Don’t change the channel! Perhaps at first it may seem like this question would only interest a narrow section of people – those with small children. But the answer is actually wider than that.
Consider this verse of Scripture: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (I Corinthians 11:26) Something is happening in Holy Communion, even for those who are only observing it. Every time Holy Communion is celebrated, a message is being sent. If there are visitors from other kinds of churches in the pews who only observe but don’t partake, or if children yet to be confirmed and given a fuller understanding of the Sacrament are watching or even if people are at home and are simply aware that Communion is happening that day, a statement is still clear: this has to do with the death of Jesus Christ.
Of course, just knowing that Communion is taking place, or just observing it, are not the same as personally receiving the Sacrament. Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (I Corinthians 11:25) As communicants, we step forward for the personal gift of God’s forgiveness in Christ. We take Communion knowing, as Jesus told us, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20) What a precious blessing this is for sinners who know their need for cleansing! What a blessed assurance of God’s mercy! No wonder we are invited by our Savior to come “often”!
But, in addition to the personal assurance of forgiveness that the communicant receives at the Lord’s Table, a side benefit is that everyone present is reminded again that Jesus died. What’s more, it isn’t just that Jesus died, but that Jesus died for us! The very body and blood of our Savior that was on the cross so long ago and so far away is right here for those communing. The Lord’s death is proclaimed. And everyone who is present can’t help but to pick up on that fact.
So, when I come to Communion, what ought I have my children do? The wider answer to that question: be there. Bring them to church. Have them be present. Explain, if they have questions, that Communion is a personal assurance of God’s forgiveness that Jesus gives to each person taking Communion. It’s the same forgiveness that he brings to our children in Baptism and in his Word, but the older we get as adults the more we realize how much we need to hear that message of grace - in as many ways and as often as possible. And remember, even very little children know that Communion has to do with the fact that Jesus died for us. Come to church! Bring them to church! Come to the Sacrament! Teach them what “often” means! Let them see!
Of course, we might assume that the asker of the question had in mind matters of protocol. The questioner most likely was wondering if it’s okay to bring an infant or toddler up to the front of church with the parents if they are too young or too energetic to be left in the pew alone. Scripture doesn’t speak on this matter. Customs or historical practice might vary from congregation to congregation. Since Communion is for the communicants, we have no special practice of additional treatment or attention to our children if they are carried along by a parent, other than the knowledge that if they’re in their parents’ arms or in the pew watching they are catching the fact that this has to do with the death of Christ for us. Therefore, in our congregation, we don’t give special encouragement to our parents to bring their children along with them to the altar if there is no need. Nor do we discourage infants or toddlers to accompany their parents if there is a need. And experience in our congregations has shown that our parents are the ones who know best when it is time to bring a small child along and when it is best to let them stay in the pew.
So, bottom line to the question: We don’t have a clear answer when it comes to protocol. Parents, you know what’s best. And that’s the way our parents have respectfully approached this question over the years. But to the wider point, there is an answer. We bring our children to church, and the Spirit will make sure they know that Jesus died for them! And, as adults, we come and hear the same message, and we come often to the Lord’s Table for that personal assurance once again!
Remember, “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (I Corinthians 11:26) What a wonderful blessing for us to partake of and for our children to see!
Blessings in Christ,
Pastor Ethan Steinbrenner