You may have noticed the children going up to the altar table after a service that includes Holy Communion and eating the bread and drinking the juice that are left over. This is in keeping with one of three options that The United Methodist Book of Worship gives for the communion elements (bread and juice) that remain after the service. Allow me to quote the relevant section:
“What is done with the remaining bread and wine should express our stewardship of God’s gifts and our respect for the holy purpose they have served.
1) They may be set aside for distribution to the sick and others wishing to communion but unable to attend. See A Service of Word and Table V on 51-53.
2) They may be reverently consumed by the pastor and others while the table is being set in order or following the service.
3) They may be returned to the earth; that is, the bread may be buried or scattered on the ground, and the wine [juice] may be reverently poured out upon the ground—a biblical gesture of worship (2 Samuel 23:16) and an ecological symbol today.”
I know that, in the past, your practice has been to pour the juice out on the ground and scatter the bread on the ground for the birds. Many churches do this. However, it seems to me that the options above are presented in the order of desirability from greatest to least.
We don’t use option number one because while the bread and juice we take to the sick and others unable to attend are often blessed during a Sunday morning or Wednesday evening communion service it doesn’t work well (for several practical reasons) to actually use the same bread and juice that were consumed by the gathered congregation during the service. Therefore, for us, number two is the most preferred means of disposing of what remains of the bread and juice after communion. Jenny and I should be part of this practice and there is no reason for adults not to join in, but children are also welcome, and it is the children of the congregation are the ones who have expressed the greatest interest.
I’ve heard some concern that the children not eat and drink of the elements unworthily, but (as I’ve discussed previously) 1. Paul didn’t mean what people often think he meant (there is more of a danger in forbidding the children from eating and drinking the leftovers than in allowing it) and 2. Because of changes in liturgical practice that occurred shortly after Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, the possibility of violating Paul’s instruction has been almost completely eliminated in our contemporary setting as long as we share what remains with anyone who wants to partake.
Jenny and I are not alone in this interpretation. Rev. Delores Williamston, our District Superintendent, was so delighted with the children coming forward after the service that she took pictures. If you have any further questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to ask. I love discussing liturgical matters.
If you would like to learn more about holy communion in the United Methodist Church, you could do a lot worse than to begin with the church’s official statement on the matter: “This Holy Mystery.”