St. Paul’s – Proper 20 – 9/24/2023
Let me begin with a minor confession….. While I generally try to embrace material simplicity, there is one area in which I have grievously failed, and it is this: I have an embarrassingly large collection of cups and mugs in my kitchen at home. Far more than any one person should have. Perhaps you can relate to this. When I open up my cupboard, there they are, stacked on top of one another, balanced precariously, mismatched, the designs a bit faded in spots, but comforting—a jumble of memories.
There was the juice glass I used to use every morning as kid visiting my grandfather’s house. I dropped it and it broke. There is the coffee mug from a church I used to serve. There is a cup I picked up while on a Native American reservation with youth including one of my sons from Atlanta. There is an anniversary cup mug from somewhere. There is a cup from serving with CASA here in Alpine. There is yet ANOTHER coffee mug that I don’t especially love but that was given to me by someone whom I do care about. You get the idea.
In terms of problems to have, it’s a very silly one. But it reminds me that there is something very evocative about cups. For some strange reason we are drawn to them; they mean more to us, somehow, than just a receptacle to hold a beverage. They hold memories, too, they tell a story about where we come from, the things we have seen, and what our life has been about. When we bring them to our lips, we kiss the past and we hold a part of ourselves. The cups reveal, in some small way, who we are.
Cups – line-up – story to tell
Maybe that’s why it had been so disorienting, during the pandemic these past two pandemic-shaped years, to have no cup offered during the Eucharist. And since then to have two cups offered: one for intinction and one common cup for those who wish to partake of the Blood of Christ in that manner. The Church at the beginning of the Pandemic, out of an abundance of caution, decided to suspend the Common Cup aspect of Holy Communion, and while we were certainly on solid theological ground receiving only the bread during this time, I admit to having felt a bit lost at sea without that other component of the Eucharistic feast: the common cup shared among us, the sweetness on the lips, and those words that satisfy our deepest thirst: the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.
It is fitting, deeply fitting, then, on this Sunday when we remember and celebrate Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist, that the common cup is being proposed with a moving away from intinction from a separate chalice. This day when you come forward to be nourished by Christ’s body in the form of bread, the chalice of his blood will be offered to you as well, and if you feel comfortable doing so, you are invited to drink, and remember what this particular cup reveals about where we come from, the things we have seen, and what our life together is about.
But this common cup that we drink from is special, it is singular, because unlike the mugs and the glasses stacked on our shelves, each holding our own private histories, this Eucharistic vessel also reveals something essential about about God’s history, about who God is and what God has done. In truth, the Eucharistic cup is God’s cup first and foremost, not our own. It bears the story of God’s journey alongside and among humankind.
In the Hebrew Scriptures the prophets and the Psalmist speak often of the cup: the cup of consolation, the cup of wrath, the cup of trembling, the cup of astonishment—a cup that holds the strange mix of grace and fury that is God’s complex and unfolding relationship with the world. And we also come to realize that it is this same cup that Jesus must reckon with in Gethsemane—Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Ultimately Jesus does what God has always done: he accepts the cup as the price of loving his wayward creation, drinking in the sweetness and the bitterness of his solidarity with the children of the earth.
And so I imagine that if we were to go to heaven and rummage through the cupboards, we’d open them up and find, in quiet repose, this one cup, ancient, gleaming, heavy with significance, hallowed by its use, held aloft at a thousand feasts, emptied out upon a thousand battlefields, stained with the blood and the salt-tears of our Creator. The same cup that, in the mystery of Eucharistic grace, is handed to us , that we might take hold of its heavy glory. No longer God’s cup alone, but also ours.
I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, Paul tells the church at Corinth in our Epistle today, recounting the words of Jesus at the Last Supper—a meal, of course, at which he himself was not present, but which, we must conclude, he must have come to know as part of the all-encompassing, all-consuming revelation of Christ he experienced on the Damascus road.
Paul understood this, somehow, in the lifelong aftermath of his conversion, that this particular meal, this particular bread and cup, reveal the truth about God’s deepest self—and that as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we are taking part in God’s own feast—the banquet prepared from the foundation of the world. In so doing, God’s story, God’s sustaining life becomes ours as well.
And so, today, like the disciples who gathered in the lamplight of the Upper Room, we glimpse salvation upon this table, and we drink from this cup—the cup of memory, the cup of sorrow, the cup of laughter, the cup that holds the fermentation of finitude and eternity, the cup that holds ALL THINGS in the costly covenant of love—we drink from this cup today for Jesus’ sake because he drank from it for our sake. He drank it to the dregs, knowing what it meant to do so, knowing that living also means one must die, knowing that it was worth dying for us in order to live for us.
All of that significance, all of that history, all of that costliness, all of that promise, all held in a single sip. A sip he now asks us to take as well, so that at last, we might know him for who he is. I know all of this is true, I know it is real, and I cannot really fully comprehend it. And yet, like you, I will hold that cup in my hands, I will receive it with wonder and gratitude, trusting that even if I never really fully understand the mystery of death and life, even if I never fully understand the depth and breadth of God’s love, at least I will know what it tastes like.
And that will be enough.
For as we will discover repeatedly throughout the our Christian Journey, words can only take us so far. Ultimately we must do a thing for it to be real. The feet must be washed. The bread must be broken. The cup must be poured out.
These actions are both a question and their own sort of answer, because they are the pieces of God’s story that speak best for themselves, like a cupboard full of jumbled vessels, passed down, love-worn, inexplicably precious, infinitely capable of holding our own stories—the old stories, the ones we are living through today, and the story that God, with us, is only now beginning to tell.
Today we continue the telling of the story from when it began in that Upper Room on the night before he died. This we do week after week.
Drink it in, beloved children of God. Drink it all in.