Tuesday, February 24, 2009

To Such as These Belong the Kingdom of God

This morning, during Morning Prayer, I read the Gospel passage from Mark (in my new Wesley Study Bible!) that included this story:

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
(Mark 10:13-16, NRSV)

I have not yet had the opportunity to post about an incident that took place on the first Sunday of February, but this passage a Scripture gives me a great opportunity to do so, now.

The local Church where I serve has the practice of celebrating the Holy Eucharist on the first Sunday of each month. During the February celebration, when I came to serve the Bread to one family, the mother indicated that her (not quite 18-month old, I think) daughter, Alice, would not be receiving that morning. (I'm not sure why that was the case on that particular morning. I baptized her shortly after she was born, and I have served her at the Lord's Table before. Nevertheless, instead of serving her the Sacrament . . .) I laid my hand on her head and invoked the Lord's blessing upon her and went on.

Well, as it turns out, the little girl's grandmother was in charge of taking care of the remaining Eucharist elements (in the case of the wine, my local Parish uses grape-juice, as do most present-day Wesleyan denominations). Alice came to where here grandmother was taking care of the juice, following worship. Her grandmother thought that she simply wanted a drink of juice, so she gave Alice some juice (apparently in one of the individual Communion cups).

To here surprise, Alice took the cup of juice just outside the room to the altar-rail of the church. Placed it on the altar-rail, and after a moment of (prayer?!), partook of the Blood of Christ our Lord. - And that is, indeed, what I believe to have happened! - Oh, some people may think that such action was simply "cute," but I completely disagree. This was not simply cute; this was Christ taking little Alice in His arms, just as He did the little children in Mark 10.

Oh, such is not to discount the importance of the Words of Institution, the larger Great Thanksgiving prayers, or the priestly role of the celebrant. In fact, I believe, though I'm not sure, that the "juice" was a part of that which was sacramentally consecrated, earlier. (I'll not go into that, at this point.) But whether it was or not, God's grace is in no way limited by even the normal pattern passed on to us by our Lord. God is free to act however God chooses, and it seems to me that this instance with little Alice fits very nicely with Jesus' recorded actions in Mark 10.

To such as these belong the Kingdom of God, and so too, the Kingdom Feast! - Praise be to God!


Pastor Steven said...

Great post Todd, simple but profound.

This brings to mind something that I have wrestled with some in my ministry. When should children receive Holy Communion and should unbaptized adults receive? As we have no common practice in the CotN other then personal profession of faith. I know some Nazarenes who receive communion, who have never been baptized. I know the practice of the historic churches of both East & West, but I wondered what you thought.

Lenten blessings+


Todd Stepp said...

I agree with the East that as soon as one is baptized, they may receive Communion (i.e., little children who have been baptized).

I try to make it as clear as I can, without "barring the Table," that Communion is for the baptized. - The exception is, I will talk about the Eucharist as a converting ordinance, but then move a person quickly toward baptism.

In our (Nazarene)setting (which is completely muttled!!!), I do make a distinction between one who has not yet been baptized, and one who refuses to be baptized. - After much teaching, if one fits in the latter category, I try to dissuade them from coming to the Table. - If they are not ready to be baptized, they are not ready to come to the Table.

I have, over the years, tried to work with parents who opt for infant dedication rather than Holy Baptism in the same way. If their child is not ready to be baptized, they are not ready for the Table. (Now, of course, I would argue they are ready for both!) Nevertheless, I have not refused little children, because, like the historic Church's exceptions of "baptism by intention," I assume that, if it were up to the little child (rather than their parent), they would be baptized.

The UMC argues for a completely open Table. We Nazarenes have no rules, but we do "say" it is for those who are disciples. I think it important to make clear that the Christian "norm" and expectation is that one be baptized. (Again, I will allow for conversions at the Table, and I make the distinction between the one who has not yet been baptized, and the one who refuses to be baptized.)

This is what I've tried to do given the Nazarene setting.

circuitrider said...

I guess because of the early Pilgrim Holiness influence, we as Wesleyans have neglected baptism in general.I personally feel the symbolic Dedication/baptism to be acceptable. It is probably good to do this again upon profession of faith when the person is older and understands.I agree that baptism and Communion should go hand in hand....keith 1 Cor 13

Todd Stepp said...

Br. Keith,
I think your denomination's Book of Discipline is absolutely correct when it identifies the sacraments "ordained as a means of grace when received thorugh faith" (Article of Religion XVII).

I would argue that the ritual of dedication (a very late invention with no biblical or early historical support), though a nice ritual representing a good desire of parents, is not at all on par with the sacrament of Christian Baptism commanded by the Lord and the apostles and practiced universaly throughout the Church from apostolic times.

I would argue, along with the historic teaching of the Church, that the sacrament of Christian Baptism, by its very nature, cannot be repeated.

While I understand others may disagree, I stake my claim with Wesley and the historic Church in my sacramental views.

I would encourage you to go back to my series of four articles on infant baptism, running from March 26, 2008 to April 16, 2008.

Pastor Steven said...

Thanks Todd, I agree with the Eastern practice of serving communion to all the baptized faithful as well. Even though they do not allow those who have not received chrismation in the Orthodox Church to receive communion, which for them takes place at the time of baptism. As was the practice of the ancient Church. I wish that we Wesleyans would make baptism the criteria for receiving communion. I attend the noon service for Ash Wednesday at a local Episcopal church today and their priest invited all baptized christians to receive communion. Well I better run, as we have service tonight.



Katharine said...

How touching to read this. The last time Alice took communion she made a bit of a mess and declined all assistance so we felt perhaps she was not ready. My mother said the look on her face when she did not receive her bread and juice was complete shock. Well, she fixed that! I will never prevent her again. I agree that it was considerably more than a child just wanting a drink of juice.

Roy said...

What a marvelous illustration of "training up a child" that is. I'm a children's pastor in the COTN, and that would bring tears to my eyes.