First Communion: What Forgiveness Tastes Like

April 30, 2012 | 31 comments

Every Sunday, we recite creeds. We say we believe in the communion of saints and the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

For years now, I’ve let my belief roll off my tongue — not just rote, but real. And on this cool spring morning, I found myself here again, with my chin to my chest. I stand on two feet, but on the inside, I’m bowed low. God always turns me aright in this place, under the steeple of a country church surrounded by evergreens and farmfields. My brothers and sisters have names like Stensland, Haugland, Olson, Hage. Their ancestors are buried in graves across the road.

This is what this family has done for 125 years. It has stood up as one body — a ragtag group of sinners — to confess in unison their need for a Savior.

I look down my arm at my oldest girl.  She’s wearing a small, white robe, zippered up to her chin. Her brown hair — straight and freshly cut — brushes her shoulders.

I put a hand on the small of her back while she reads the creed. I remember, now, how I recited those words when I cradled her new in my arms 10 years ago. And again, on that Sunday when the pastor dribbled water on her forehead.  And all those mornings when I bounced her on my knee and popped Cheerios in her mouth. I recited the words when she sat beside me on a polished pew, just learning how to read. She took my green highlighter to mark up the only word she knew how to spell in my fat Bible: God. Over and over, she marked up the pages of 1 John:  God. God. God. God. God.

She outgrew the dry cereal, and the Quiet bags. She began to open her Bible to follow along, and later, stepped up front to read aloud the Scriptures.

And then all of a sudden, the sun rises on this Sunday, where she slips on a little white robe. She looks up at me, smiling, as we stand at the altar of grace.

I can hear the steady rhythm of truth echoing down the line:

“The body of Christ, given for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you.”

I’ll never get over it, and I pray that my daughter won’t either. This holy act is neither routine nor rote. This is Christ reaching down to broken sinners. Astounding, isn’t it? How Jesus Christ chooses us, how He delights in the breaking of bread with hungry beggars like us? We don’t receive forgiveness by rights or gold-star performances or pretty prayers or by thrashing about to impress God. We don’t pull ourselves into heaven. We’re carried there.

I rub Lydia’s back, and notice how she stands just below my shoulder now. That’s when it dawns on me, for the first time. At the altar of grace,  the ground is level. God sees us not only as mother-and-child, but as sisters.

My daughter — indeed, my little sister — pulls a tiny thimble of wine from the brass plate, and drinks down the glorious burn of forgiveness.



(Note: I grew up Methodist, then later lived a lot of years as a functioning agnostic before becoming a follower of Christ. We joined a Lutheran Church about 10 years ago, and we worship at a small country church, one mile from home. Related: What I Believe.)

A communion song: This one, by Cheri Keaggy, is one of my favorites…

Do you remember your first communion? Or the first communion of someone special in your life?


Linking with Michelle … and 3 From Here & There.

by | April 30, 2012 | 31 comments


  1. Patty

    Wonder and peace and beauty mingle together in this lovely piece. Thank you, dear, for so openly sharing your life and experiences with us. Love you!

    • dukeslee

      And Patty … thank you for reading, and sharing. It was a lovely moment. She said the wafer tasted a bit like paper, … But this mama knows it’s true … sometimes forgiveness is hard to swallow. Humbled by the fact that He forgives me so readily, so often.

  2. Kim

    Beautiful, as always.

  3. Gramma T

    How blessed I was that the “God Incidence” placed me up there holding the precious gift of Jesus blood shed for Lydia,and all of us. What an honor to help with that sacred moment.

    • dukeslee

      Amen Sandy! I’m glad you were there. I glad you said her name, “Lydia, the blood of Christ given for you…” That was really special.

  4. Megan Willome

    Such a good post!

    Ever since my mom died, my daughter has felt more like a sister, and now she’s my height, too. Even better, a new sister in Christ. Very different than me, although we look alike.

    • dukeslee

      I know that I’m her parent, and I know that God isn’t asking me to be Lydia’s “friend” or “buddy.” But knowing we’re sisters? I think that makes me a better Mom. … Won’t be long ’til Lydia and I literally see eye to eye. How does this happen so fast?

  5. Sarah

    It’s been a long time since I have visited blog world! I absolutely love your new header and quote ‘Because the way up is down.’ SOOOO fitting!!

    • dukeslee

      Hi Sarah! Well I’m certainly glad you made a stop here in this neighborhood. The welcome mat is always out for you, dear-heart.

  6. Nancy Franson

    Sometimes I really wish we would slow down, as a congregation, as we’re reciting those creeds together; really let those words sink in deep and minister to our souls.

    That’s what this piece did for me today, friend. Sister.

    • dukeslee

      What a great idea — to slow down and read the creeds like that. My brother-in-law, a lay-pastor, once put together a sermon series on the pieces of the Apostle’s Creed. He shared a part of it with our congregation a couple years ago, and ever since then, those words have become even more meaningful t =o me. So much of our faith-walk, it seems, comes in the paying attention.

