Monday, August 02, 2010

The Eucharist, a Child, and Pastor Dad

Two Sundays ago (I've been away for a week teaching at a summer camp, and learning good youth group stuff), during a normally orderly service, my middle child went absolutely ballistic in the middle of the distribution of the Eucharist. Evidently I gave him too small a piece of bread. The bread must have been an older loaf nearing the end of the batch which one couple bakes regularly. But it was dry and crumbly. I was having a difficult time breaking off pieces that would ever be considered large. It wasn't just him, but everybody. Only he didn't like it. And he let me know about it. Everyone else in the congregation overheard as well. He was L-O-U-D.

Luckily, I thought, he was almost at the end of the rail, so when he pitched this fit, throwing his piece of bread to the floor, I kept moving. I finished communing the four or five people after him, and since he had not finished his screaming, I returned. But when I returned it was not as pastor but dad. I don't know what to think about that transformation. After all, at that moment I was dealing with conflicting emotions. I needed to step in and support my wife's discipline. But I was also dealing with the embarrassment of MY child cranking it up in front of everyone. I really wanted him to stop. But he would simply not let up.

I went up to him and uttered as quietly as I could but so he could hear them the oh-so pastoral words, "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit." And he did not let up. He was not fooled by this. He wanted more. So I tried giving him another piece. It was not big enough either. I feared the voices in my head who were saying I was giving in, but I just wanted him to quiet down. Stop interrupting everyone else's quiet meditation (although I know that most folks are not really doing that... they are beginning to wonder what to do about lunch or what's going on that afternoon, since once Communion is over, the service is practically done). But that piece didn't satisfy him either. He was still raging for a bigger piece. At that point I had nothing left to do and other people were waiting so I moved on. His mother, as always, had to deal with discipline during the service. If I could change one thing about being a pastor and a dad, it would be this... for almost seven years, my wife has borne the burden of this.

My wife removed him from the sanctuary and down the connected hallway. We could still hear him screaming but it was at least muted. But not for long. Somehow he burst out of her containment and down the hall back to the communion at which he launched himself, nearly knocking over an elderly member with a walker. His hand thrust out at me and he demanded a bigger piece as loudly as he could. And with great sorrow, I passed him by and let my wife drag him away again.

Why was I sorrowful? Because about a month previous, our youngest child became our middle. And he became the middle literally overnight, wetting his bed for the first time in well over a year, the very night his younger sister was born. He has been demanding attention. He isn't staying in bed at night. He wants us to come up to his room with him. And here I think he turns to God (not just me, but I am part of the equation) for attention to... "I want a bigger piece of you!" He knows that this is not just bread. Can he quote the answer to Luther's "Was ist das?" question of the Small Catechism? no, he is four. But he knows that it is Jesus Bread. He has communed since the day of his Baptism. And the special nature of this meal brings him to the point where I think he feels he can turn. But when his world seemingly shrinks, and divided attention becomes even less, and the place where he derives some comfort for at least momentary connection with God in a piece of bread and small cup of wine, not to mention a moment where Dad touches him and we have a one-to-one connection around the words "The body of Christ shed for you" but even this seems divided because the bread is too small... it is too much for him.

He wants more from God. Don't we all. I can at least think abstractly and ponder what a "foretaste of the feast to come" might mean. But a four-year old cannot. He wants God writ large coming and speaking to him in real and concrete terms. And Pastor Dad responds with, "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit." How callous of me. How horrible to see a pastoral moment and stomp on it. My son's desire for more of God is what we want to cultivate isn't it? Maybe not in its performance, but the desire? Surely. After all, who doesn't want a child, or an adult for that matter, to desire more Jesus? Jesus is there in that bread and wine. We should expect that. Maybe if a few more people threw such fits at the altar it might remind that our own humanness, fallen as it is, does not always perceive the presence of the risen Jesus like it should. These fits remind us that there is a world of people desiring something more than the normal routine with the all too often heard words of "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit." Christ gives of himself so unreservedly that those words have no place at the altar. Instead we should hear, as Luther reminds us in the Small Catechism, the "for you" and remember how great such giving is.

This past Sunday, when I approached my son at the altar and placed the bread in his hand, declaring it to be the Body of Christ given for him, he asked in a voice full of wonder, "Is this a big piece?" "Yes," I replied. This piece is bigger than anything either of us will know until the day Christ returns.


Patrick said...

Most excellent!

Jess said...

Bennett, This is most excellent. How funny that, as Pastor Wendy and I spent an evening talking about the joys and pains of parenthood and pulpit, Pretty Good Lutherans should pick up your post on the very issue! I hope things are well for you!

Anonymous said...

The words of your last paragraph are FANTASTIC! It gave me chills.

Jonathan Neiderhiser said...

A great message here. As a new dad, I am often struck by the knowledge that I cannot be perfect in my fatherhood, and that I will make mistakes. I will disappoint my little girl -- sometimes by doing the right thing, and sometimes by screwing up. Sometimes I won't even know which is which! It comforts me that Christ depicts his relationship with the Father as a parent-child relationship, so that we have a model of perfect parenthood, even when we cannot achieve it ourselves. And, it is good to know that even Christ questions his father once in a while :)

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