My family fills a row of chairs in the sanctuary of our church. I always feel bad for the people who sit around my noisy family. Our pastor loves children and has told me once he struggles to preach on the Sundays when they are all whisked off to Children's Church after the music once a month because the sanctuary is too quiet. We have a lot of grandmas and grandpas who sit around us, who either enjoy my kids or can't hear them.
Every part of bringing kids to church feels hard, despite my kids loving it. My mother used to say that Satan works extra hard on Sunday mornings. The wrestling matches into car seats, and bickering between them make the morning into one long battle as it feels like everything goes wrong. It has gotten easier as some of my kids are now older, and church has become as important to them as it is to us.
Taking communion, however, is always hard because as the elements are passed down the row, not everyone in my row participates. In our church, parents get to help their children decide when to start taking communion in our gathering, and the decision to receive communion is taken very seriously. To a squirmy bunch of ever-hungry kids, it feels like you're left out of snack time, not understanding the holy, separate nature of it. On top of that, my husband is one of the elders who serve communion. This leaves me in the row with all of the children by myself, and I try to stagger the older ones between the middle ones on the end, and keep the little ones on either side of me.
I try to model the importance of remembrance during this time. I remember when I was a child, watching my mother hold the wafer and the miniature cup, with her eyes pressed tight, despite my tapping her shoulder, or hand for her attention. This was her time to remember God, and what he had done for her, and she would not waiver. I learned the sacredness through her silence.
I close my eyes as an example for my kids just like my mother did, and ignore the taps and squirms and breaking crayons of my own children for just a minute. I imagine the sacrifice of Christ. Sometimes it’s just more important for me to fix my eyes on Jesus than to fix all the problems around me.
One particular Sunday was just after Easter last year. One of the kids convinced us to sit near the front. Our oldest had just returned from a youth trip over spring break, and while she was gone, one of her younger brothers decided to take his first communion at our church’s Maundy Thursday service of holy week. This was the first time our church served communion since his first communion, and as the elements got passed down our row, I saw that he started to take the round wafer out of the tray and his big sister who had no knowledge of this event, stopped him from taking communion.
Pretty soon, an argument erupted right there in the 4th row, a few kids down from me, as the tray with the body of Christ was yanked back and forth between 2 of my children. "You're not old enough!" "Yes, I am! I've had it before!" "No, you haven't!" I brought out my whisper-growl, an eerie voice every mother develops, and said, "Let. Him. Have. It." She looked at me, with righteous indignation and said, "No. He's not old enough." This was not the time for explanation in front of everyone. This was the time to just listen and obey.
I leaned over and pulled the tray out of her hand, and she let go of it at the same time, and the timing mixed with the force lead the dish of the body of Christ to fly up in the air with cinematic slow motion, and turn upside down once, then twice, with wafers raining all around us. I looked helplessly up at my husband, who was in the aisle passing the trays between the rows.
He came right over, but what was there to do? Should I start scooping the body of Christ off the floor and out of our hair in handfuls? Can the body of Christ get too dirty to eat? Are there germs in holy spaces? These were the deep theological questions running through my mind at that moment. Most of the church was still yet to be served behind us, and now the wafers were mixed with bits of ripped crayon wrapping all over the floor.
My husband smiled sympathetically and took the empty tray from my hands and went to fill it with more wafers. I looked down at my lap. My children sat silently next to me, feeling the shame of what had happened for all to see. My face was hot, and I gathered up the mess into my lap. As the rest of the congregation was served, and the hymn continued to play in the background, I tried to return to the remembering. Remember the cross. Remember his sacrifice. He paid it all. It is finished. That lead me to smiling, and then laughing softly to myself at this pile in my lap.
I scooted over to the children who had fought for all to see, as we sat in our mutual humiliation. I scooped some of the pile over to one child, and some of the pile to the other, and the rest stayed in the folds of my skirt. This was Christ FOR US. "He always gives enough grace for the day. Some days need more." I said. Their smiles curved up. There is no shame at the foot of the cross.