In John’s Gospel chapter 6 Jesus had much to say concerning himself as ‘the bread of life’. The other item of the Lord’s Supper, ‘the cup’, is variously named in Scripture: ‘the cup of salvation’ (Psalm 116:13), ‘the cup of the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 10:21), ‘the cup of blessing’ (1 Corinthians 10:16) and the ‘cup [of] the new covenant in my blood’ (1 Corinthians 11:25). And the two predictable Bible verbs are: ‘take the cup’ and ‘drink the cup’. But an unexpected verb occurs in one of the Psalms: ‘I will lift up the cup of salvation’.
- ‘Take the cup’
This act is distinct from drinking. When at the last supper ‘Jesus took the cup and had given thanks’ he declined to ‘drink the cup’: “I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day …’ (Matthew 26:29). How, then, should we take ‘the cup’?
At a Polish wedding reception I learned their traditional way to ‘take’ a glass of vodka. I was told to fill my little glass each time one of the many toasts was proposed and to ‘snatch and gulp’. Realizing the meaning of the Russian word ‘vodka’, I topped up my glass with ‘water’ for each toast that I took in that grab-and-gulp fashion!
By complete contrast, the correct way to ‘take’ a glass of wine – ‘the cup’ containing ‘the fruit of the vine’ – is to hold it and discern the bouquet of (say) honeysuckle, then roll a sip of it around your mouth to discover (say) the rich flavour of plum, then drink reflectively in occasional small amounts, in a sort of ‘hold and savour’ action. We can also savour his sufferings and joys, ‘who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God’ (Hebrews 12:2) and recall that because of that ‘joy set before him’ he could tell Peter to put away his sword when he was arrested, adding, ‘Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?’ (John 18:11). He would take the cup’, and do so thoughtfully and purposefully. We too should view ‘this cup [of] the new covenant in my blood’ (1 Corinthians 11:25) as representing our life-in-Christ, ‘treasure in earthen vessels’, also containing our trials and joys (as in Psalm 116:0). We can hold out to others the cup of our testimony to the Lord’s goodness – both the scary and the exhilarating times.
- ‘Raise the cup’
I have always quoted that line of Psalm 116:13 in the King James’ Version as: I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.’ But it is correctly translated in more recent versions as: ‘I will lift up the cup of salvation.’ That is the action one adopts in making and responding to a toast. In most languages the traditional words to utter are: ‘To your health!’ or ‘To your well-being!’ But my favourite is the Jewish toast: ‘L’Chaim!’ – ‘To life!’ Never does a week go by but on most days I thank the Lord for the certain hope of the resurrection. And his risen life already quickens these mortal bodies of ours. So, ‘Here’s to life-in-Christ!’
A toast is a corporate celebration of life shared by those who do not hide their sorrows and joys, but make them visible to each other in a gesture of hope. Lived alone, life could at times be overwhelming, but Jesus is touched in empathy for our weaknesses and we share one another’s burdens (Hebrews 4:15; Galatians 6:2).
- ‘Drink the cup’
– delighting in ‘the power of [Jesus’] indestructible life’ implanted within us.