The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


April 15, 2009

A surprise first communion

During the last days of Holy Week, my son had his "first communion." On Maundy Thursday, my family's congregation traditionally invites third graders to the altar for their first experience of taking the bread and the wine in community. Ben was included in a group of about a dozen kids who arrived in skirts and pressed pants with their families that night.

For my son, though, this wasn't his "real" first communion.

That experience came a few weeks earlier when he received a piece of bread at a Wednesday night service from a man I didn't recognize — a person I hadn't noticed at my church before that night, and someone I haven't seen since. Ben turned to me with a wide-eyed expression and a wafer on his palm. He looked to see whether I approved.

In my heart, there was no way I could say no. Ben was at God's table — not mine. I nodded and whispered, "Of course. It's for you."

This surprise first communion was a perfect illustration of the love of God, whose invitation to the table comes as a gift of grace for Ben and everyone else. We're not invited because we've impressed God as charming dinner guests, and there's no amount of training or preparation we can do to earn our places. Coming to God's Table is an invitation for all — it's not something you attend only after you've checked the "correct" theological boxes or you've had your mom snap a clip-on tie beneath your chin.

The sheer surprise of communion can be something we forget — and I'm thankful that Ben's first experience was a rich illustration of the openess we find there.

Churches within the ELCA are all over the map when it comes to first communion. What traditions do you have at your home congregation? Do you have a story to share about your child's first encounter at God's table?

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