In the fifty days that follow the Christian feast of Easter, you may notice a number of parties springing up throughout the neighborhood. And if there isn’t a graduate being celebrated in that house, there’s a good possibility that it’s a communion or confirmation party.
In the Catholic Church, as well as some other denominations, communion and confirmation are two sacraments. Sacraments are signs of God’s life and love that change us for the better. It starts with Baptism where we recognize that we are daughters and sons of God, and that we are to be disciples of Jesus throughout our lives. But because the majority of people are baptized when they are infants, they had no say in the life of faith. When they are older, they are able to confirm their faith and choose to follow Jesus on an ongoing basis.
If you are going for a plane ride, it is always good to confirm your reservation. “To confirm” in this sense is to see if your seat is still there. Confirmation as a sacrament can have a similar meaning. Is faith in Jesus still there? People who present themselves for confirmation are making a statement that their faith is indeed still there and that they intend to continue to live that faith in the Church community. In no way does it mean that religion is complete or that the confirmed person will now stop participating in the church. The opposite is true: Confirmation means that people have come to a place in their lives where they truly want to be more involved as a disciple of Jesus. And they receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit that seals their baptism.
Communion is the food that sustains that involvement. The night before Jesus died, he took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take this, all of you and eat of it. For this is my body.” He gave them the cup of wine and declared it to be his blood. I’m sure this sounded strange to the apostles, as it often sounds strange to little children who would in no way eat someone’s body or drink someone’s blood. But Jesus meant what he said.
I sometimes describe what happens in communion by using an example of a grandmother who makes a delicious, loving meal for her family. Imagine that a member of the family would throw the food to the floor and declare, “I’m not eating this slop.” The horror, pain, hurt and anger that grandma would feel comes not from mere rudeness, but because she put her love into that food. By pushing away the food, the person pushed away grandma herself who in a real way is “in” the food.
What if God wanted to be in the food? Jesus did want to become the food. And while it still looks like bread and wine, Jesus’ desire to be present to his followers transcends what it looks like. He is in the food. Or better, he is the food. For those who receive communion, we believe that Jesus now is in communion with us in a most intimate way—for “we are what we eat,” as the saying goes. We invite children who are old enough to understand this to receive communion for the first time, then every Sunday after that for the rest of their lives.
When you see the parties for communion and confirmation, know that families are celebrating a new deeper connection to their church and to Jesus. That is indeed a reason to celebrate.