  7. Kay

    Ah, precious time. Thank you for sharing this tender moment.

  8. r.ellott

    I must say…I really don’t think I had any idea what my first communion was even about…back in those days…words were spoken in Latin…every part of this seemed to have a language barrier to me…but God is faithful and redeems it all…I could circle back around in a new expression of faith and pull some of the riches I now can interrupt from my youth and these enrich meeting Him at His table now.
    So thankful you are standing there with your sister/daughter…this will only enrich her experience of the God she has encountered there.
    blessings to you~

  9. kelli

    What a joy to see her tasting to see that the Lord is good! You will carry this day with you forever, I know.

    I have thought that, too, how the ground is level at the cross. We all stand side by side, He is the only One exalted.

    So precious that it was given to you in such a timeless moment. Such an ageless grace.

  10. Alicia

    Love the idea that my daughters will also be my sisters in Christ.. beautiful! I’ve never pondered that before. What a special day you shared. I still remember my first communion- felt so big, looked so little. Glad we get to grow up in grace as we go!

  11. Rebecca

    Congratulations to Lydia on her First Communion! And thank you for sharing it with us!
    I was also raised Methodist…fell away from church for a long time, and was just confirmed Lutheran about 1.5 years ago. I took communion for years in the Methodist church and never “felt” it. After going through confirmation classes at our current church home, I finally feel I understand and appreciate the gift and blessing of the Lord’s Supper, and the true meaning of the grace of God. My First Communion as a Lutheran (August 22, 2010) was a very humbling and important day for me, one I hold dear in my heart. I pray Lydia will hold this day, the feeling, the knowledge and the taste of God’s forgiveness in her heart for always.

  12. nance davis

    i was brought-up going to a methodist congregation as well.

  13. Susan DiMickele

    Yes, I need to taste forgiveness today. It’s been a dark couple of weeks and I need to emerge in the light of this blessing.

    My son had his first communion this year. It was nothing short of a miracle. I need to cling to that miracle. I love that you see your daughter as you sister in Christ.

    • Rebecca

      Praying for you Susan.

  14. Dea

    Lydia—your sister, my sister. Amazing to think about!

  15. Shelly Miller

    I remember my first communion, the brown and white polka dotted dress I wore, the lunch at my grandparents afterward, the way it felt important. What a beautiful moment with your daughter.

  16. Diana Trautwein

    Oh my, Jennifer. This is just too beautiful and poignant for words.

    You and I have touched before on our shared upbringing as Methodists. I have deep, lasting memories of receiving communion in that old church – standing in the aisle, waiting my turn, listening to the music – my dad the pianist, my mom in the choir – kneeling at the rail – hearing the words spoken directly to me, and to the person next to me, and the person next to them, right down the line.

    We seldom go forward at our current church and I miss it a lot. When we moved to the Evangelical Covenant church in our 30’s, I found some strong ties to Lutheranism there (the church was born out of the Lutheran church in Sweden 130 years ago), but first communion was never one of them. We still offer either baptism or dedication to infants and we still do confirmation – but for a little bit older students (7th grade and older). I think the ceremony of 1st communion is a beautiful, beautiful thing. SO glad you got to share that together with her! And so very glad you chose to write about it here.

  17. elizabeth

    So tender and sacred, this extraorinary time for your child and for your mommas heart. The holiness danced off the page and carried me away. Jesus does woo us to himself so sweetly. Thanks for sharing words gently soft and sacred.

  18. Marianne

    The idea of a daughter being a sister and seeing your daughter all in white was almost heavenly! Beautiful thoughts!

  19. David Rupert

    “The taste of forgiveness” is an amazing way to talk about the elements. We get lost in the tradition – until we find them in the heart of what they mean

    • Genevieve @ Turquoise Gates

      THIS, David – I’ve been trying to put into words. “We get lost in tradition – until we find them in the heart of what they mean”.

  20. Genevieve @ Turquoise Gates

    This is so beautiful. I’ve found new peace and love in a fellowship of believers in the United Church of Christ, where we follow the liturgy and worship is a quiet, awe-struck call and response from our congregation to God. Having grown up in a fundamentalist cult, and spent more years in an evangelical cult, I am finally home in this new church where tradition is still present. I loved your writing about the tradition – covenant, really – of communion. What a beautiful gift to your daughter, to raise her like this.

  21. Michelle DeRusha

    I remember my first communion so, so well – mostly the dress and the veil…as Catholics, we dressed like miniature brides, and I couldn’t have been happier about that. The following weekend we went to a celebration with the bishop and I begged my parents to let me wear my first communion gown again, and they agreed (I doubt I would have let my daughter!). I distinctly recall the bishop stopping as he processed down the aisle, taking my hand, and asking how I liked the Mass. “Much too long!” I told him – apparently I was just as honest then as I am now! 😉

    Lovely, lovely post, Jennifer – and thanks for the walk down memory lane!



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