If I say the words “kids’ table,” I bet you can picture what I mean. Holidays at the family homestead with the adult table and the kids relegated to a card table that was sometimes set up in the dining room but usually in a different room altogether. Right? I mean, your experience may be different, but the term is ubiquitous and depending on your history with it, can fill you with dread, ambivalence, animosity, or excitement. Sometimes being at the kids table means that you can get away with whatever because the adults are otherwise engaged. For me, it was mostly annoyance at being separated. I once stood up and announced that at my next birthday, I would no longer sit at the kids table, and this was met with knowing laughter from the adults.
I did eventually “graduate” to the adult table, but as the youngest family member of my generation, it was too little too late. As I developed in my faith, I loved hearing stories about how Jesus welcomed the children.
Then the people brought their little children to Jesus so he could put his hands on them and pray for them. His followers told them to stop, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me. Don’t stop them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people who are like these children.”
I told my grandparents, “Jesus would have let me sit at the adult table.” My grandpa looked at me and shook his head in exasperation. As a kid, this explanation made sense to me. Jesus would have let me sit at the adult table. But now I see the error in that.
Jesus would not have separate tables.
When we celebrate with Jesus, we are all at one table. One table for all the believers. One table. One huge, glorious table. With adults, children, elders, neighbors, and all hosts of others. And think of the beauty in that. When we are at one table with people who are our spiritual mentors, we get the opportunity to learn from them. At a table with people who are just starting out in their faith journeys, we get the chance to mentor them and lead them along the path. At a big table there is room for everyone, regardless of where their faith has taken them or will take them.
I think of this sometimes when I see children in worship on Sundays. To me it is such a beautiful expression of the family of God. Children learn to worship by watching their parents worship. They see how other people interact with the gospel lesson, and it becomes part of their own story. They learn to have a personal faith by seeing others live out their personal faith.
Think about it, if your child does not have good table manners at meals, you don’t shoo them away and tell them to eat on the floor. (Unless you do, in which case this story will not connect with you.) Instead, you sit them at the table with you and insist they keep trying until they learn how to sit at the table. It’s the same way with worship. We cannot expect children to understand how to worship, how to approach their faith, or even how to “behave” in church, if we do not include them in the services, sacraments, and life of the church.
So maybe we should do away with the idea of a kids table at church. Worship with the children. Worship with the elderly. Worship with the new members. Worship with the strangers. We are all here for the same thing. We will all feast at the same table in the end, so why not start now?