St Nicolas' Church
24 June 2007
Some of our young people after taking their First Communion
The rules for First Communion have changed and we as a parish have changed.
Gone is the old age limit of seven and although there are still rules about how
to prepare people for communion, how to celebrate and record it, there is a
clear change to saying that Communion is the right of all the baptised,
whatever their age or understanding.
For some years now First Communion has made a big difference to the lives and
worship of our 7-13 year olds. However, when it started many of us did not
actually change our views on what it meant to be ‘ready’ for Communion. Rather
we just saw that younger children were capable of being spiritual, capable of
knowing things about God, capable of beginning a relationship with him in their
Mentally, what most of us did when Communion before Confirmation was
introduced was extend a lot of the ideas about Confirmation back. In our
services we asked first communicants to make promises and declare themselves
ready for this important step. But the new theology (or to be more accurate the
very old theology that has been rediscovered) challenges us in a different way.
It says we have been asking the wrong questions. Receiving Communion is not
about being ready, not about being capable, not about our taking another step.
Communion is all about God and his grace, not about us and our merits.
Ironically the Church of England has learnt this lesson, not by thinking
about Communion, but by thinking about Baptism, about Alpha courses,
discipleship and the journey of faith. What Anglican theologians have come to
realise (a point which the Orthodox never forgot) is that Baptism is the whole
of our faith. In Baptism God gives us everything – the keys to the kingdom and
his very Self. He does not hold anything back.
Bishop Michael puts it like this, ‘Admission to the body of Christ and all
that goes with it is complete in the sacrament of baptism. No one is half in the
Church, no one is half committed… Logically [first communion] follows, where a
candidate is old enough to eat, straight away from baptism. We emerge from the
water of baptism, are clothed in Christ and sit down to eat with the Church.’
In the past we tended to see Baptism as freely given but Communion as somehow
earned – a reward for knowing enough or behaving well or coming to Church
regularly. But actually Communion is not a prize for being a good Christian; it
is the spiritual food which gives us the energy to be good Christians.
Confirmation is still important. Growing into the promises made on our behalf
at Baptism is still important. Faith is as much a journey of change and growth
as it ever was. But Communion is God’s gift to us to keep us going along the way
as we journey towards his heavenly banquet.
We cannot understand Communion for it is a mystery – something Jesus does not
tell us to think about but to do. ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22:19).
Communion is one of the four pillars of Christian life witnessed in Acts 2:42,
‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the
breaking of bread and the prayers.’ So we cannot wait for children to be old
enough to understand and we certainly would never want to say God’s grace is
only for those with a certain IQ or reading-age. Nor is Communion something we
are ‘ready’ for. The Eucharist is the means by which God changes us into his
Image, the way he transforms us to be like him. No one can be ready for that.
But thank God, he is ready for us!
We see this time and again in Jesus’ ministry. All people had to do for Jesus
to come to them was to want him. Yes, Jesus made demands, yes those demands
could be enormous, a total change of life. But that always came later.
Take the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. At the start of the story
Zacchaeus is small in stature and small in spirit – a typical tax farmer,
despised both for collaborating with the Romans and for the ruthless way he
turned a profit on his tax farming by overcharging the townspeople. Jesus was
passing through his town but Zacchaeus could not see through the crowds and no
one would let him near the front, so he climbed up into a sycamore tree. There
are no signs that he had great plans to change his life, no stirrings of
repentance or great knowledge of God. He simply wanted to see Jesus – he
recognised something special, even if he could not have said what it was. Jesus
looked at him in his tree and without another word invited himself to tea. He
did not make any conditions or demands. Zacchaeus wanted him, so he went to
It is only afterwards that things change. Only after experiencing
unconditional love does Zacchaeus repent and change his life for the better. We
see that God’s grace comes first. Our actions, our knowledge, are only ever a
response, not a precondition. And this should be our expectation in Communion.
God’s grace should come first, Communion should come first. Discipleship and
commitment, understanding and transformation of life come afterwards as we grow
in faith as children and as adults.
So as you look at the children in church on Sundays or watch your own
children, fidgeting, colouring, finding their own way through our services, do
not ask yourselves, ‘Are they ready for Communion?’ Ask simply, ‘What possible
reason would God have for turning them away?’
Reproduced from the March 2007 edition of the Prestbury Parish Magazine