SERMON on Communion preached on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, St John of the Ladder
March 24, 1996.
At each Liturgy, but particularly on the days that follow our retreats, a great number of us receive communion, and we do not always either understand deeply enough, not intellectually but with all our heart and being what has happened, and what is sadder we do not bear the fruits which we should bear.
We do not understand always that in communion we become one with Christ; in the image which is given by St Gregory Palamas, the divinity of Christ and His pure, perfect, sinless humanity, pervades us in the same way in which fire penetrates and pervades a sword plunged into a furnace. Plunged into it, it was cold, it was grey, when we take it out, it is all fire, to such an extent that one can now burn with iron and cut with fire. This is what happens, however incipiently with us when we receive communion, we become partakers of the sinless, perfect and pure humanity of Christ, and this humanity is filled to the brim with His divine essence and nature.
This is what happens when we receive communion. Do we realise this? Are we really seized with awe? Do we receive communion with the sense that we are not in an un-utterable almost incredible manner become what Christ is, not fully, not to perfection, but to an ever increasing degree if we only remain faithful to what is given us? But if that is true, then the words of St Paul come to us with a warning and at the same time a certain inspiration when he says that those who are baptised in Christ, those who have received communion, are so united with Christ that whatever we do, happens to Christ Himself, and when we sin in mind, in heart, in body, it is Christ whom we submit to indignity of our failure and not only ourselves.
If we truly believe that in communion we are united to Christ in the manner in which St Gregory describes it, then how should we prepare for it; with what sense of awe, of veneration should we come to it, but how should we before that prepare ourselves by examining our soul, our life, our relationships, everything which is us, to reject all that cannot unite with Christ, and strengthen the very little perhaps which can be received by Christ, and grow in Christ and gradually reach what St Paul calls the full stature of the Son of God.
But also when we have received communion how carefully should we walk, how carefully should we lead all our life, not only our actions which result from something which is within us, but our thoughts, how pure they must be kept; the movements of our heart, how holy they must become. We cannot simply become it all by an act of our desire of will, but become by a continuous effort of being worthy of having become the Body of Christ, singly and in our togetherness, and this is also something which we must remember always, as one does not become partaker of the Body and Blood of Christ individually, as it were, in a way unrelated to others. All those who are in Christ are one, and we are told that the whole body of the Church is the Body of Christ, is the incarnate presence of Christ in this world, imperfect indeed, but present. We are not lights individually, and we are not a light together, but we may be a flickering flame that makes the darkness of this world less dark, pervades the darkness with a light that annihilates it.
Let us therefore prepare for Communion by searching our life in every respect, and renouncing, rejecting all that can only burn into the fire of God. Open ourselves to His coming and allow Him to pervade us like fire pervades the iron of the soul, of which St Gregory speaks. And then if we truly have understood, however little, what happens to us let us live in a way that will be to God an act of gratitude, a testimony that He has not lived and died in vain, and that it is not in vain that He has given Himself to us, accepted the humiliation of being received by us, the humiliation that we are receptacles of His presence in this world, gratitude should move us to a life which is worthy of the gift of God. Let us reflect on this, and in the weeks that are ahead of us before the Resurrection of Christ, no, before the week of the Passion, let us reflect deeply on it and enter into Holy Week prepared to share with Him the way of the Cross, by renouncing everything which killed Him, which humiliated Him, which betrayed Him, and enter with Him into eternal life. Amen.