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Communion Meditations (2014)

Cup of Fate

Originally scheduled for November 2

It is a curious fact that the writers of the New Testament, in describing communion, always use the Greek word for “cup” rather than the Greek word for “wine.” The assumption that wine was in the cup comes from the fact that it was instituted in a celebration of the Jewish holiday of Passover, which does indeed use wine. The reason for this is that the Greek word in question has two meanings: one of them is the ordinary meaning of the word “cup” — that is to say, something to drink out of. The other meaning might be expressed as the fate to which a particular person is destined; that which they will experience. Jesus uses it in that form himself:

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."

(Matthew 26:39 NIV)


This emphasis on the cup instead of its contents might explain the medieval  fascination with the physical cup itself, the Holy Grail. Much legend, many books and an occasional movie have celebrated the physical cup itself.

It is the second sense — the metaphor for fate — that we may look at here. The cup, in a very real sense, represents Christ’s fate: to die on the cross for us. We commonly take the wine inside to be symbolic of his blood. But by taking the same cup that Christ did, in the metaphoric sense, we recognize that the cup represents our faith as well. We are going to die, each and every one of us, unless our Lord returns before hand. But like our Lord, we are fated to be raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit at our Lord’s return. Thus it is that the cup unites us with Christ as those who share his fate of death and resurrection. It also unites us with all who call upon Christ, the church.

It is best to face facts and look fate in the face. We are all going to die, unless he returns before then. But in taking this cup, we also proclaimed that we expect the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead. Indeed, we proclaim his death on the cross “until he comes.” It is therefore given to us to examine ourselves before taking communion. Look inside and see: is there something in there that is displeasing to your Lord? He calls upon you to repent and seek his forgiveness. You call him Lord; you share his fate, his cup. Therefore you are his, both now and forever. Let us take communion then in a manner worthy of those who have been called by God to be his children.

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