This is for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins

May the grace and peace of God be with you. This is one of my favorite greetings. It beats "Hi" any day. Words create reality. Words—and the meaning behind the words—can be very powerful in giving shape to what takes place. Speaking grace and peace opens the door to grace and peace happening.

While living in the Caribbean years ago, I sat in our station wagon watching a man bless all the homes along the street belonging to his neighbors. When he reached our car, he walked around the car three times, cursing the car, then walked away. Not many days later, our car caught fire on our way to morning worship. With smoke pouring into the car and flames beginning to appear, Kathy and I barely got our four small children out of their car seats and safely down the road before the rest of the car exploded, leaving not even a trace of a child's car seat in the ashes. Coincidence? I don't know. There were many suspicious things about that fire. Living in other cultures has increased my respect for the power of blessing and cursing. I believe spoken words have amazing power to shape our realities.

That is why it has always been disturbing to me to raise the communion cup and proclaim, "This is for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins"—only to have a small child reaching out be denied, "No, not for you." It was a small child who challenged me on this years ago: "Why do you say it's for all people but then tell me it's not for me?" Don't we realize that by denying people communion, regardless of age, we are teaching them about the grace of God, perhaps teaching that grace is not truly grace, against our own proclamation?

 

Some years ago the ELCA removed age restrictions from guidelines on Holy Communion, leaving age decisions up to the congregation.

I have noticed that the children who are the most restless and unhappy during communion are children who are not given communion, even if they receive a spoken blessing. In other cases, I have watched children who are facing difficult times in life, who are very reverent and attentive in worship, and who would be strengthened by being given communion for what they face. Parents have spoken with me about the impact current practice has on their families.

For this reason we have entered into prayer and conversations in Council meetings, Worship and Music meetings, and conversations with parents, considering theological, scriptural, pastoral and traditional wisdom. Our Worship and Music team and our Council have chosen to open communion to all ages as pastoral needs arise. You may notice young children receiving communion.

We will continue to offer Holy Communion classes and celebrate communion for all fifth graders at the end of October. This provides the opportunity for continuing age-appropriate education for all children as they grow, even if they have been receiving communion since they were small, and it ensures an age by which all bap- tized children will receive communion. I would be delighted to have further conversations with any of you about Holy Communion in Hope.

The Mission of Hope is to receive, celebrate and proclaim the Christian message, not of exclusion and de- nial, but of love, compassion, forgiveness of sin and eter- nal life among each other and the world. It is a mission of grace overflowing us from God, beyond what we can contain or celebrate. May God's grace and peace be with you.

Daniel Swanson,
Pastor of the People of Hope

 

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