One of my deepest regrets is that my daughter did not receive Communion before she died. We knew she hadn't long left, and so I intended to carry her to the table even though she wasn't old enough by the standards of most Protestant churches. But the night before Communion Sunday was terrible with her tossing and turning. That morning found us exhausted, and we didn't go to church. Within a couple of weeks-before our church's next Communion-she was no longer able to open her mouth.
I've counted that in the devil's column ever since, as a day he defeated us by keeping her from the table. I counted it such even before I came to believe in paedocommunion (which means, in short, allowing all baptized children to Christ's table). I believe that paedocommunion is the proper Christian practice but my church does not, siding with Calvin that the communicant must have a capacity for spiritual introspection. There are a lot of things about which I disagree with Calvin, but so long as we are members in this particular church we'll follow its rules. So it was with considerable happiness that we received approval from our pastor, after he met with our sons Caleb and Eli, for them to take Communion this Sunday.
It was around 11 p.m. Saturday that their younger brother Isaac began throwing up. I stayed up most of the night with him-my wife staying in reserve in case any of the others started hurling. If you have more than a couple of children this is how you have to think when illness strikes, in terms of front lines and reserves and quarantines. By Sunday morning Isaac's fever appeared broken, so we cautiously made our way to the minivan, which we soon realized was nearly out of gas. Late for church already, we stopped in the frigid cold to fill up. I began to think about how my daughter missed Communion and wondered if the same forces were at work again. Not this time, I thought, my own stomach now beginning to mirror Isaac's.
In church I kept an eye on the children for any sign of looming eruption, and tried to keep my headache in check. Isaac's cheeks were turning red with renewed fever, but he insisted there was no vomit coming. We waited until the last, to avoid as best we could touching bread that anyone else would eat.
I told Caleb and Eli to do what I did when we got to the table. We went forward, and our pastor held out the body and blood of Christ to my sons. I wept as they took it, which I hadn't anticipated, which is the only way I cry anymore, entirely without warning.
It was a little bread and a little juice, as simple as that, and yet it is a mystery on which hangs the fate of every man. I feel puny as I write this, queasy and weak and worn down. But I feel like we had a victory today, my family, my sons. Western Christians have wrangled over Communion for centuries, and as best I can tell they have made a bloody mess of it. But still there is something there, still Christ meets us at the table He prepared, and for all our failings and blindness this must give the devil fits. So tonight in my evening prayers I will thank God once again for the blessing of Communion, and I will give no further thought to the Evil One except what I uttered to myself as we struggled through these last 24 hours: Not this time.