I watch her as she “sings along” with the choir while waving her hands as though she were the choir director.
So, when she and her aunt reached the front of the communion line, I broke off a tiny piece of the bread and offered it to the child first.
Madison looked at me in that serious way babies do when they aren’t quite sure what you are wanting from them, but instinctively, as the bread neared her mouth, she opened wide to receive it.
Then, as she gummed and chewed at the tiny little piece, she let out a very audible “mmm…”
In seminary, the question of how young is too young for communion came up on different occasions. Of course, a person’s faith traditions and denominational standards inform our opinions. But, being the faithful young seminarians that we were, we would whip out all of our best theological reasons to back up our arguments for or against giving communion to children and babies.
I’m sure that back then I had all sorts of excellent academic explanations… but none of them compare to the sheer joy I receive by watching children like Madison light up when they taste the sweet bread and juice.
I am reminded of Jesus, encouraging us to come to the kingdom as children. Seeing the innocent and excited reception that children like Madison have for the gifts of grace that they are offered explains Jesus’ command more than any theologian with fancy degrees could.
Madison doesn’t have enemies. And should she find herself unhappy with her parents’ slow response to her hunger or other source of discomfort, she is capable of forgiving the transgression immediately. She has nothing but love for everyone around her. Her every action brings joy to all those who are near her. And when a gracious gift is given her, she receives it with a joy that requires the use of her full body to express it: laughing, clapping, squealing, bouncing joy.
I can’t imagine any other way that we should come to the Kingdom of God.