What shall I render to the Lord for all His bounty to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.
Psalm 115: 12-13
As we have discussed before, all of the Communion Hymns of the Orthodox Church, with the exception of the Paschal season (when we sing “Soma Christou”, “Receive the Body of Christ”) come from the Psalms. It is beautiful how the New Covenant, Holy Communion, is connected with the Old Covenant, the Old Testament book of Psalm. Psalm 115:13 is the Communion Hymn for all the feasts of the Virgin Mary: “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.” This hymn is also sung at all weddings.
How can we possibly thank God, for all that He has done for us, is the question posed in Psalm 115:12. The answer is simple, by partaking of Him in the Eucharist. The word for “Thanksgiving” in Greek is “Efharistia.” And the word for “Eucharist” in Greek is also “Efharistia.” The Eucharist, therefore, is the “Divine Thanksgiving,” and receiving the Eucharist is an act of thanksgiving to God.
We honor God by partaking of Him in this Divine Thanksgiving. Because our relationship with the Lord in the Eucharist presupposes (at least it should) all of the building blocks of faith. Let me explain.
People often equate fasting as the sole requirement for Holy Communion. They equate fasting with punishment of self and see it many times as a negative. Thus, many people don’t fast and therefore do not receive Holy Communion, or they receive Holy Communion without fasting, because it is either too hard or just plain misunderstood. We’ll come back to fasting, because as you’ll see, it is not the most important “requirement” for Holy Communion, and this Psalm really puts that into context.
In order to receive Holy Communion, a person needs to:
1. Have faith in God. If a person approaches with no faith, Holy Communion isn’t going to do much for them. This “requirement” is manifest in the reciting of the Creed at the Divine Liturgy, before we receive, so that each communicant has a chance to confess their faith in God before receiving.
2. One must be an Orthodox Christian. We’re not going to debate whether or not non-Orthodox should be receiving Holy Communion, that’s for another day. But one must be initiated into the Church through Baptism and Chrismation, born again by water and the Spirit, as we read in John 3:5.
3. One must have a relationship with the Lord through prayer. The primary way we communicate with God is through prayer. Most faithful Christians worship in church once a week. Prayer should be a daily unification with God.
4. One must live a life of obedience to the commandments of God, in other words one must live a righteous life. Notice I did not say a moral life, because morals change. A righteous life presupposes a “moral” life but goes beyond the morality of contemporary society to the sense of righteousness of God that never changes. The commandments are simple. Love God, and love one another. In living a life of obedience to God’s commandments, we are to be repenting of our sins, serving one another, being charitable and generous with what God has given us, including both our time and our talents. We are not to engage in activities that violate the commandments of God—lying, adultery, fornication, gossip (which is a form of “thou shalt not commit murder”), etc. When our lives are going astray from the commandments of God, this is where repentance and confession come in.
5. In order to receive Holy Communion, one should be reconciled with his or her fellow human beings to the greatest extent possible. This should cause us to mend fences that need mending, to ask forgiveness from one another, and to reconcile trust, understanding, and love with one another. It doesn’t do much good to approach the chalice with an angry and vengeful heart. We should approach with a soft heart. Of course, there are times when others may not forgive us. That is their choice. We, however, can always choose to forgive others. It may not change a relationship, but forgiving someone lightens our own load and unburdens our own hearts.
6. One must worship at the service in which he or she is going to commune. This “requirement” is often overlooked. The Eucharist is received in the context of the Divine Liturgy, unless there are extenuating circumstances. Because the Divine Liturgy is the consummate prayer. And because in the context of the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Spirit comes down not only on the Gifts presented to God but upon all the people who are present.
7. And then comes fasting. If a person is not doing all the other things on this “list,” fasting really will accomplish little. Fasting is more about self-control than deprivation. Thus it should be seen as a positive rather than as a negative.
When one receives the Eucharist with appropriate preparation, it is an act of Thanksgiving, receiving Christ and in preparation/recognition of that, offering back our life to Him through faith, prayer, obedience, worship and self-control.
Psalm 116 has many words of comfort:
“The Lord preserves the simple.” (Psalm 116:6) It is not those who are most educated in the faith who please God but the ones who are simply living the faith consistently.
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” (v. 15) It is not the stock portfolio or bank account or real estate holdings we accumulate that impress God. We might impress one another with these things. God holds precious those who “die” for Him. This includes those whose lives were cut short because they were martyred for their faith. And it also includes all of the “saints,” the people who are trying to be set apart by striving to be holy (holy means “set apart”). This doesn’t mean only priests and monastics, but anyone who lives for God first, even if it means “dying” to the world in some sense.
What can we give the Lord in exchange for all that He has done for us? Our thanks, in the form of a life that focuses on faith in Him and love for one another.
I love the Lord, because He has heard my voice and my supplications. Because He inclined His ear to me, therefore I will call on Him as long as I live. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I beseech Thee, save my life!” Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, He saved me. Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. For Thou hast delivered my soul from death, my eyes form tears, my feet from stumbling; I walk before the Lord in the land of the living. I kept my faith, even when I said, “I am greatly afflicted”; I said in my consternation, “men are all a vain hope.” What shall I render to the Lord for all His bounty to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. O Lord, I am Thy servant; I am Thy servant, the son of Thy handmaid. Thou hast loosed my bonds. I will offer to Thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord! Psalm 116
Let your life reflect thanksgiving to God today by showing gratitude in prayer and generosity in service!