Holidays come with special meals. The smells wafting out of the kitchen can conjure memories of playing with our cousins, of long road trips, of good times with family and friends. That was happening the night Jesus sent disciples into Jerusalem to prepare for the Holy Day feast of Passover. The smoke from cooking fires lingered in the lanes.
When Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, we are drawing on a tradition that stretches back hundreds of years. The Passover Meal drew on something that had happened well over 1000 years earlier. But on this night, Jesus altered the symbolism. He redefined the traditions, infused new meaning into this meal.
This is my body. It is for you. Take and eat.
Then he took the cup. He gave thanks once again, and again he gave this cup to his friends. They all drank of it. Probably from the same cup. And with the moisture of the wine still on their lips, small droplets on their beards, the pungent sweetness on their tongues, Jesus said, “This is my blood.” The blood of the covenant, blood poured out—expended, spilled—on behalf of many.
This is not the only cup we will hear about from this night.
Up the Mount of Olives and out into a garden called Gethsemane. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with him. They just heard him sing. Now they hear him twist up in dread and misery: Guys, my soul is wrecked. Wrecked to the death. If you could just stay awake and keep watch, I’ve got to pray….
Jesus has just offered a priceless cup to his disciples. No meal can boast of finer fare. The cup of the life-blood of Jesus, the Ultimate Sacrifice, the once-and-for-all Passover Lamb. Blood-wine that is the seal of a new covenant. No cup has ever been filled with more precious contents. There is no drink like this, no cup like the one that somehow holds eternity. This is THE cup, the best of drinks.
But Someone is also offering Jesus a different sort of cup. It is worst of drinks.
And said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” (Mk 14:34-37)
There were two cups offered on this night. One was the cup of glory. The cup of new life, a cup of silky sweetness that makes dying souls burst out in song in the night. The sort of cup you shout about, invite 1,000-member angel choirs out to sing about. And this is the cup offered to you and me during Communion.
The best of drinks.
The other cup reeks and stinks. Father… remove this cup from me, but I will take it if you want me to. And he took it. The stiffest of drinks. A putrid drink foaming with filth and pain. A cup of pure poison and soured froth. A devilish brew of nails and nakedness. A death draught.
And because He raised that cup to his lips… and now, you and I drink new wine.