FIRST HOLY COMMUNION, PARENTAL INSTR.
I think most of you have heard by e-mail that I have agreed to do a three-week education program for the parish on Holy Communion, which is the center of our life together. The sermon today is for adults, and then the next two weeks we will have the fun of sitting in on the children's Communion class as taught by me, here in Church, with sundry gadgets and other aids to learning.
What a wonderfully simple way Jesus chose, to come to us, through eating and drinking. For eating and drinking is something that we all do, whether very intelligent or of very limited mentality - whether rich or poor, of whatever race or culture, and of whatever age: we ALL eat and drink.
Ever since the 1500's, our Church has felt, with most Protestant churches, that children need to understand intellectually what Communion is about, before they are allowed to receive the Sacrament. Most of us grew up with that approach, including me; and after a fairly hefty course of instruction, around age 12, we were confirmed - and only then could we receive the Sacrament.
The net result of that approach was that confirmation was perceived by many as a sort of graduation - right out of the Church - and we would seldom see many of the newly-confirmed people again.
We know of course that our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ were giving instruction to unconfirmed children aged seven or eight, and admitting them to Holy Communion then, with Confirmation to follow for those who wished. That approach created many people who had first Communion, but not so many who were confirmed. But at least the children had some experience of Holy Communion from a young age, before being asked to make a commitment in Confirmation. But the problem was still there: kids would receive first Communion, and maybe a little more till they left home. And that was the end of too many who fell away from the life of the Church.
We may also know that Greek Orthodox and other Orthodox bodies give first Holy Communion to a child at the time of Baptism, and children are welcomed at Holy Communion thereafter.
Anglicans and Episcopalians, as so often, took a middle approach beginning in 1970 when our Church's General Convention adopted a policy of early Holy Communion from about age 8 or grade 3 - more or less the Roman Catholic approach. But the logic of this approach led inevitably and quietly to the belief that if Baptism makes you a member of the Church, then Baptism should be automatic admission to Holy Communion, and a child should begin receiving as soon as he or she begins to be curious about what Mommy and Daddy and older siblings are receiving when they I all come up to the Altar Rail. That is to say, a child does not have to understand nutrition or thirst before the child begins to eat or drink, any more than a child needs to understand all the theoretical part of lave before the child begins to give or receive a kiss, or caress or hug. So why should the child have to know all the theory of how Christ is present before taking part in the Sacrament? Logically; the child should not even remember when it did not receive Communion. Besides, if we say that the seed of Christ's love is planted in a child in Baptism, then why are we not watering the seed at every opportunity, through Holy Communion which nourishes that seed?
Yes, there is a minimal amount of instruction, largely by parents, on how to hold the hands, and what to do if you drop the bread or if you have a cold. More about that next week. People are sometimes concerned about irreverence and sloppiness. But remember that the Apostles were fishermen, and I doubt that they were so dainty as we are about these matters!
So logically, the child should be receiving the Sacrament from a very early age, as soon as the child begins to be curious about what is going on. When I see even infants reaching out their hands, I want to give them Communion. Then, when the time for Confirmation comes, at age 16 or older, not age 12, the young people have a basis of experience to draw on, and can make a much better and more emotionally mature decision about making a real commitment to Christ as they have come to know Him in the life of the Church.
Now, all that being said, what can you expect on the next two Sundays when the children will be in church for instruction by me on Holy Communion?
Well, I use gadgets, visual aids, to make the meaning clearer, and you'll have to understand that I'm trying to condense about three hours of instruction into two 15-minute periods. But let me introduce two of my illustrations today, for they might be rather helpful to adults too!
First, there is the story of two bugs who live in a rug. Here is the rug, with red, blue, white, and a little green and yellow in it. And here are the two (plastic) bugs; they are plastic flies, but think moths. And one says to the other, "I feel terrible. In the red part of the rug I feel hot; in the white part I feel dirty; in the blue part, I feel depressed, and in the green part, I feel sick and want to throw up. What am I going to do?"
The other one says, Well, I used to feel that way. But let's go up on this footstool and see how things look from there."
"Hey, the rug looks nice from here. The red and blue and white and green all fit into a nice design."
"Yes; so maybe that will help you". - They had to go back and live in the rug, because the two bugs live in a rug. But now the sick one felt better because he could see how things fit together into a design for life. The footstool is the Church, which helps us get perspective on life.
The second gadget is something I draw on newsprint. (Draw it!)(Take guesses on what it represents)
TV antenna and TV set. A live program comes to your set over a distance of? A.: Miles. Now, put a cross on the antenna and label it AD 33, the date of the Crucifixion and Resurrection; and a cross on the TV set and label it 2010, today. The program is still a live one that is now broadcast over a distance of ? A. YEARS! Jesus is just as alive and real today as when He first died and rose for us!!! And Holy Communion is where we receive that live program at the Altar.