Friday, May 05, 2006
A gift for my son's first communion
Recently, the confessional Lutheran blogosphere has been debating the value of pastor-led confirmation programs. There have been side arguments of the appropriate age of confirmands and the usefulness of confirming all kids at the same time. These arguments have intrigued, yet irritated me. Probably because our household has been steeped in confirmation for the past three years.
For the past month or two, I've been busy preparing for our son's confirmation. We cleaned our house out and up, remodeled the bathroom, and prepared to feed a crowd of 40. We enjoyed very warm fellowship with family and friends, several of whom drove a couple of hundred miles to join us. For my son's part, he spent the past two years memorizing verses and doctrine. Two Sundays ago, he sat in front of the congregation with his 21 classmates and answered questions from our pastor. He was declared ready to become a member of our church. Last Sunday, he donned the white gown, red carnation and kneeled at the altar. He attested that he'd like to become a member, stated the reason for the joy that is in his heart and was received into our congregation with a blessing. This coming Sunday, a very special but much more subdued event will take place. My son will join the rest of his family at the communion rail.
As a communicant member of our congregation, my son will partake in the Lord's Supper, drinking the blood and eating the body of Christ as Christ himself commanded. He will then receive the forgiveness and strengthening given to him by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This opportunity for forgiveness and strengthening means more to me than the actual confirmation service.
Being 14 years old seems to be difficult for all kids and as a parent there is only so much I can do to help. Our pastor has encouraged us to proclaim God's Word to him, faithfully bring him to God's house to hear the Word preached and to not neglect our responsibilties as parents. There are many times in the past year or so that I have wished that my son could partake of the Lord's Supper. However, as parents we are not called to commune our own children and it is our synod's tradition for the first communion to happen after the confirmation of the child. So, this Sunday will be a particularly joyous day.
Truth be told, the preparation began three years ago when we switched Lutheran synods to give our children (and ourselves) a formal Christian catechism. Our former church had abandoned any formal catechism years ago, based on parents' complaints that their children were bored. The program was replaced with "Wednesday Night Live!". How sad for those kids. The year we left was the first year they confirmed a class of kids who had never had formal instruction in Luther's Small Catechism. Our timing was purposeful. Both our children, along with ourselves, had two years of rigorous Christian education taught by our pastor. While we still remain sinners, I am confident that the truth has been taught and that future decisions and behavior are much more likely to be based on scripture.
My son recently asked me if he gets a gift for his first communion. I think that his sincere, but immature question was a pretty clear illustration of why we wait until after puberty to confirm and commune our kids. Lots of kids younger than 14 are very smart and can answer catechism questions with the best of adults, but do they really understand how doctrine applies to their own lives? I happen to agree with our synod's practice of waiting until an age when most kids can understand difficult concepts at an adult level.
I also believe that, in general, confirmation should be taught by the pastor. Parents should be learning along with the confirmands, but it is the pastor who is the most educated in the many areas of Christian teachings. Also, I think that since our pastor is the one called to shepherd the congregation, he should take the lead in seeing that scripture is taught by parents to the children. Confirmation is one good way to accomplish this. Will all parents comply? No, but it will be very clear to the pastor which families are in need of loving counsel, exhortation and/or instruction. In a perfect world, each father would teach these things to his children. I hope that happens in many families. However, in many families the leadership of the pastor is needed. In our family, making the move to a confessional Lutheran church right as our children were entering confirmation ages demanded that my husband and I needed to have instruction alongside our children. I'm not going to waste valuable time feeling guilty that my husband didn't instruct our children himself. We have become a well-catechized family.
And about my son's request for a gift for his first communion - I was able to remind him that he would be receiving a far better gift than any human could ever give him. To receive the body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, by His own command, is to receive forgiveness of sins and strengthening of faith. What a gift! My son's answer was, "I already know that, Mom." Of course he does!