by Rev. Reingard Knausenberger
(This talk was given on Sunday, 22nd March.)
The Sunday Service for Children is the first ritual service conceived specifically for children. It is not a ‘Sunday School’ or religious teaching lesson. It is a dense, short ritual celebrated for school children from age 6 or 7 until age 14. Considering that the sacrament of baptism is also only for children, one becomes aware of the very special constitution of a child before puberty. In these first years of life, the incarnating soul is first building a physical body - muscle, bone, nerves, inner organs - that will suit its own mission, using the model given by the parents. When this groundwork is done, energy is set free for other further development. During the primary school years, the soul is ‘tuning its physical instrument and learning to start playing on it’, so to say. This means the rhythmical organisation of the body, which is the carrier of all life-supporting activity, needs to develop harmoniously and strongly to be a healthy support for the rest of one’s life. Therefore, the Sunday Service ritual is based on rhythm, on the ideally regular attendance throughout these seven years. If a child would attend every Sunday for seven years then it would have come to 365 Sunday services, a ‘year’ of Sundays inscribed into its constitution. It will have added into its constitution a quality that directly supports its further awakening to its unique self and which is not a product of nature but of practice and effort.
The service begins with the receiving of the child as it crosses the threshold into the space of the altar. The servers, who receive it will affirm: ‘you know…’ One could say, children have a deep unconscious knowing of ‘where they come from and where they are going’. Then ‘we lift up our thoughts and feelings’- i.e. over time learn to give them conscious direction. The words that follow acknowledges Spirit reality and recognises it in all the kingdoms of nature, as well as in human thought and action. It highlights the fact that life includes death processes, and that this Spirit power at work in nature also leads us into, within and through these into a new quality of life. The facts that underlie this statement are then expressed: Christ is that Spirit power, he died, he can become alive in us. How, and for what purpose is then stated. Then in short, clear sentences the purpose of life on earth is laid out beautifully: the reason we learn and the point of work is to learn to love, and Christ is the teacher for this. In the following prayer, the children experience the practice of prayer and learn how the Spirit of God is present in both conditions of our life: our existential aloneness and our connection to others. Then follows something which resonates deeply with the first words of Christ uttered in direct speech in the Gospel of John: ‘What do you seek?’ It is a question each of us must answer individually. For the children it is a profound moment when they can hear that their seeking is accompanied and can be satisfied. The ending of the ritual speaks of dismissal. Just as clear as the beginning was a receiving in, so is the ending a clear sending out, to make what has been learnt reality by living it.
Both the sacrament of baptism and its further realisation through the Sunday Service for children establish in the organisation of the child a deep knowing and trust in spirit reality, laying a foundation for health and self-confidence in life.
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