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Hungering for living bread

We went to a Maundy thursday dinner and liturgy at a church where M. did a field study, and where she still occasionally preaches and tells Godly Play stories. There was a simple dinner at six, and then the liturgy at seven, starting in the fellowship hall with readings followed by foot washing, and then moving into the sanctuary for the Eucharist, which was followed by stripping the altar.

Our son G., who is nearly 3, loved it because there were a lot of other–mostly bigger–kids there. Many of them had come early to help bake the bread, and so when we moved up to the sanctuary, the kids brought up the bread and the wine as a group, and then were invited to stay up around the altar during the Eucharistic prayer. G., quite the extrovert, loved this as well, and spent his time up there being held up by one of the older girls, waving to the congregation (some of whom waved back), spinning around, jumping, and generally having a great time as part of a pack of kids.

The kids had communion first, and then the rest of us went up, and the kids went back to sit with their parents. G. was quite indignant about this, he wanted to stay up there, or be with the other kids.

As they started stripping the altar, he was also saying that he wanted bread. I thought he maybe wanted more bread, or that he was upset because he didn’t also get bread when he was with us. As it turned out, though, it appears that he didn’t get communion at all, that somehow he got missed in the shuffle of the pack of kids, and then when we went up, we thought he had already got some with the other kids.

This came out at home as I was trying to get him to sleep–well past his normal bedtime. I almost had him down, when suddenly he remembered that he hadn’t had any bread at communion. He was instantly in tears and inconsolable. I felt terrible–of all the days to be left out of sharing in the bread! I tried getting some pita from the kitchen to give him, but even in a completely dark room, without even looking at it or touching it, he refused it as not being the right thing, and only got more upset.

Fortunately, it turned out that M. had a wafer left in the communion kit she uses at the hospital for her chaplaincy internship, which very quickly resolved the situation. G. was communicated, and thus fed, happily snuggled up and fell asleep a few minutes later.

. . .

I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church, where children join in communion only after instruction and preparation, and eventually a First Communion. In the Episcopal Church, communion is open to all who have been baptized (and some places now are experimenting with removing even that restriction). G has been receiving communion for over two years already. It was surprising to me at first, right after his baptism. I wondered at offering such a thing to an infant who did not understand what it was. I have since had the joy to be shown again and again that an infant, a young child, can indeed understand enough about shared food, a community gathered around a table. Enough to run to the altar to claim his share in Christ’s body, and enough to shed tears and lose sleep when denied that share, even inadvertently.

And how much do I understand, really? And insofar as I think I have any understanding now, it has come not from instruction received, but in participating again and again, week after week, in churches familiar and strange, home and away, again and again remembering that we are called to eat and become Christ’s body.

G. already has a significant head start on me there.

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