Communion is highly organized and sanitized in Baptist churches – at least in every Baptist church I’ve attended. Sips of grape juice are portioned into little plastic cups and placed on trays; bread, wafers or crackers are broken into bite-sized bits.
The bread and the “wine” are passed down the pews, or the rows of comfy chairs. And it’s fine. Because, in those large churches, it would take forever for 50 x 3 rows of congregants plus an entire balcony to come down and sip from a single chalice.
But there is something about drinking from the cup. Or, in my case – call me a germaphobe – having my wafer dipped into the cup. Of wine. Maybe when you’re offering a communal cup you have to use wine. Maybe the alcohol kills germs. Maybe.
Anyway, I’m preparing to teach Revelation 14 Monday night, and I’m thinking about cups.
The cup of wrath and the cup of forgiveness.
Jesus said it there in the garden of Gethsemane, as He was sweating blood. “Father, if there is any other way, take this cup from me.”
If there had been any other way, Jesus’s desperate plea proves He would have taken it. He didn’t WANT to endure the cross.
If there had been another way, His Father certainly would have shown it. He didn’t WANT His son to suffer needlessly.
But there was no other way. So Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath. For us.
And now I see that cup again. At the end of chapter 14.
When evil had reached its full measure, “The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.”
And that gives a new depth to the Eucharist. When I drink from/dip into the cup I am identifying with the One who drank my cup of wrath. And I am grateful that He offers instead the cup of forgiveness.
The wine of His blood.
Because without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin.
The Baptist church offered communion once a month. On the first Sunday. The church I attend now offers it every Sunday. This week I took communion three times – Sunday morning, at a funeral on Tuesday and again on Ash Wednesday.
Wednesday evening I noticed the young girl next to me receiving the wafer into her cupped hands. Not taking it, receiving it. The wafer was then taken from her hands by the cup bearer, dipped into the wine chalice and placed in her mouth.
I started to notice others doing it that way. Then I remembered the cupped hands of my Catholic cousins receiving communion when I visited them as a child.
All these weeks I have been taking the wafer from the pastor’s hand with my fingers and handing it to the cup bearer. The first time up I even dipped it into the chalice myself.
It must be the way they are taught to do it, I thought, and dismissed it as an unnecessary ritual that this old dog needn’t adopt.
But today I’m seeing the beauty in humbly receiving the body of Christ into cupped hands.
And as I ponder this lesson, it comes down to this:
Any one of us can identify with the wily beast and drink the cup of wrath, or we can identify with Jesus, who drank it for us.
Special Valentine’s dinner with the hub tonight. Better get in the shower.
In related news: Six Stone Jars and a Cup of Forgiveness
And for my friend Alma, who is reading Revelation with me (and anyone else who cares to read a little bit more):
All those people who received the mark of the beast at the end of Chapter 13, who thought they were aligning themselves with power – or who thought they were doing what was necessary for survival, to get ahead, to be able to buy and sell, to be politically correct – were actually marking themselves for destruction. Because isn’t that way the beast always works – promising one thing, delivering another.
Paul expressed it like this:
“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” Romans 2:5
Those beast worshipers thought they were winning, thought they were doing just fine, thought God didn’t really care about their sin. And all the while He was letting evil ripen and they were storing up wrath against themselves.
But, Hallelujah!, chapter 14 opened with the Lamb standing on Mt. Zion, high above the beast of the surf and the beast of the turf, worshiping before His Father’s throne.
He and the 144,000 who bear His name and the name of His Father, sing a new song. A song that only those martyrs can learn. ‘Cuz there are some things that only intense suffering can teach.
And if the Lamb’s response to the political madness, blaspheme and puffed-up noise of the beast is to stand before the throne and worship, then I think I’ll make it mine, too.