Last week, I shared some thoughts about participation in the Lord's Supper by people with intellectual disabilities. This week's blog has additional reflections on that same subject by Roberta Attema, mother of a child who has Down syndrome.
I am the mother of a special needs child with a cognitive impairment. This presents various blessings and challenges for our family. One of the things that we have wrestled with for years, is whether or not our child would ever partake in communion.
We grew up with the understanding that to participate in the Lord’s Supper, you had to be baptized and when you had enough knowledge of your faith you could make Profession of Faith, thus becoming a church member able to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Since his birth, every time we celebrated communion I asked myself if I would ever have peace letting my son take part in this sacrament because it’s questionable if he’ll ever have the intellectual comprehension to profess his faith. This disturbed me.
In Adult Education, Calvin Seminary professor, David Rylaarsdam explored with us Reformed theology, which emphasizes a sacrament is something God does through grace, and not something that we do. Looking into the history of the early church, we saw that all baptized persons were welcomed at communion, regardless of age. “They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink.” (1 Corinthians 10:2-4a) Baptism and communion were intimately connected. This practice was gradually abandoned in the Middle Ages, so that by the Reformation, the western church had separated the Lord’s Supper from baptism and attached it to confirmation or profession of faith.
Next, we examined the gracious character of the sacraments. In the baptism of an infant, the water of promise is applied to a tiny child who is helpless, uncomprehending, and completely incapable of any merit-earning work. The covenant community is reminded of the promise that salvation is by grace alone.
As the class progressed, I began to see that the grace extended to us is compromised when we exclude covenant children from the Lord’s Table. All of us who are weak and in need of God’s grace, should partake in communion. After studying this issue in the context of the Bible and history, God has given me the peace to allow all my children to participate in communion. I have also experienced a greater sense of joy, and more fully realized the mercy God extends to me personally. I am so grateful that it’s not about my, or my son’s cognitive level of understanding, but about God’s grace.