Note to the reader: This post consists of reflection of my experience at church this morning. As this blog promises not to be overtly religious, I did want to provide that information up front.
At our church each Sunday for communion a loaf is broken into four and passed down four aisles hand to hand, often with an individualized echo of the pastor’s instituting words, “This is the body of Christ broken for you.” “Christ’s body broken for you.” “The body of Christ.” Down the aisles the echo goes along with the bread, often being passed over the heads of little ones peering up at this most odd of parental gestures, bread consumed by them alone with no morsel passed to them , their dear children. Down the aisle the bread continues, from hand to hand to hand of hands of every shape and hue, rough and delicate, till it is gathered by the last folks and brought back to the table, like the gathering of the baskets of crumbs upon the feeding of the five thousand. We wait until all are fed the bread and given the wine to drink, then finish our song, and wait for the blessing of benediction, of good words spoken over us before we part.
But before we do part the children will taste their share of bread, or at least those will whose parents are not squeamish concerning handled bread, those will who will make it to the back in time. I am certain that what I am going to say here is a quite bit of a romanticization of what actually happens next, but I still reflect on these thoughts each time I see the process. An adult volunteer takes the bread on its plate to the office area and children follow; some have all ready gathered in the back like pups at a third world bakery or butcher shop. And down the plate goes, and little hungry hands take the much handled bread. And it is gone.
Now anytime when one talks of children and bread and dogs, to anyone who has read the gospels, the remarkable tale of the Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman, which is somewhat of a trouble, will likely spring to mind.
“Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.” But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.”
If I have chosen to describe our children as pups, it is very much only a rhetorical conceit—their waiting in a semi-circle, their inherent cuteness, their falling over each other in their eagerness as the bread approaches all evoke such parallels. They are, of course, certainly not dogs, eating up nourishment meant for others. As an aside, though it is truly a problematic text, nor do I believe did Jesus really view the plaintive, Gentile woman as such either, as an unworthy cur, as a pariah dog. The preponderance of his words and actions towards Gentiles in the gospels, not to mention the remainder of the New Testament, assures us otherwise.
No, our bread gobbling children are very much children—together with us they are the children of the covenant, members in the body of Christ—and the bread that they eat is very much their own, even if they cannot eat it as yet with full understanding in our communion celebration. As I write, I am not fool enough, not to realize that I am sailing perilously close to the contentious waters of paedocommunion. And, yet, it is not my intention to go further into those swirling seas. I am content to view this delightful, rowdy feast as a sort of foretaste for the children of their future participation in the full feast, no matter what is in their hearts or minds as they eat, or if as is most likely the case, if they are simply eating as hungry and growing children seeking whatever they might devour.
It is not sacramental, of course, but perhaps it can be a little symbol of them belonging to the covenant, nonetheless, of them tasting the bread of the sacrament (which many of them would have already hace partaken even while in their mother’s wombs before they were born) in an indirect way, before they can knowingly own and feel its import for themselves. And there is, of course, a mystery here of the same order as the one which occurred when many of them were baptized and blessed into the covenant as squirming babies—they are protected, nurtured, sustained members of the covenant, but wait for a fuller experience of it upon their owning their faith as their own.
If I must show my hand a little, I suppose I like to press further into the fullness that may already be theirs by such modes of belonging—that God may choose to mediate salvation and blessing in ways and moments that are unknown to us, perhaps even in a gathering of little hands reaching for leftover communion bread, but this is very much only a wish or a supposal that appears in my head each time I see those pups around the table.
-Communion image from Westminster Presbyterian Church, Godfrey, Illinois.