By Michelle Van Loon
I taught Sunday School for years. The experience taught me a few things. One essential lesson was to avoid any craft project involving glitter. I found glitter in my clothes, hair, and Bible for days after creating sparkly Noah’s Ark rainbows with my class of first-and second-graders. A word to the wise: no matter how cute it looks in the curriculum guide or on Pinterest, there’s really no sane reason to drag glitter into your Sunday morning.
A second, more serious lesson had to do with how instruction about communion is handled in churches that take a strictly memorial view of the sacrament. The bulk of my experience as a follower of Jesus has been spent in non-denominational churches that held this view of the Lord’s Supper. Because communion is only offered once a month in many of these churches, frankly, many adults haven’t been well-instructed about what they’re actually doing when they share the elements.
Because most of the “strictly memorial” churches in my experience leave it to parents to instruct their children about communion, and determine for themselves when a child may participate, I discovered that many kids really had no idea what they were doing when they were presented with the elements.
I once asked my upper-grade Sunday School kids what they knew about communion. One girl said, “Communion is a little snack we have at church sometimes.”
When I pressed the rest of the class for a response to my question, I received a chorus of the standard Sunday School answers from them that boiled down to “It’s about Jesus”. A good percentage of the children in the group came were the offspring of Bible-teaching church leaders, so I think I expected a little more than this from them.
Upon further reflection, I realized my expectations had no grounding in reality. As was true for most of the other non-denominational congregations we attended, the church did very little teaching on communion. Basically, the practice was to add a few devotional words linking the sermon subject to the Lord’s Supper, which typically followed the message the first Sunday of the month. The adults hadn’t received any real instruction about it on a regular basis, so it went to follow that their kids didn’t know much about it other than our church service included some mysterious monthly ritual that involved a thimble of juice and a bit of cracker.
I noted in Moments and Days: How Our Holy Celebrations Shape Our Faith that knowing where communion comes from and how it is indeed all about Jesus connects us to the story of God’s redemption in very profound ways. And that story begins with Passover.
The Passover Seder’s foundation for the gift of communion gives it an essential place as a teaching tool in the life of a follower of Jesus. Some Christians have made some form of a Seder meal part of their holy week observances. Others have made it part of their family’s life and worship each year. I’d like to believe that if the young girl who told me that communion was a snack had gone with her family to a well-presented Seder led by a follower of Jesus, she might have understood the matzo and cup differently. And if they’d done so each year, it would be even better.
While some have pushed back on the idea of “Christian Seders”, as a Jewish follower of Jesus concerned about discipleship, I maintain that this is a natural way in which a church can invite their people into meaningful participation in the scope of their salvation story, and give members of all ages a foundation for communion.
How does your church instruct people before they come to the communion table? I’d love to hear from you especially if you are part of a congregation that holds to a “strictly-memorial” view of communion.