“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. 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 judgment against themselves. “ (Reference: 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 )
There is a premise in the contemplative/meditative life that the “unexamined life” is not a good spiritual way of living. Well, actually it says it’s not a good way to live, but even I think that is a little extreme When I was in my mid-year (as opposed to the more “mature years” I am now) and in seminary, I asked myself if I wanted to live the contemplative life. And I found myself answering “yes.” The contemplative life does not necessarily mean a life lived away from the rest of the world or lived in isolation. It can mean that the person in question is living a fully interactive life, but living it in such a way that actions and thoughts are first measured against God’s standards of living, and is living life constantly/consistenly aware of God’s presence in one’s life and in the world. It does not mean that one is more holy or more piously endowed, but one tries to remain constantly and intentionally aware of the Divine.
What does that mean pragmatically? It means a lot of prayer, and a lot of pondering/meditation. One’s personality and temperament really need to be suited to that type of life. And perhaps that is why those who espouse the contemplative life feel that living any other way is not worthwhile. And neither does it mean that if a Christian is not living a contemplative life they are not Christian.
With this in mind, let us look at the verse again. What does it mean to eat “ in an unworthy manner”? The non-contemplative Christian might say that means to . . . well, I don’t really know being a very contemplative Christian. What it means to me is not looking at the bread and the cup as just mere food and drink but to take in the whole relevance of remembering what it meant to Christ and what he sought to teach his disciples. It also means to not examine one’s self, look for places where one has lived less than a Christian life, confess that to God and ask for forgiveness, and then while eating the bread and drinking the cup welcome that forgiveness from Christ determining to do better. But also knowing that fallible human-ness will cause us to sin again. And again we will confess and ask for forgiveness. That is the task of contemplative, to examine and be aware of where we are and where God is.
The phrase, “For all who eat and drink without discerning the body” I used to think meant the body as the corporate body of the church and the faith circle one is in. And that meant to live in harmony with others, and if one was not, to get into harmony with others. And the Easy-To-Read Version of this verse backs that up. But it can also mean one’s own body AND mind AND spirit – the whole person. It can also mean, according to Barnes, to recognizing the difference between eating and drinking as a remembrance of the Lord’s Supper and eating and drinking for one’s digestion. In the Mennonite tradition, it is one small piece of bread and just about an ounce of liquid (grape juice most often) so there is no possible way of confusing the two. One does not come to the Lord’s Supper hungry for food, but hungry for God – and that is the contemplative me coming out!
So then, beloved, I come to the end of my “teaching” on this. We have the words of historic Anabaptist Mattheus Bernaerts, called Mattheus van Lincken, was burned at Ghent late in December 1572, “We further have from the Word of God the Supper, or breaking of bread, which the
Lord Himself instituted, and commanded His apostles, for a remembrance of His sufferings and death . . . Thus did Christ Jesus institute the Supper with bread and wine, to be used in the Christian assembly, in the name of the Lord, for a token of brotherly love and unity, for a sign that we, through His merits, by faith in His holy name, have become partakers of Christ, the true bread from heaven.” It feels like his expressed sentiments are those which modern Anabaptists/Mennonites have tried to keep in mind while celebrating Communion. We do not always succeed.
May you beloved conduct and experience Communion amongst your circle of faith in a way that remembers Christ and what his gifts to us are. And that its celebration might enhance and unify your circle of faith. Selah!