Some of the most powerful theological thinking in my church happens at our League of Youth (LOY).
Middle schooler: “I don’t think Jesus is the king in the parable of the wedding banquet. I think Jesus is the stranger who wasn’t wearing a wedding outfit and got kicked out. It was before Easter so they didn’t recognize him yet.”
Last night I joined our middle and high school kids (and a handful adults) for dinner and a conversation about worship. Our youth have a fair amount of involvement in worship: Once each month they are greeters and ushers and once a month they read the prayers and scripture.
But for this gathering I wanted to talk about how worship is where we practice being Christians, specifically practice being table followers and baptized seekers.
Our conversation about Holy Communion centered on Maundy Thursday and Jesus’ welcome of all, including his betrayer, Judas.
Teenagers know a lot about betrayal: a sense of betrayal by their bodies, by their parents and guardians, by their peers, by their nation. Some of it is simply a product of development, individuation, and group dynamics. But some of our kids have known abuse and abandonment, too. They know in their bones what it means to have someone they trusted, someone who should be loyal, cause pain.
We talked about why it was important to Jesus to set the table for friends and Judas alike. Their answer was forgiveness—and support in trying to be forgiving of others, because some things are just too hard to even try to forgive on your own. Sometimes we need others to carry the cup of forgiveness for us.
After we served each other Communion, we went to the baptismal font.
Me: “What does font mean?”
Middle schooler: “The type of lettering you use when typing?”
I described John in the wilderness and Jesus’ baptism and some historical practices, then what baptism means in our context: mutually covenanting family. We then had a brief affirmation of baptism/water fight. I was roundly splashed in the face.
Me: “What does the font have to do with the table?”
Middle schooler: “One is broken and one is whole.”
Me: “Tell me more.”
Middle schooler: “Because things break and heal, break and heal.”
As the youth went to form a prayer circle, one lingered behind with me:
High schooler: “This might be kind of a crude question, but do you think that Jesus invited Judas to the table just to make him feel bad?”
What is at stake for our youth is not heaven or the claims of rightness that I encounter in adults (and myself), but exploration. I find that youth ask questions, test assumptions, and proclaim theology in ways far bolder and more experimental than adults. They are not afraid of getting it wrong or insulting God. They have ownership of their faith and will not allow themselves to be spoon-/force-fed. In them I experience a certainty of Holy Presence that strengthens my own.
At the close of League of Youth, they have a chance to lift up joys or concerns in need of prayer. Another youth then offers to pray for that issue.
High schooler: “I pray that X’s sister heals and that everything ends up healthy.”
High schooler: “I pray that Z feels safe and can some day trust again.”
Middle schooler: “God, we know that these days are hard but that we have you and each other.”
All of these particular youth were baptized as infants or toddlers. They did not make promises of faith for themselves. But, with their parents or guardians or even on their own, they have found themselves at a radically open table, one that pushes them to leadership as well as caring support. They reveal and revel in the deep questioning necessary to live into a faith story as gritty, upside-down, and marvel-filled as our own.
As Protestants, we believe in the priesthood of all believers. Each of us is a minister of God’s word and builder of beloved community.
I am grateful that these youth are ministers to me, that I may enter into their corner of Earth as it is in heaven.