Parishioner Mollie Ziegler Hemingway recently wrote about reactions to swine flu among eucharistic Christians (shouldn’t that be redundant?) and its treatment in the press. She noted the CNN web headline: “Poisoned chalice? Swine flu hits church wine.” That, it turns out, is inaccurate fear-mongering. Mrs. Hemingway observes:

It … makes it seem as if, well, swine flu actually hit church wine. Nothing in the story supports that idea. It’s just that the archbishops of Canterbury and York in the Church of England have recommended that parishioners stop sharing the chalice during communion because of fears over swine flu.

She likewise cites the evidence that sharing the communion chalice does not increase chances of disease transmission. This fits with my own experience. For eleven years, I’ve been consuming the reliquae in the chalice at least once a week, after the entire congregation has communed. I do not believe for a moment that it has adversely affected my health.

The deeper problem with communion practice is the statement that individual cups make: I am afraid of my brothers and sisters in Christ – or they should be afraid of me. A fearful attitude of bodily sickness when approaching the Lord’s Altar is the opposite of how we should approach our Lord. He is the Great Physician, who promises that those who eat His body and drink His blood have eternal life, and He will raise them up at the last day. Coming with fear over what participating in our most sacred action will do to the body is to miss the point about, well, what participating in our most sacred action will do to the body!

I won’t say that it is impossible to get sick from the communion chalice. But our real concern should be a good preparation and pious meditation on what the Lord’s gifts in His Supper are.

What God ordains is always good:
His loving thought attends me;
No poison can be in the cup
That my physician sends me. (LSB 760:3)