“What is Communion?” – Answering Your Child’s Questions
If you have children, at some point you will face a dilemma. Whether your church practices Communion (also called “The Lord’s Supper) by passing the plate, sending everyone to the front, or handing out a prepackaged wafer-and-juice; your children will be curious and you will need to decide what to say to your children about Communion. They may ask, “What is that?” or even, “Can I have that?” How will you respond?
Let me share three points that you can emphasize to your child when discussing Communion, whether they are four or fourteen.
Show Them How Communion Pictures the Gospel
Luke 22:14-23 is a key biblical text for understanding Communion. In it, Jesus prepares his followers for his death by leaving them with a picture of what his death means. He takes the elements of the Passover meal and shows the greater event they point toward (vv. 15-16). During Passover, Jews remembered God’s work in delivering them from slavery. In Luke 22, Jesus explains that he would do God’s greatest work in delivering his people from sin.
The bread would now symbolize Jesus’s body, which Jesus would give up in the place of his followers. The cup and the wine in it would symbolize the new covenant God would make with his followers. In the Old Testament, God’s covenants with Israel were put into place and remembered through blood sacrifices. But Jesus’s sacrifice made his followers—both in the New Testament and today—right with God forever.
Teach your child that when God’s people gather to take Communion, we are reminded of the wonderful things God has done for us through Jesus. We are also encouraged to keep living for Jesus because God has promised us that we are his people forever.
Help Them Understand What It Means to Take Communion
A second key text is 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. In it, we learn at least three things about how Communion should play out in the local church:
1. People who take Communion should be Christians
This is huge. Taking Communion implies that you believe the gospel message it pictures. Jesus’s body was broken “for you” (24). His blood makes a “new covenant” (v. 25). When you take Communion, you “remember him” and “proclaim his death” (vv. 25-26). None of this is true for unbelievers.
2. Communion is for the gathered, local church
The context of this passage is a specific local church at Corinth. Paul writes to remind them of how they should behave in taking Communion when they “come together” (vv. 17-18, 20). Sometimes, we treat Communion as if it is only about reflecting on and celebrating what Jesus did for us individually. But I would stress to your child that Communion is meant to be taken together with the church. It is a regular opportunity for the whole church, this local body of Christ, to remind ourselves and each other of what we believe.
3. We should use Communion as an opportunity to heal relational conflict
Much of this passage focuses on the relational conflict happening in the church that overshadowed communion. Paul essentially says: how can you celebrate that Jesus sacrificed his body while treating the body of Christ around you so poorly? Therefore, Paul teaches that taking Communion is a good opportunity to examine ourselves (v. 28) to make sure that we are not taking Communion in an “unworthy manner” (v. 27). Some take this to mean that we should either repent of every evil thought or think deeply about what Communion means. These are certainly not bad practices, but they can get us in the habit of thinking that we need to work to present ourselves a certain way or else be found “guilty concerning the body and the blood of the Lord” (v. 27). But this runs counter to the gospel! Communion celebrates what Jesus already did and what he promised to continue doing. No one could ever be clean enough to approach Communion without Jesus’s grace. Therefore, in context, these verses most likely mean that Communion should be a time to reflect on whether we are the cause of conflict in the church, and then to make it right. And if we have done so, then we should boldly take Communion based on what Jesus did, not what we do.
Wait Until Your Child Is Ready for Communion
Your child might desire to take Communion for many reasons, and they might not be spiritual. They may just think it seems interesting. They may want to feel included, especially if a sibling or friend takes Communion. They may just want a snack. Likewise, you may like the idea of your child taking Communion because it’s an opportunity for family closeness, you want them to feel part of the church, or you don’t want to discourage them by saying no. Unfortunately, none of these motivators should outweigh the most important qualification: is your child a believer?
This is why it is important for you to patiently and carefully discern whether your child has genuine faith. We cannot assume that because they are born into a Christian family they will become Christians. And even a profession of faith, while encouraging and very possibly genuine, needs to be cultivated and tested.
Finally, for multiple reasons, it seems wise to wait on Communion until after baptism. Most Christian denominations throughout history have followed this same logic and have chosen to reserve Communion for those who have been baptized. Why? Because baptism and Communion are a pair. They come together and are the two “ordinances” regularly practiced by Christian churches. Baptism symbolizes entrance into the faith. Communion symbolizes continuing in the faith. It seems backward to celebrate the continuing of a covenant (Communion) before celebrating the beginning (baptism). To state this as a question: should you act married before you get married?
Is My Child Ready to Take Communion?
So, to summarize, Communion provides a great opportunity to teach your child about the gospel, and for continuing conversation about their faith. You, the parent, play the primary role in determining when your child is ready. My recommendation is to wait until your child can confidently express their desire to follow Jesus. Then, walk them through baptism in accordance with your church’s practice. If you take the patient route, you will be able to confidently take Communion next time alongside your child and fellow child of God.