Solemn Communion

by Pastor Heath Howe, Family Ministries

"It looks like Church," offered one young girl. "It could be a family meal," offered another. "I think it looks like Christmas," said a young boy. These were the various answers Gretchen Quinn and I received after we presented the first lesson to our Solemn Communion class. The scripture passage for the lesson is taken from John's Gospel when Jesus tells the parable of the Good Shepherd. The children watch as the Good Shepherd leads the sheep to good grass, to still water, and through rocky places. They learn that he calls all his sheep by name and searches for any who become lost. If the wolf comes and scatters the sheep the Good Shepherd will lay down his life for them. Finally, they are told the Good Shepherd calls his sheep to a special table where there is bread and wine, and all types of people, even children, are welcome. Even though the Good Shepherd is no longer seen in the usual way, he is still present in the bread and the wine. The materials for the lesson are all hand painted, beautiful wooden figures. The last image the children see at the close of the lesson is a long wooden table on a green felt surface. A variety of wooden people who have been painted to represent citizens from around the world encircle the table. A tiny wooden chalice and paten sit on table. The image is set and the story teller asks, "Where might this table really be? What does this look like to you?"

I find it powerful that our children recognized Holy Communion, as they experience it on Sunday morning, in the lesson. I find it equally powerful that this image reminded them of family or any other special feast. They are all correct. Whenever we gather and break bread, be it in the sanctuary, on a Wednesday night at home, or at Saturday brunch with friends, we are celebrating the Eucharist, the gift of God among us.

The Holy Eucharist is a central part of our lives at Holy Comforter and many of our Church School children receive Communion regularly. In fact, many of the children have said that this is their favorite part of children's chapel. They happily hold out their small hands to receive this great gift from God, the bread of heaven. Even without words to explain what it all means, they seem to know the power of being so intimately connected to God, like a sheep in a sheepfold or a branch to a vine.

This year for our third grade through sixth grade class we are offering, once again, Solemn Communion. We do not call this class First Communion because, as we have said, many of the children have been receiving the sacrament for a long time. We do, however, want to create a space and time for our children to gather and ask questions about this mysterious, beautiful, and solemn gift.

During the class, our children wonder, reflect, and engage with the theology of the Holy Eucharist, as well as touch and handle the elements we use each Sunday morning. We believe third grade though sixth is the perfect age for such a study, as they are at the age when they can dig more deeply into the meaning of this holy sacrament. Also, this program comes during the years when the children begin attending church in the larger sanctuary with their families and when they serve as acolytes.

We are off to a great start. Bill Haljun led the class in baking the bread we will share during Lent. The pictures show the joy and fun they had in baking it. Why not? After all, this bread is for our family, when we gather in the sanctuary for a moment that feels like God is really among us. Church. A family meal. Christmas. Well said.