By Rev. Beth Galbreath
I’m happy to share this liturgy, written in concrete terms for children but in the traditional United Methodist format of the Great Thanksgiving. I am passionate about celebrating sacraments fully, joyfully, richly—and often. I don’t believe that shortening or dumbing down the ritual is necessary, even when Communion is celebrated weekly. The key is to use the official and traditional format with legitimate versions that connect that day’s liturgy with the theme and scripture of that week’s worship service.
The Story and the Feast
This liturgy for children is part of my digital resource of Communion liturgy connected to all three years of the Revised Common Lectionary texts, “The Story and the Feast.” “The Story and the Feast” is not the only RCL-based liturgy resource available, but it is unique in being a digital resource and story focused. But non-lectionary churches can use it, too! It’s a simple matter to look up the right entry using the online Scripture index at The Text This Week.
Each week’s entry provides a confession and declaration of pardon and a Great Thanksgiving. There are multiple offerings where
the lectionary has multiple story suggestions, and extra liturgies for special days of Lent—Holy Week, Christmas Eve, etc.
The Great Thanksgivings are shaped in the official ancient-future Trinitarian format, and can be used with your own preferred wording or music for congregational responses. Slides (Microsoft PowerPoint 2007 format) that can be copied and pasted into your own presentation software are also included for every liturgy, along with text documents that can be copied into your bulletin document (in both Microsoft Word 2007 and Adobe Acrobat formats) or into slides in your own format. No retyping necessary!
And, of course, it includes notes for the Biblical Storytelling team as they prepare to tell the texts! The resource comes on three CDs, for year A, B, and C of the lectionary. If you’re interested in the full resource, please email me for more information.
Now, your “free sample”!
A Great Thanksgiving for Children
As many Christian traditions have emphasized, none of us fully understands what God is doing in Holy Communion. There is a basic mystery to the sacrament which is probably impossible to translate into language for children who think in concrete rather than symbolic terms about the world around them. I know, I’ve tried to explain Communion to young children!
Churches differ, too, in whether children are invited or welcome at the Table. In my own United Methodist tradition, if a child reaches a hand toward the bread, it is given. Since the juice is not fermented, children are included in the sharing of the cup as well. Children may not understand the symbolism fully, but they do understand about being excluded when food is being shared! Especially in traditions that practice infant baptism, it makes no sense to baptize and immediately excommunicate children.
Your tradition will have its own understanding and practices, of course. But for those who include children at the feast, and wish a simplified Great Thanksgiving for family or children’s services, this is included.
It is in the traditional format. Why not just tell the story of the Words of Institution and leave it at that? Because children need to learn the rhythms of adult worship. Children enjoy learning responses by heart even if they don’t fully understand the words yet.
This text may also be helpful to use with adult developmentally disabled persons who have not grown up in a church family. It is not good to use in nursing home settings. Persons with dementia may not connect intellectually with the words, but to those who have lived their lives in church families, the traditional liturgies will still connect at a deep level, and they will probably even be able to recite the responses. (If they know sung responses, so much the better—music resides in a different part of the brain from speech.)
If possible, use sung responses with children—children love music. You can even encourage children to use rhythm instruments with lively sung responses for the sanctus, memorial acclamation, Amen, and the Lord’s prayer (a great Caribbean version is in The United Methodist Hymnal , # 271). Call-and-response versions work especially well.
And make sure your servers are trained to serve children. If offering by intinction, hold the cup low, for example. Although official materials often discourage changing the words of the serving for children, since very young children are concrete thinkers and “blood” and “body” don’t communicate, you might consider “Remember how much Jesus loves you” instead.
This liturgy avoids the symbolic language of “blood” and “body,” but introduce this basic symbolism as soon as the children get a little older.
Finally, teach your children to serve! As soon as they’re old enough to be acolytes, they’re old enough to serve. What a powerful witness it is to children and youth–and parents–to receive the sacrament from children!
Jesus Christ says, “Come to dinner!” Everyone who loves Jesus and wants to live the way Jesus taught us is invited.
Dear God, we know we are not as good as you want us to be. We have done things you don’t want us to do. You want us to love you and love each other, and we haven’t loved you or each other as well as you want us to do. Forgive us, God, so that we can do better this week!
Listen to this good news: Jesus came to show us how much God loves us. Jesus is God’s promise to us: God forgives you.
People: God forgives you, too!
All: Thank you, God! Amen!
Sursum Corda (optional, or use your church’s traditional wording, or this simpler version)
Let’s think about God.
We’re thinking about God.
Let’s pray and thank God for everything God does for us.
Thanking God is a joyful thing to do!
God, we thank you for everything you do for us. You created us. You created the beautiful world we live in. You love us so much that you help us know what is good and what is bad. You love us so much that you always want us to love you and love other people. And so we sing together:
Sanctus (use your traditional response, or a sung response, or this simpler version)
Holy, holy, holy God,
God of power and might! The whole world is full of your glory.
Blessed is your Son Jesus Christ.
You are holy and your Son Jesus is holy. He was born as a baby, just like us. He lived with his mom and dad, Mary and Joseph, and he grew up like us. He studied and learned, like us. When he grew up he showed us your love. He taught people how to love each other, and he helped people have healthy bodies and healthy spirits. He gathered many people into your Church and told us to keep doing his work. To help us remember him, he invited us to his special meal, this holy meal.
Words of Institution
Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to his people. He said, “This bread will remind you that I am giving myself for you.” He took a cup of grape juice and said, “Drink this to remember me, and remember that I live in you.”
And so we remember all the wonderful things you did through Jesus Christ. We want to be part of your family, doing what Jesus did, so we sing:
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!
Or use a lively musical version.
Epiclesis (Use your denomination’s official version, or, if there is flexibility, this simplified one.)
God, send your Holy Spirit to us here today. Send your Holy Spirit on this bread and this juice, so that when we eat them we will know that Jesus lives in us and we live in Jesus. Send your Holy Spirit to connect us with Jesus and with one another in your Church. Send your Holy Spirit to give us power to help other people the way Jesus told us to.
Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy Church, we give you honor and glory, God, now and forever.
Amen! (Or use a lively musical version.)
Lord’s Prayer (Or use a lively musical version.)
Breaking the Bread
We are all joined together in Jesus, because we all eat from the same loaf of bread and we all receive [dip] [drink] juice from the same cup.
Sharing the Bread and Cup
Prayer after receiving
God, thank you for this holy meal where Jesus invites us and joins us all together. Help us to live the way Jesus taught us to live. Help us to love you and love ourselves and love each other the way that you love us. Amen.
Rev. Beth Galbreath is a United Methodist deacon (Northern Illinois Conference) whose passions in ministry include using technology well in the church, celebrating the sacraments well, communicating Scripture well, and thinking and teaching good theology. She teaches online through BeADisciple.com (the Richard and Julia Wilke Institute for Discipleship). Galbreath serves as volunteer staff in two church plant efforts, one of them inside a women’s prison. She has taught as part of the Network of Biblical Storytellers International in the Philippines, Cameroon, Bolivia and Haiti.