HOLY COMMUNION IN THE ELCA
Holy Communion and Holy Baptism are the two sacraments Lutherans observe. A sacrament is: 1) Commanded by Christ, 2) is a way we experience God’s grace, and 3) combines a physical element (i.e. bread/wine) with God’s promises.
Lutherans believe that Christ is truly present with us in the bread and wine. Some churches teach that Holy Communion is a symbolic act or reminder of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. Lutherans believe it’s more than that! It’s one way Christ’s presence is made real for us.
What age is appropriate for receiving Communion? Most older Lutherans received first communion at Confirmation. Most who grew up Roman Catholic took first communion in 2nd grade. Scripture does not say when a person is ready for Holy Communion. In 1 Corinthians 11, St. Paul writes that a person must (be able and willing) to ‘examine themselves so that they do not receive the body and blood of Christ in an unworthy manner.’ Church teaching has taken this to mean that a communicant needs to be aware of the meaning in the bread and wine, and be able to confess their sins prior to communing.
Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism does not apply that same ‘test’. Here’s his answer: When is a person rightly ready to receive this sacrament? Fasting and other outward preparations serve a good purpose. However, that person is well-prepared and worthy who believes these words “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins”…for the words “for you” require simply a believing heart.
At St. John’s, we offer First Communion instruction in 5th grade. When new families come here whose younger children already commune, they continue to commune here. Some ELCA congregations allow parents, child, and pastor to decide when to begin receiving communion; and therefore communion can take place earlier!
What is “close(d)” communion? Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and WELS have a strong doctrine that says only those in ‘close’ fellowship with them can and should commune. Since they do not have ‘full-communion’ relationships with other churches like we do in the ELCA, that usually limits their ability to welcome other Christians to the Lord’s Table. In the ELCA we welcome the baptized, who desire to commune, and recognize the real presence of Christ in the sacrament.
What’s next? We would do well to talk further about frequency of communion; age for 1st communion; and how we can faithfully come to the Lord’s Table!