What are we to make of the Eucharist?
The great theological debates in the West are certainly interesting. And contrary to what we sometimes might think, they aren’t wholly without value for us as Orthodox Christians. It can be helpful for us to remember, that at least through Reformation, Christians East and West, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant (Lutherans and Calvinists) all agreed that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. Yes, we debated among ourselves how bread and wine became the Body and Blood of Christ but we all agreed that there was a change.
These theological debates, however, rarely matter all that much to most people. What does matter is what it means to receive Holy Communion?
In many parishes, it isn’t uncommon for very few—if any—people to receive Holy Communion. In other parishes though, it seems as if it is expected that everyone receives. Neither of these extremes is helpful. We don’t want to make receiving Holy Communion a rare occurrence. But neither do we want to take receive the Body and Blood of our Lord something we take for granted.
So, what can we do to help especially children and young adults understand the Eucharist?
I find the best thing to do is to have children look at the text of the Divine Liturgy. Ask them what they think it means, for example, when the priest says “Take, eat this is My Body broken for you for the forgiveness of sins”?
Or later when he says “Send your Holy Spirit down up us and upon these gifts…”
We hear several things here simultaneously.
Yes, we are sinners but Jesus comes and dies for us sinners.
And yes, the bread and wine are transformed in the Divine Liturgy but so are we.
It is the rare child who doesn’t grasp that he or she is a sinner. Even if they are too young to understand theologically, even young children know that they can hurt others or that they can disappoint their parents or fight with their siblings.
We need not only help children understand how they fail but also about what it might mean to be transformed. Ask them what they think it means to be not just a sinner but forgiven? And not just forgiven but transformed?
The heart of the matter is, is that in the Eucharist Jesus doesn’t just forgive us but transforms us, makes us new. This is something we often overlook. One of the reasons Liturgy can seem boring and repetitive is because we don’t think about it as God coming to transform us.
With older children, say middle school and up, I will ask them to think about what it means when the priest tells us to “Lift up your hearts.” He doesn’t tell us to praise God or thank God. Much less does he say we need to be happy or sad. He simply says that we are to lift up our hearts. We are to offer our to God whatever is in our heart at that moment.
For older children especially, the idea that in the Eucharist we offer ourselves to God and that we do this together with Jesus can be a powerful insight. Just as God accepts Jesus, He accepts us, He accepts me.
And God’s acceptance and love is dependent on what might be going on in my life at any moment. God wants my bored, irritated heart as much as He wants my joyful, thankful heart.
And not only does God accept each of us as we are, in Holy Communion He gives us back to ourselves but when He does, we are changed. Remember, it isn’t just bread and wine that are transformed, we are too.
When we receive the Eucharist, together with Christ we receive our own lives as well but as they have been made new by grace. This is what we are preparing to do when we celebrate the Eucharist and this is what we do when we receive Holy Communion.
So, the question becomes (for all of us) how do we prepare ourselves to be made new in Christ? That’s the question that we are asked every time we participate in the Divine Liturgy and every time—“with the fear of God and with faith”—we come forward to receive Holy Communion.
Am I ready to be made new?