Last week we talked about God’s means of grace in Holy Communion, the simplicity of elements, and the words that Jesus said. Today let’s talk about who is welcome at the table.
All are welcome to the table. It is the table of the Lord where he is host. In scripture we know that Jesus share meals with the acceptable members of society as well as the disenfranchised. Jesus mingled with the clean and unclean, the sinners and the saints. He made no distinctions. So how did we get some of the “rules” that we follow?
Early church fathers as well as priests of the church often made distinctions about who would be admitted to the Holy Meal based on pragmatic conclusions or scripture. For example, the church has often followed the pattern established in scripture; individuals receive instruction and were baptized before Communion. This assumes the norm was adult baptism. However, if the sacraments are about God’s action then who is to say what happens at Holy Communion. For some it may be an opportunity for profession of faith. The power of the Holy Spirit is divine. There is no command from our Lord regarding the age at which people should be first communed.
As a result, the age at which baptized members of our congregations receive their first communion reflects a variety of practices and understandings. Some congregations follow a pattern familiar to older generations of Lutherans: first communion is received at the time of confirmation. A generation ago, many of our congregations began preparing catechetical material for children to receive their first communion when they reached fifth grade. Today there is a growing awareness that focus on one particular age group may not be the primary factor to determine when first communion is received. In fact, historical studies of the early church and the witness of other denominations in our day have led both congregations and members to ask about the possibility of communing infants.
My daughter communed as an infant. She has participated in the table of the Lord for as long as she can remember. As a pastor when a child reaches for the wafer or chalice because everyone else is doing so, demonstrates some understanding of the holy meal. Why exclude them? Some would say because there has to be some intellectual awareness of God. That raises other thorny questions; do any of us know everything about God? That was an early church heresy. Should those who have cognitive impairments be excluded? Of course not. The Means of Grace a document of the ELCA invites pastors, congregations, parents of children into this conversation to determine the policy of their church.
Next week the methods of communion and elements that may be used in celebrating Eucharist will be shared.