One of the vivid memories I have of growing up in the Black church is the first Sunday of the month, also known as Communion Sunday. Promptly at 7:00pm, after B.T.U. (Baptist Training Union), the Communion service started.
The choir would sing an A and B number. The Associate minister read Matthew 26:26-30. Another one prayed. And then it happened. The candles were lit and the lights dimmed. The Pastor and Deacons would move into position behind the “sacred” table. That table was not moved on any other occasion. You did not want to get caught touching it either. The Pastor stood in the middle of the table with Deacons on both sides of him. Dark suits and white gloves made up the appropriate attire for this service.
A Deacon held up to the Pastor a basin of water for the sacred washing. Another deacon handed him a white towel for drying. After this washing the big white cloth on the table would be lifted, exposing the contents of the table only to the Pastor and the Deacons. As a child I wondered what went on behind that white sheet. I knew the juice and crackers were under it, but what was the Pastor doing as he talked softly about the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus? Every now and then the story would get to him and he would raise up from whatever he was doing and speak with more emotion. And the Church was right with him, “yes-sir”, “say it”, “that’s right”. While telling the story he would interject the words of the song, “Were You There”. He used to say “yes we were there, with all of our hatred, all of our lying, all of our backbiting, all of our mess; yes we were there.”
Then he’d settle things down a bit, finish what he was doing and hand over the cracker trays to the Deacons. Then the white drape would come down. With mini sermons in between, he would then give the Deacons the juice and after a few words, he ended the communion quoting Matt. 26:30 emphasizing the singing of a hymn. Brother Bolden knew this was his cue and he would lead out on one of those “long meter”‘, “Dr. Watts” hymns. If you don’t know what that sounds like take a listen here. Then it was over. The lights came back on and we had a benediction.
It was not quite like this for my five year old granddaughter visiting our church several months ago. There was no mystery about what’s behind a cloth or the basin of water. The lights were not dimmed either. Yet she had many questions, but different from the ones asked by her grandfather when he was her age. As she asked one question after another, it became more and more apparent she had thought about these things before. Here’s how it went that Lord’s Day several months ago.
Episode 1: During the Communion Time
Lydia: (in a whisper) Granny, why come the kids don’t get any?
Granny: The bread and drink is only for those who believe in Jesus. This bread and juice is a meal only for those who have trusted in Jesus as Lord and Savior. One day when you understand better and trust Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you too will be able to eat with us.
Lydia: Okay Granny
When my wife related to me what happened with her and Lydia during the Communion time, knowing the kind of mind Lydia has, I knew she was not finished.
So now it’s Sunday evening and time for Family Worship. We go through our normal Lord’s Day Family Worship time with a review of the instruction we’ve received during the Bible Study time and the preaching of the Word. Just before we closed with prayer I asked Lydia if she had any more questions about the Communion. Of course she did; after all, this is Lydia.
Episode 2: Lord’s Day Family Worship
Papa: Lydia, do you have any more questions about the Communion?
Granny: You remember what Granny told you about believing in Jesus, Lydia? Jesus came and died on the cross taking the blame and shame for sinful people who put their trust in Him. He paid the price for all the sinful people who believe in Him for the forgiveness of their sins. Is that clear, Lydia?
Lydia: Yes, Granny. But the men give it out.
Papa: What do you mean Lydia?
Lydia: The men, they give it to the people.
Granny: Yes, that’s right Lydia, the men are responsible for serving the people.
Lydia: Yeah, I know, but they just give it to the people.
Papa: Yes they do, Lydia. What are you saying?
Lydia: How do they know?
Papa: How do they know what, Lydia?
Lydia: How do they know the people believe in Jesus?
Granny: Because they know the people and the people have said they believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Lydia: Yeah, but, the people could be lying.
Papa: Yes, you’re right Lydia. The people could lie about it and they will have to answer to God for that. The brothers who serve can only go on what the people have said and they must simply believe the people are being honest.
Granny: Lydia, we are really glad you asked those questions. If you have any more questions, just let Papa and Granny know.
Lydia: Thank you Papa and Granny
I came away from our conversation with Lydia with a renewed heart regarding the significance of the Lord’s Table and the blessed opportunity it gave for proclaiming the Gospel. Here are few lessons I took away from our exchange.
Do a better job of explaining and teaching the significance of the Lord’s Table. Make sure my explanations are clear and focused. Encourage all the brothers sharing the Communion meditation to do the same. This is not a time to be fancy by attempts to be overly provocative. The meaning and significance of the Cross of Christ will carry all the necessary freight associated with provocation. Simply focus on making the message to the ear and heart as clear as the bread and cup are to the eyes.
Encourage heads of households to teach the Ordinances to their families on a regular basis. Looking for material for Family Worship? How about a series on the Ordinances. Take full advantage of the built-in object lessons provided by the Lord’s Table and Baptism. Imagine the corporate worship time at the Lord’s Table after families have spent time the previous week studying it.
Fence the Table! Everyone should not be allowed at the table. This is an area of great weakness in the church I grew up in. It was almost like our church felt obligated to receive all comers to the table. People who were not in good fellowship with the church were allowed. People living in open sin were allowed. To Lydia’s point, everyone was welcomed it seemed, but the children.
Matthew 26:26-32 was always read when we met for the Lord’s Table in the church I grew up in. I sense a reading and exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 would have served us better from time to time.
Encourage my pastor friends to observe the Lord’s Table often and allow the children to be present. This is a great opportunity and environment for the parents to reinforce the truths of the gospel to their young eyes, ears and hearts.
Encourage the children to ask questions. Remember, children asking questions is not something new to the people of God. Actually it was to be expected (cf. Ex. 12:26; 13:14; Deut. 6:20; Joshua 4:6, 21).
Well, Lydia just turned six and I can’t wait till she comes to visit again. But be sure I will be on guard theologically. Who knows what she will observe next.