Every night, I ask my two-year-old son a question: What should we thank God for today? In the months we have engaged in this practice, Quinn’s thanksgivings have included noodles, his friend Lily and raisins.
One night during Lent, perched on my lap in the dark of his room, Quinn returned my question with one of his own: “I eat Christ?”
I was sure I had heard him wrong. So I asked my question again. “I eat Christ.” This time, a declaration. What a strange and disturbing thing for him to say, I thought. What are they teaching him in the nursery at church? I mumbled something about thanking God for Quinn, our family and our friends. I said, “Amen,” and Quinn responded in kind.
A few days later, he tried again. Same question, same response.
“I eat Christ.” This time, Quinn turned his palms skyward and placed his right hand over his left, in front of his heart. As if to emphasize his point, he added, “At church.”
He has been watching us.
Since he was baptized at six months, Quinn has attended church nearly every Sunday. Each week we have dutifully retrieved him from the nursery in time to join us at the altar for the Eucharist. We had never bothered to explain the practice. It wasn’t because we didn’t think he would understand. It was because we didn’t think. We were just doing what we always did.
Our priest had asked us, several times, to allow Quinn to take the elements. I had declined. I had visions of Quinn spitting out his Styrofoam-like wafer and having to scoop up the chewed-up goo and eat it myself.
The Sunday after our epiphany was different. We told Quinn he could take communion.
The sanctuary was peaceful. We rule-following Episcopalians were sitting quietly listening to the organ while ushers directed us. Quinn could not wait. He raced to the altar, palms facing up. He joyfully yelled, “I eat Christ, Mama!” He dodged our grasp and the amused members of the choir, squeezing into an empty spot on the kneeler. He stood on top of it.
“The body of Christ, the bread of heaven,” a priest said.
Quinn watched as she pressed the wafer into his palm. He placed the wafer on his tongue and said, “Amen.”
Each Sunday since has been the same -- the same joy, the same wonder, the same sincerity, the same abandon.
Did he learn it from me, or the congregation he has been carefully watching? I wonder. We adults, particularly the adults in the lives of a preschooler, are a “no”-saying sort.
No, you can’t squish Play-Doh down the vent. No, you can’t have another box of yogurt raisins. No, you can’t jump in a puddle when you’re dressed for school. No, you can’t shriek in the house. No, you can’t spray water all over the bathroom.
We like no. No gives us power and control. And we don’t reserve it just for our children. We tell our colleagues no, our bosses no, our parents no, our friends no. We lack time or energy or interest or money -- for more work or for more ideas. We bring no into our churches and our institutions. I brought no to my son’s prayers, when I assumed he couldn’t have understood enough to ask for communion.
But the joy of resurrection and of coming to the table is about yes. That is not to say we should let our children run into traffic or stick their fingers in light sockets. We shouldn’t say yes to every request for our time or every new notion. The yeses of resurrection and communion are about cultivating openness, imagination and gratitude for the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, without a predisposition to doing what always has been done and what is most convenient.
It is about a spirit of adoption and not rejection.
At Easter, we pray, “O God, who made this most holy night to shine with the glory of the Lord’s resurrection: Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and truth.”
What would we experience if every week we came to worship, to the table, in joy? If we sang exuberantly, prayed with our whole hearts, let the power of love in God’s church wash over us? If we ran to and from the table, hands outstretched, hearts ready for this divine moment of grace and thanksgiving and community?
What would Quinn, all children, all seekers experience if they saw that unrestrained joy every Sunday when they watched us? Would it sustain their spirit of adoption, form them in a lifetime of passion for God?
We feel stirred on Easter Sunday. We soak up the sights of flowered sundresses and hats, the bang of the timpani, the joy of the alleluias. One week later, the pews are empty.
But for Quinn, the joy had not faded. The Sunday after Easter, he again raced eagerly to the altar, sidestepping congregants in his way. Afterward, he jumped down two steps and skipped to our pew. There, he handed us hymnals and instructed us: “Sing.”