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Ruth’s sermon on Children and Communion July 23, 2019

Posted by nicholastufton in Sermons, Uncategorized.
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We are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.

The Christian church began with inclusivity. Quoting from the prophet Joel on the morning of Pentecost, Peter recognised that this extraordinary phenomenon of wind, fire and language was the promised Spirit of God which was meant for everyone- young and old, men and women, slaves and freemen, of every culture and nation.

However, church doctrine has worked itself out, with whatever divisions that have torn it apart in its 2000 year history, it began with inclusivity. All are welcome.

As a benefice we are looking at ways in which this welcome is worked out- through the use of our buildings and the provision that they make for comfort and hospitality; through communication keeping those on the edge included in our news; through invitation to special events.

And this year particularly we are looking at including our children in Communion. Much research has been done into the theology and history of children receiving communion – certainly in the early church whole households were baptised together – the jailer in Acts and also Cornelius’ household. It would seem unlikely that they were excluded from the earliest agape, meals when the early church met to break bread. In some earliest frescoes in the catacombs in Rome there are clear pictures of adults and children gathered around the table sharing in bread and wine. One shows a child reaching out for their share of the food. The first Christians were Jews and children had played a central part in the celebration of Passover and other festivals.

John’s gospel, along with texts from Corinthians and Acts all show how important the breaking of bread and sharing in the Eucharist was, both to bind the church together as well as to incorporate it into Christ’s very body- which is the church.

A family gathered around a meal together both expresses their unity as a family and further strengthens it. The food shared expresses their culture and provides nourishment appropriate for health and growth. As they gather around the table, they learn language, conversation, values and their place in the family.

Indeed, by the 3rd Century Cyprian described infants receiving bread and wine from birth, and Saint Augustine wrote, “They are infants, but they receive His sacraments. They are infants, but they share in His table, in order to have life in themselves. The Apostolic Constitutions of the 4th. century instructed that children should receive communion after the various orders of clergy and before the adults.

Which is where the Eastern Orthodox church remains. Children still receive- in age appropriate ways. From the moment of their baptism wine is administered on a spoon. Their need for Communion and their right to communion is unquestioned.  Their baptism makes them full members of the church.

But as the church divided into East and West the western church began to see baptism, confirmation and communion as separate events. The scarcity and distance of bishops to confirm was a factor along with the Reformation emphasis on understanding and instruction which further divided those who were considered suitable for communion and those who weren’t. The Book of Common Prayer declared that, “ There shall be none admitted to the Holy Communion until such time as he be confirmed or ready and desirous to be confirmed”. This allows anyone wanting to be confirmed to receive before confirmation but it also linked confirmation and communion firmly together- which of course is still important.

By the 19th century confirmation had become the entry point for communion after a period of instruction and understanding and Anglicans accepted this as the norm.

But think back to the Eastern Orthodox and baptism as the beginning of full membership and actually we are the same- baptism admits us to full membership of the church.

Immediately before baptism those present affirm with the infant the faith of the church- it is into the church that we are baptised. Immediately after baptism this prayer is used:

May God, who has received you by baptism

into his Church,

pour upon you the riches of his grace,

that within the company of Christ’s pilgrim people

you may daily be renewed by his anointing Spirit,

and come to the inheritance of the saints in glory.

The moment when we share the peace and welcome the newly baptised reminds us of our reading  from Romans which started this sermon, 

We welcome you into the fellowship of faith;

we are children of the same heavenly Father;

we welcome you.

We are all one in Christ Jesus.

We belong to him through faith,

heirs of the promise of the Spirit of peace

And what of the church today in the 21st century. It has always held true to its core beliefs, but it has also changed and adapted as society has changed.

Pentecost was all about change and renewal. It still is. Wind, fire, and language all effect change and enable change- whether we are talking about physics or theology.

The spirit of God living in us enables us to change and renew, to look at the world around us and see families increasingly doing things together, families which are less divided along traditional age and gender roles, places where learning develops through experience.

As a church we have the chance to reflect this year on what it means to be the family of God in this place, what sort of family we are- how we learn, how we encourage others, how we share together. I’m sure you will have many questions – please do ask them either over coffee or at any other time. Write them down or phone me or ask me to visit.

Discuss it with others in your congregations and with your PCC members. There is more to say about the process by which we eventually make the decision whether or not to apply to the Bishop for permission to admit children to communion before confirmation. There is more to be said about the nature of Communion but this is for another occasion.

This year gives us a chance to explore baptism, confirmation and communion. It gives us opportunity to explore what it means to be children of God, heirs of a kingdom where we can find peace and confidence.

Ruth Pyke

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