Like all good fathers, our heavenly Father seeks to nourish His children. He feeds us with His Word and feeds us with the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. In the Reformed tradition, both the Word and the sacraments remind our brains and prove to our senses (hearing, seeing, tasting) that God is gracious.
This is a reminder and a proof that all God’s children regularly need, which is why I’m personally thrilled the Christian Reformed Church has begun welcoming all baptized members (including children) to the Lord’s table. One could argue that excluding God’s younger children from the table is akin to excluding family members from Thanksgiving dinner based on their age.
By welcoming children to the Lord’s Supper, I see us correcting two unfortunate double standards that have become part of our tradition. The first is rooted in a faulty division between the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We invite parents to bring their children forward to be baptized not because the children understand or deserve it, but because God has graciously made them part of His covenant family. I love these lines our baptism liturgy:
For you Jesus Christ came into the world;
for you He died; and for you He conquered death.
All this He did for you, little one,
though you know nothing of it as yet.
We love because God first loved us.
It seems inconsistent, then, that we demand a particular level of theological understanding for these same children to partake of the Lord’s Supper – a level they cannot achieve until they are older. Does this not fuel the belief that one ought to be smart enough or worthy enough to partake – a fallacy that those who are in Christ ought to vehemently reject? We all gather around the table on the same basis that we gather around the baptismal font – that, out of sheer grace, our loving heavenly Father includes us in His family and cares for our wellbeing and growth. We gather around the table not because we are worthy, but because we are in Christ, who alone is worthy!
In short, I am sympathetic with the assertion that we’ve either got stop baptizing children or we’ve got to start welcoming them to the table. If our children are part of the family, then let’s make sure they (and we) know it at the table.
The second double standard I see corrected by welcoming children to the Lord’s Supper is rooted in a faulty perception that Word and sacrament are fundamentally different. As I mentioned, God uses both the Word and sacraments to communicate His grace to us. We have no trouble inviting (expecting, even) children to be present at the reading and preaching of the Word, despite the reality that a lot of what is said goes right over their heads. Yet we do not fear any judgment they may face by being listeners but not doers of the Word. We do not wait until children are old enough to hear the words of Jesus and put them into practice like adults can before we expose them to the Word. If we welcome our covenant children to hear the Word and receive God’s grace through it, why would we prevent them from approaching the table to receive another means of grace? On the contrary, it is biblical and logical to invite children to be fed by the living Word – not only via the Bible but also Jesus Himself, the Word made flesh, at His table.
Yes, there is indeed something very special about the Lord’s Supper that we cannot lose sight of: Among numerous things, it is a memorial of Christ, evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit, a symbol of the unity of the church in all times and places, and a preview of God’s coming Kingdom. But there is also something very ordinary about the Lord’s Supper – we eat and we drink, something we do every day. It’s just as ordinary as listening to the Word. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say: It’s just as extraordinary as listening to the Word. And both are for all God’s covenant children.
I found a couple messages by Pastor Art Verboon of Maranatha CRC Edmonton to be very insightful and helpful in thinking about all this. You can access them here – just scroll down to June 2012 and listen to “This is the Blood of the Covenant” based on Exodus 24 and “Trouble at the Table” based on 1 Corinthians 11.