This past week we began a new facet of worship, one that is quite ancient among the people of God: having our children join us for Communion. I say that this is an ancient practice among the people of God, because of Exodus 12:25-27:
Exodus 12:25–27 (ESV): 25 And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. 26 And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’ ” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.
The context is the original Passover: when Jewish people were readying themselves to exit Egypt. The avenging angel of God swept over the land, killing every firstborn male, except for those in those households that had slaughtered a lamb, and painted their doorposts with its blood. The angel would see the blood, and pass over.
But this was not a one-time event.
Keepin' It Weird
Every year the nation was to remember this event – this “good news” – this gospel – of God’s salvation through judgment, by “keeping this service” – by annually practicing “the Lord’s Passover”. And every time the nation did this, the children were there, in some way. They were at least close enough to understand and see what was going on – this frankly strange practice that their mommies and daddies, and their entire clans, were practicing.
And that weirdness signified something! Too often we try to dumb down or smudge over the weird parts of our faith and practice, when it is that very weirdness that was meant to arrest the kids’ attention, and make them ask, “What do you mean by this service? What is going ON here? What are you all doing? What exactly does this mean?” Not that we should go out of our way to BE weird, but there are aspects of our faith that are alien and strange. But that’s only because the Holy, Holy, Holy has come close.
Thus Jesus celebrated this Passover, too, and commanded us to do the same:
Matthew 26:26–29 (ESV): 26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
Catch the symbolism: what was happening on that fateful night in Egypt was both for the salvation of Israel, and, at the same time, a precursor, a type, a picture in advance of a greater salvation that was to come, in the same way. The people of God would be led through the waters of death and come out on the other side alive again, being led by a new, better Moses. Only this time, this Moses would die in their place, and then be raised again from the dead. He became the Passover Lamb, and his blood spilled spelled the end of their guilt. And it dawned a new life in a Promised Land of unending forgiveness, because God could now justly pass over their sins.
And one day, He will return, and fully bring about His Father’s kingdom. And then we will drink with Him, at a great wedding feast.
Now, all of this is heady stuff, for little kids who have trouble with abstract concepts, and who love the literal and the concrete. And, truth be told, it’s heady stuff for us adults, too. Kids and adults need the concrete, to help understand the transcendent. So Jesus took the simple Passover practice of the father breaking bread and passing it around to the family with the wine, and showing us all its all-along meaning – His body broken, his blood spilled, for us.
By this practice, Jesus means for us to be nourished and fortified in our faith – to remember the great Passover that we’ve been led on, by Him. And our children are then meant to say, “What’s that all about? Can I do that, too?” And then we’re meant to explain to them that yes, you can. Here’s how, son. It starts with grace, and faith . . .
No better conversation to have with one’s kids. So we want the kids with us, in Communion. And if you would like to talk about when your kids should take Communion, call me – I’m happy to talk about that with you.
But what about the rest of our service together? I suggest to you that the rest of our worship is also helpful in raising up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. For the following reasons:
- Nothing like lil’ Johnny seeing Dad belt out worship to God. When Dad sings the gospel, one of the people he’s proclaiming that truth to is the little one that he thought was asleep on his shoulder.
- Kids hear and understand a lot more than we realize. I have a couple kids that could be executing dangerous parkour moves while juggling 4 balls and still hear everything being said in that room and every adjacent room. I remember the story of the kid in our last church who was “just” coloring on the seat of her chair. Or so her mother thought, until the preacher stopped and rhetorically asked a question. The child, without missing a beat, correctly answered the question out loud, without looking up, before the mother! Kids “get” a lot more than we give them credit for.
- The songs kids sing in church stick with them as long as they stick with you – maybe longer. I delight whenever I hear my kids singing Sunday’s songs on Wednesday. And that’s for more than just the information getting earwormed in their heads. It’s a tell-tale sign that Sunday was training and shaping their hearts toward a greater love for God.
But what about when lil’ Johnny fidgets and talks and distracts you, for your worship? That’s real, and a real possibility. Here are a few thoughts on that:
- Let’s start with the worst case scenario: maybe that boy’s parent really doesn’t know what she’s doing. Huh: Scripture commands older women to teach the younger women how to love their children (Titus 2). And one of the ways we love them is to teach them to keep their little keisters in the chair, until it’s over. Perhaps God had you sit by that dear sister to strike up a friendship, and to get to know her better. Are you “done” with that parenting stuff? Not if you’re in Jesus’ Church.
- But alongside that: be grateful that God is raising up another generation, who, Him willing, will love Him and serve Him. Let the distraction first be a reason to pray. That doesn’t mean you don’t sit somewhere else next week – you might. But regardless, we’re all in this together. It’s hard all over to be a parent and a Christian these days. We need to cut each other some slack, in every direction.
So good on you, if you’ve read this far. I invite you, if you have kids, to consider having them with you in the service during at least the singing and praying portion, and then take them to Children’s Church before the sermon. Or keep them with you throughout the service. You’ll be surprised how much they get, and by the questions they ask you.
This is only an invitation – not a rule, and not a way to get super-spiritual. If you don’t take me up on this, that’s OK, too.
One last word, to you parents who are asking, how the blazes do I do this? Here are some tips that have been helpful to us over the years:
- Start before Sunday: pack supplies with your kid that the kid would enjoy having with them. You might even practice sitting quietly on Saturday afternoon. Your mileage may vary on that one.
- Watch your language: your child “gets” to do this – this is special, important.
- Have a simple expectation: whatever the adults are doing, that’s what we want you to do, John-Boy.
- But then give lots of grace. Coloring using the seat bottom is just alright.
In all this, remember that this whole business is God’s idea. Do you ever wonder why God would want us to practice Communion, over and over again, month after month, year after year? Why the repetition? In part, because we are forgetful. But also in part, because there’s a delighting, holy childlikeness in God. That same spark of delight that causes a child, after Dad has done a one-half backflip somersault and crawl-around-the-room, to say, “HAHAHAHA – do it again!”
There’s a delight in God at the sight of His own grace, as we rehearse the gospel before Him. And that delight may be more like the children, than like us. As G. K. Chesterton famously put it:
A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
So then, most importantly, be ready for the questions. We pray for the salvation of our kids. When a child is asking, “What does this all mean?”, she may really be asking, “What must I do to be saved?” Thus all of this is not a rule, nor is it a mystical practice that “gets” our kids saved. It’s just a leap of faith, hoping in our Father to do it again, as He did in us.