Parenting on the Supper
It should surprise no one that my children struggle to pay attention throughout an entire church service. Though they are increasingly involved in the back and forth of our liturgy, lapses in focus are systematic silliness, not sinfulness.
However, one portion of the service that grabs hold of the children's attention are baptism and the supper. In particular, Judah goes from the start of the service to the concluding prayer of the sermon asking if the next element is the Lord's Supper. Some might chalk this up to childhood hunger, but I have noticed that it is, in fact, something different.
Here in the sacrament, he gets to use his little boy hands to pass the plate. He gets to use his hands to hold the elements. And he gets to smell. There is a pertinent corporeal practicality. In something akin to Calvin's idea that the sacraments are signs of our weary flesh, the service because something more real for our children. This makes it all the more important for parents to embed deep rooted sacramental theology in their children. The first truth must be the promises of the sacrament,
"This holy Supper also seals to us that the very body of Christ was truly given for us, and his blood shed for the remission of our sins, lest our faith should in any way waver." (Second Helvetic Confessions)
The first thing we instruct our kids is that on the basis of their faith, they can rest assured of God's promises towards them. Not the health or strength of their faith, but the sheer existence of faith that Christ has conquered their sins. The readiness of children for repentance is staggering. And there are few better points to emphasize the simplicity of faith than when a child is holding his cup. The second important truth is the meaning of our language "body and blood,"
"From all this it is clear that by spiritual food we do not mean some imaginary food I know not what but the very body of the Lord given to us, which nevertheless is received by the faithful not corporeally, but spiritually by faith." (Second Helvetic Confessions)
Admittedly, the Reformed tradition has the hardest of all parental roles in educating children about sacramental language. Those on the left (Lutherans) and right (Memorialists) will chuckle to themselves and say it's because we don't just speak plainly. They might have a point since we speak quite plainly about "the very body" but "not corporeally." The clarity with respect to human logic does seem to be missing.
But the most important point we teach during this time is the importance of the sacrament. For portions of the Reformed tradition clearly teaching that eating is necessary for salvation,
"And this eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood of the Lord is so necessary for salvation that without it no man can be saved. But this spiritual eating and drinking also occurs apart from the Supper of the Lord, and as often and wherever a man believes in Christ." (Second Helvetic Confessions)
Now some may view this as a cop out. Isn't this merely "faith alone" yet again? The answer is "yes." But the answer is "yes" in a way that is affirming of the weekly consumption of Christ's flesh. By that I mean this, the benefits of the sacrament are renewed weekly just as the Second Helvetic articulates,
"That greatest benefit which he showed to mortal men, namely, that by having given his body and shed his blood he has pardoned all our sins, and redeemed us from eternal death and the power of the devil, and now feeds us with his flesh, and gives us his blood to drink, which, being received spiritually by true faith, nourish us to eternal life. And this so great a benefit is renewed as often as the Lord's Supper is celebrated." (Second Helvetic Confessions)
The "cop out" of faith as eating is reinforced by the reality that every week such eating "so great a benefit is renewed." Every single week I am encouraged to renew the instruction with my children because with each week's consumption the benefits of faith are renewed. That is well within the pale of the Reformed Tradition.