Every now and then, I hear someone say to me that frequent communion is something that can provoke God’s wrath; We are not prepared enough for communion if we do not fast seven days before communion. This is supposedly backed up by the words of the prayer that we all read before communion:
And may this communion be not unto my judgment or condemnation but to the healing of my soul and body, AMEN!
The words judgment or condemnation invoke a certain understanding that if we are sinful and approach the chalice we can be judged and condemned. This is an explanation or understanding that needs correction because it does not take into account that all of us, human beings, are by definition sinful and it does not matter how long we fast before communion, the sinfulness cannot be washed away so that we can proudly approach the chalice and take communion confidently. The words “I am not ready” only mean that we are being tricked by our fake emotionality before the chalice and are guided not by what the Church has to say but by what we “feel”. Feelings are not the best guide in any matter of life, let alone the communion.
But what do those words truly mean “Let it not be for my judgment or condemnation”? The explanation will be situated in a particular historical context of Paul’s epistles. Paul writes:
1 Corinthians 1:10 – I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree together, so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be united in mind and conviction.
1 Corinthians 11:27-32 – Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.
In Paul’s time, an issue happened in the so called “house Churches” of Christians. The issue was that before communion and during dinner (at that time it was the praxis for Christians to eat before communion) divisions started appearing among Christian brethren. The divisions included separations between poor and rich people in such a way that during dinner, or even partaking of the communion, those who were rich did not mingle with those who were poor. In other words, the categories of the outside world started prevailing in the first Church. St. Paul did not like this because the Kingdom of Heaven is all about equality and God’s love is the same love for rich and poor. If we are looking at one of our brethren and judging him for being poorly clothed or for not having money or for the color of his skin, we are immediately appealing to our fallen human nature and are stepping away from the categories of heaven in which “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We are all Christ’s body! Regardless of any biological or social traits we possess! However, the Christians in the community of Corinth did not understand this yet. This is why Paul says that they are not “discerning the body of Christ”. The body which has to be discerned are people themselves. We are not seeing that our brother or sister in Christ belongs to God equally the way we do and thus we separate ourselves from them and through that from God as well. This is something which for Paul indicated that we are taking communion unto our judgment and condemnation. Very different indeed of our interpretations which are most of the time self centered.
If we want to prepare ourselves for the communion, we should respect fasting periods prescribed by the Church and shy away from being judges of ourselves based on our own “sinfulness”. This is something that we have to acknowledge and present it to our spiritual father and allow his voice to be heard in our souls in addition to our self-critique. If there is no one to push us in our self-criticism or sometimes to slow it down a bit, we go from one extreme to another.
We should also understand that it does not matter how much we fast before communion, the Body and Blood of Christ will always be a sheer gift of God to humanity and entirely undeserved by us. Rather than thinking how many drops of oil fell into my salad today, the criterion for approaching the chalice should be my peace with others. Am I causing division in my community? Am I being too much for people to handle? Am I destroying somebody’s day with my slander? To conclude by repeating the quoted words of the apostle Paul:
“For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged”