In the previous reflection I posed the question if there is a relationship between partaking of Holy Communion to such things as preparing for it, our confession of faith (our belief in the Truths of Christianity), and the manner of life we are living. Today I want to discuss the theme of preparation; not so much on how we prepare (the rules) but more so on why we prepare and what our focus is to be. Our state of mind as we approach the cup is important as evidenced by the following words of St. Paul to the Corinthian church:
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 1 Corinthians 11:23-30
These words of St. Paul speak to several major themes when it comes to receiving Eucharist. First we do the above in a spirit of remembrance. The original Greek of the above passage for remembrance is anamnesis. The word remembrance in English doesn't do justice to the actual meaning of the original Greek When we remember something we tend to look upon an event of the past and think, "Ah those were the good old days."(if it is a good memory) It is over and done with, we essentially look back. The scriptural sense of remembrance is different. Remembrance in the scriptures is transcendent. The event we remember breaks time barriers and calls us to remember with a sense that a past event is continually present transforming and changing us today! During the Liturgy just before I lift up the Paten and the Chalice, I say "Remembering this life saving commandment (partaking of the Eucharist) and all those things which have come to pass for us: the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the Sitting at the right hand, and second and glorious Coming. Do you notice there are no verbs here in the simple past tense or in the future tense? We remember these life saving events of our Lord as saving acts of the present that are continuing in their action, and never ending in their dimension. So out of obedience, we go to communion to remember Our Lord Jesus Christ, His life saving acts and their impact on us today. How do these life-saving acts impact on us today? St. Paul's idea of remembrance is very much rooted in the Old Testament. The theme of remembrance is frequently mentioned in the book of Deuteronomy. Here is an example of this thought and also what happens to God's people when we fail to maintain this active state of remembrance in our lives.
"Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the LORD swore to your fathers. And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD." Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, lest-when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; then you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.' "And you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. Then it shall be, if you by any means forget the LORD your God, and follow other gods, and serve them and worship them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish. (Deuteronomy 8:1-3, 11-12, 17-19)
If we can understand the meaning expressed in Chapter 8 of the book Deuteronomy, this might help us to better understand why we prepare to receive Holy Communion and how the mechanics of preparation (fasting, confession, prayer, and almsgiving) are the means to cultivate our ongoing remembrance of our Lord Jesus Christ in our daily lives. Unfortunately there are consequences mentioned in both of the above scripture citations. Deuteronomy warns us that when our stomachs are full, and we possess many things, we run the risk of forgetting God and attributing all that we have to our own might and abilities. St. Paul said in the above quote from Corinthians on partaking of the Lord's Supper: "For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep." During the liturgy we pray to partake of the holy mysteries "neither to our judgment nor our condemnation, O Lord, but to the healing of soul and body." So there are occasions one can approach the cup unworthily. More will be said on this at a later date and time as to what might constitute approaching the cup unworthily.
Some might say the rules for preparing to receive Communion are too hard to keep, archaic and irrelevant for today. But I would submit to you that the issue here is not one of changing rules as much as changing our mindset and our hearts. There are many things we do in life that we look forward to that take a lot of preparation and work. The recent Easter fest activity of our Church was a great day that would not have been possible with out the many hours, days, and weeks, it took to prepare the food. Many didn't have a problem with these rules of preparation because it led to an experience of something that was fulfilling. During March Madness many kept vigil over the TV watching numerous NCAA games over a three week period before ending in the Championship Game. Before the annual Super Bowl Game once a year, what precedes it? For the game this year, ESPN spent several weeks showing clips of previous games. There was the 6 hour pregame show before the Super Bowl began. People kept vigil in anticipation as they looked forward to the actual game. The Church has the long standing Tradition that many are neglecting in America of keeping prayerful Vigil the evening before we celebrate the Lord's Day on Sunday. Every Saturday evening at Great Vespers we tell the story of our Lord's Death and Resurrection. I can't think of a better evangelical service to bring a friend to who is interested in the Orthodox faith. We are calling to remembrance our Lord's Death and Resurrection. Why? Because if we cease to do this in our lives, we easily forget and we know from above the consequences we face if we forget our Creator. Acts of preparation are often acts of self denial that we choose because they somehow play a role in getting us to something we seek and desire and thus we are willing to pay the price. We seem to be hungry for so many things in America and don't mind doing what we need to do to have that hunger satisfied. Are we hungry for the Lord? Or are we like John, Peter, and James, at Gethsemane who repeatedly fell asleep when our Lord asked them to watch with Him for one hour? Perhaps the following reading from Matthew Chapter 6 might help us to answer these last two questions:
"Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? "So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? "Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?' or ‘What shall we drink?' or ‘What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25-34)
I think if we prayerfully reflect upon this teaching of our Lord from the Sermon on the Mount, and the above words from Deuteronomy we may be able to find some answers. Could it be that we have come to love the gifts of the Giver more than the Giver? Christ is risen! Fr. Paul