by Deacon Erica Larson
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
These familiar words from 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 are heard every year during our Maundy Thursday worship service, and with them, we remember why we gather around the table. It is Jesus who gave the mandate that we remember his sacrifice whenever we gather at the communion table to receive his body and blood. In the weeks leading up to this special night, it is tradition at Lake Nokomis Lutheran Church to provide Holy Communion Instruction for our 5th graders during the season of Lent. For more than 30 years, this instruction has been led by JoAnn Snyder and Tom Dowzak, who create a special experience for our students every year.
Our goals for communion instruction are for our children to learn what the sacrament of Holy Communion is all about; for children and families to be engaged in the process together; and for children to enjoy hands-on activities that will enhance their learning experience. We gather for a kick-off meeting on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, with families learning what to expect during this journey. And then our 5th graders meet every Sunday during Lent for memory work, activities, and learning from The Sacraments: Exploring Luther’s Small Catechism.
One of the highlights of instruction is a Saturday retreat with parents and students that includes treats, a communion skit, videos, lector training, learning to bake communion bread, creating a stole that begins at communion instruction and is completed at confirmation, hand-forming their very own communion chalice, and cutting out their handprint to add to our communion Chasuble (a robe-like garment occasionally worn by a pastor during the celebration of Holy Communion). Throughout the morning, parents build relationships and assist with projects, our children laugh together as they create and learn, and this faith milestone becomes an experiential learning process that will never be forgotten.
On the night of Maundy Thursday, our communion families are treated like royalty, and they are encouraged to invite everyone with whom they want to share this special night. We take pictures in the sanctuary, and then we gather in the Nokomis Room for a Celebration Dinner. The table is beautifully laid out, with place settings for every student and guest. The previous communion class serves the meal…which always includes those yummy Company Potatoes…and our families and friends truly get to celebrate this milestone together. During our Maundy Thursday worship service, each student reads a portion of the scripture passages, growing as leaders in the church. And then the moment comes, where most of them take communion for the very first time. They bring their hand-made chalice to the altar with them, eat the body of Christ, drink the blood of Christ from that special cup, and experience welcome in a whole new way. We often sing, “Come to the table, come as you are, come as you’re able, see whose child you are,” and we made sure that our communion class hears and experiences the truth that they are beloved children of God!
In 2020, we were part way through communion instruction when COVID-19 began to spread, and we were forced to close our church doors and move our faith formation and worship experiences online. As the pandemic wore on, it became clear that we would not be able to gather in person to complete their instruction. So, that is when we got creative! We decided that we would move to Zoom, and we invited our new 5th graders, as well as our 6th graders whose experience got cut short in 2020. Each week, JoAnn Snyder, Tom Dowzak, and David Walker delivered supplies to our students. We hopped on Zoom together on Sunday mornings, and we learned all about this holy sacrament! We were joined by Pastor Sara, who gave a special welcome and taught us the acronyms PEA, CBC and GOGG (ask a student to tell you what they mean!); by Kat Vann, who led lector training so that our children could gain skills and confidence in reading scripture in worship; and by Becky Dowzak, who channeled a Food Network star and gave a communion bread making class via video. I also had a chance to get in on the act, giving instructions for making the red communion stole.
This is not a typical year by any stretch of the imagination. And yet, God is still on the move, and we are still able to gather in the Spirit and form our faith. We give thanks to God as we celebrate with these children who will receive Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday, 2021: Justin Awe, Diana Carlson, Blake Frankeberger, Gracie Geiger, Peter Hasnik, Katie Jung, Celia Kormann, Maria LeMoine, Claire Merwin, Matthew Mueller, Adrian Patzloff, Lenyn Ramirez, and Rowan Ramirez.
No matter what is happening in the world, there is always room at the table of the Lord.