This Clergy Corner is a teaching from Fr. Stephen Gauthier on receiving communion worthily. You can find more of Fr. Stephen's teachings on the sermon page.
The Apostle Paul describes what it means to receive Holy Communion as follows:
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16).
Consequently, he warns us that:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 11:27).
Unfortunately, it is easy to misinterpret this verse and unnecessarily exclude ourselves from receiving Holy Communion, despite the Lord Jesus’ express command to “take eat” and “drink…all of you…” (Matthew 26:26-27). So how are we to understand the Apostle Paul’s warning?
The Apostle Paul does not mean that we should not approach the Lord’s table because we are conscious of our sinfulness!:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:8-9)
…for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the
forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:28)
However, the Apostle is reminding us of the need to prepare ourselves properly:
Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. (I Corinthians 11:28)
Such an examination ought to include consideration of each the following:
Jesus began his public ministry by urging all who would listen to repent and believe the Gospel (Mark 1:15). The good news of forgiveness and healing (gospel) cannot be separated form a genuine change in heart on our part (repentance). If we are aware of ongoing sin in our lives we must firmly resolve, with God’s help, to turn away from it. Thus, in the Anglican liturgy, we confess our sinsbefore approaching the Lord’s table.
Jesus taught that we cannot receive forgiveness from God if we are unwilling to forgive others:
Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:32-35)
Accordingly, Jesus himself tells us that:
…if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)
Thus, in the Anglican liturgy, we offer each other a sign of peace before approaching the Lord’s table.
In Corinth, many Christians remained distant from their brothers and sisters in Christ, as was evident from what was taking place during the shared meal that accompanied the Eucharist. People were bringing food and drink for themselves and their friends, but would not share with others. As a result, some feasted, while others went hungry. This situation brought a harsh rebuke from the Apostle Paul:
When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. (1 Corinthians 11:17-22)
Why such a strong reaction? Because the reality of Christ’s presence in the sacrament cannot be separated from the reality of Christ’s presence in his body, the Church:
Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:17)
Christ’s body is present in the bread and Christ’s body is present in those who partake of the bread (his body, the Church). Therefore, to receive Holy Communion worthily we must recognize Him in both:
For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. (I Corinthians 11:29)
Therefore, to participate in Holy Communion in a worthy manner, we must live in a way that exemplifies the unity that the Lord Jesus prayed for at the Last Supper:
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21)
Preparing for Communion
Therefore, as we prepare to receive Holy Communion we would be well advised to examine ourselves as follows:
And what if our response to any of these questions is “yes”? Even then, we can still receive Holy Communion worthily if we first humbly confess our sin to God and firmly resolve, by His grace, to amend our lives and make restitution to those we have wronged.
Fr. Stephen Gauthier