Unworthy (Day 24 of A Simple Lent) | Tuesday
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.
What does Paul mean by “unworthy manner” and what does that have to do with Communion? I had never given this much thought. Until a few years ago.
Shortly after seminary, I was asked about the “proper” receiving of communion. I was confused. I mean, we come forward, put out our hands and receive. Is there something I was missing?
“No, it isn’t that!” they said. “The instructions for receiving communion are no longer in the Prayer Book. They speak of the danger to a person who receives communion unworthily.”
Having been born about the time the current Book of Common Prayer came out, I was not at all familiar with its predecessor. So I had to track it down, digging through the church’s library to find one. It was actually harder to find one than you would think.
I wanted to find these instructions and read them for myself. I was aware of the theology and the thinking, but hadn’t actually read the text.
The instructions are lengthy and involve how to prepare one’s self for communion by getting right with GOD. And it cautioned not taking the practice of communion without the weight of the world upon it: the very life and death of the body and soul.
Having not been raised with this Prayer Book, its theology, or its instruction, I was confused. As confused, I suspect as my friend was with the “new” Prayer Book. But what confused me more was how such a teaching could be followed. It feels like the Calvinistic total depravity of humanity, not the Catholic origins of the Church of England. More Puritan than Anglican. Extremist.
It feels like making an appeal to Paul without reading any of the verses which surround it.
The Unworthy Manner
Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves.
This passage, which seems to lay out the problems that befall us in our unworthiness, really could be the basis for our church’s earlier teaching. We hear this call not to bring judgment by not being worthy. We hear the call to examine ourselves because we need to be sure. It sounds exactly like what I read in the 1928 Prayer Book almost a decade ago.
What Paul meant by unworthy manner, however, was expressly described by the story he tells all around it. The story isn’t about having the right teaching about the theology of the Eucharist. It isn’t about being old enough to understand the Eucharist. What does he say makes these people unworthy to receive it?
When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!
Their unworthiness isn’t based on their beliefs or their teaching, it is that they weren’t acting like community! They weren’t including everyone. They were selfishly thinking only of themselves. They were depriving the poor and overindulging.
Paul’s admonition isn’t for having the wrong beliefs, it was for the wrong behaviors.
- It was not about the solemnity of the event.
- It was not about the age of the participants.
- It was not about the conviction of the members.
- It was not about the understanding of the communicants
- It was not about the technique of the community.
It was the selfish and individualistic character of this supposedly Christian community. He was cheesed because they weren’t embodying the gospel, they were embodying the selfish, individualistic character of Rome!
There was no love, no sharing, no participating, no generosity, no community at all! This is the abuse! They didn’t understand what Paul was teaching them about Christian community.
I’m really taken with this idea of the disciples not understanding “about the loaves” which I wrote about earlier. It really seems to be an important theme in scripture with the Hebrew people not understanding about the Manna, too. They didn’t understand what Jesus (and before him, GOD) were really trying to teach them in, through, and about food.
That’s why I’m beginning to love the second feeding of multitudes here in Mark 8. The five thousand were fed before, in the midst of teachings of great healing and transforming how the disciples see Jesus. Here, right before they turn their attention to Jerusalem, they are invited again to the same miraculous feeding. They get a second chance to understand about the loaves!
Do they understand now? That’s up to you to decide, I suppose. The text doesn’t say.
This question of understanding the loaves, when taken with this teaching about preparing one’s self for communion gives me further question for whether or not we understand the loaves. Whether or not we understand the bread being broken and the wine being poured for us each week. Do we understand this?
Not as an answer to a test or the teaching you received in confirmation classes, but do we understand? Do we, all together, understand our feast as a gathered and blessed community of love and inclusion? Where all of us are fed? Where all receive enough?
Daily Office Readings
Or visit the alternative Daily Office I often use.
This week’s homework is to find how to best embody a life of vocation.
Download the worksheet: A Simple Lent-Handout 4!