March 20, 2018
"I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep and they know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. I give up my life for the sheep." John 10:14-15
When I was a child, communion was something you could only partake in after you chose to be baptized. I didn’t get to taste communion until I was nine years old. The deacons passed plates of tiny little oyster cracker-looking things and trays with little plastic cups of grape juice, and I watched them go by. It was fine with me.
I never thought much of it until one Sunday, my friend from school visited our church. I was excited she was there and my mom let me sit with her and her family. As the plate of weird crackers came by, Mr. Masingill whispered to me, “Do children take communion here?” I paused… because the question took me off guard. “Do children in other churches get to take communion?” I wondered. Not wanting to exclude my friend, I whispered hesitantly, “
I don’t take communion…?” He said ok and took his cracker and passed the plate to the nearest adult. I felt embarrassed that I might have left my friend out of something she got to do at other churches.
Don’t get me wrong, my church loved children! We had a beautiful mural that said “Children matter to God.” My Sunday School teachers were just amazing. Volunteers led me in music, crafts, games, and Bible study from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Wednesday night! I knew these people loved me, but I also knew I was embarrassed that my friend might have felt left out of my beloved church.
A few weeks ago, I told the story of
The Good Shepherd and World Communion to our fourth graders. It’s a beautiful mash-up of the image of Jesus as shepherd taking his sheep to graze, and the image of Jesus at the communion table, inviting us to feast. In that story, the good shepherd leads the sheep to the good green grass to eat. There in the good green grass, we find the table of the good shepherd. We remember that he is always with us, especially at the table, in the bread and the cup. We hear someone tell us the words of the good shepherd. And then the story says, “Sometimes the people of the world come to the table… even the children come.” And as I say that line, I tear up a bit.
The first Saturday of this month, our fourth graders were waiting for the eight loaves of communion bread they had just mixed up to rise, so I read them a book about the good shepherd. The book said that the good shepherd just can’t stand for even one sheep to be missing. Other people in the story say, “Who cares, you’ve got 99 other sheep!” But the good shepherd says he needs every single one of his sheep; without them, his flock just isn’t complete.
I asked the fourth graders, “Who do you think the good shepherd wants at his table?” They quickly said “everyone!” I asked, “Whose sheep are you? Who is it that would go looking for you anywhere because without you, things just aren’t complete?” I really expected the first answer to be “God” or maybe “Jesus,” but I was wrong! The first thing out of their mouths was, “the church.” They know that without them, our church just isn’t complete.
First United, you have loved these children well. You have taught them that they are needed at Christ’s table for the feast to be complete. You have given them the gift of belonging, and it will serve them well their whole lives through. Thank you!
Pray: How beautiful to know you as shepherd, and to be led to the feast by your loving care. May we remember that the feast is for all of us! Amen.