When I was a little girl, legalism was pervasive in many churches, and ours was no different. So as a teenager, and then a young adult, sifting through all the things that "I've always been taught" and comparing them with Scripture to determine what is truly Scriptural and what is just legalism has been quite an undertaking.
On Christmas Eve, we always go to a candlelight service at church, and part of that service includes partaking of Communion, or the Lord's Supper. Now Little Girl has never lasted through an entire Christmas Eve service without having to be taken out for poor behavior. When I was her age, we sat out in church every week from the time we exited the nursery at age 3, but with the advent of Kids' Church, sitting out in "big church" just isn't something Little Girl has much practice doing.
Well, she's 5 now and I hoped that this would be the year she'd actually be able to sit quietly through the service. I commented about this to my sister, who is the one who hasn't gotten to sit through the Christmas Eve service for five years... and she said, "Well I'm going to be up with the choir this year, so she'll be your problem to deal with!" Then she added, "And there's Communion too, so good luck!" Meaning, of course, that to pass around a cracker and a grape juice for everyone and for her not to get to have one was quite likely to bring on a tantrum...
Now this was one of those things that "we were always taught", that children were not permitted to partake of the Lord's Supper until they had been saved and baptized. I remember clearly right after my own salvation when I was nearly 6, the excitement that NOW I would get to take Communion!
Now, the Lord's Supper is pretty serious business, and as an adult, I understand a lot more about just how important it is to be sure your heart is right when participating in this ordinance. However, it occurred to me this year after my sister's comment that as far as children not partaking -- well, that isn't Scriptural. Nowhere does it say children should not be permitted to participate until they have accepted Christ... so I began thinking more on this subject.
Jesus and his disciples were celebrating Passover, and it is one small part of the Seder meal that Jesus then establishes as something we are to do in remembrance of Him. So the Lord's Supper has its roots in the Passover meal, and children always participated in the Passover celebration. In fact, the Passover meal is used to teach children about the wonderful things God did for His people. Should not then the Lord's Supper be used for the same purpose? Shouldn't young children be allowed to participate, and the experience be used to teach them what Jesus has done for them?
The more I thought about it, the more certain I became that Little Girl should indeed participate -- but not merely to avoid her throwing a tantrum and to give her a cracker and grape juice, but to teach her the significance of what we are doing. And after all, this is a little girl who loves Jesus, despite not having made an official "salvation decision" due to her young age. So after discussing my thoughts with her mother, that's exactly what we did.
Christmas Eve afternoon, I sat down with Little Girl and her Beginners Bible, and started to read, from the birth of Baby Jesus right up through his life, and then the story about the Last Supper. As I read, I talked to her about how we were going to do this at church, and how it was a very special thing that she was going to get to do to remember Jesus. We read on about his death and resurrection, and talked about how the broken bread/cracker reminds us of Jesus' body being broken on the cross, and how the grape juice (wine) represents His blood. "But it's not REALLY blood, it's just grape juice," Little Girl said. :)
And so we went to church, and the Christmas Eve service began. I came armed with crayons and paper in the hopes that this would keep Little Girl quiet, and with no suggestion of what to draw, she promptly drew these two pictures.
When it came time to take Communion, I whispered reminders and questions to her as we proceeded through it to make sure she remembered the significance, and she certainly did. After it was over -- well, after declaring, "YUM! I want more!" -- she got another sheet of paper and drew this picture:
She then whispered to me that that was me, her, and Jesus in the picture having Communion together.
I have a feeling she partook of Communion with more understanding and a righter heart than did some of those saved and baptized adults present...
It was a beautiful thing, to teach and to watch and to realize she really gets it.
My mom said afterward that when my cousin was little, she cried in church once because her parents wouldn't let her take Communion, and my grandfather was furious about it. He told them Jesus would rebuke them like He did the disciples, and say to let the little children come to me. What a wise man he was.
Little Girl was his greatest joy in his last years of life. After hearing that story from my mother, I can just imagine him looking down from heaven at Little Girl observing her first communion, and smiling proudly at us all. :)