Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Cup of Christ

"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

In the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Christ at his most human. He falls to his face in prayer, his heart is overcome with a myriad of emotions. Fear, dread, sorrow, and uncertainty swirl within him. In just a few moments he is to be arrested, and tortured, beaten and mocked and ultimately, nailed to a Roman cross to die after six long and painful hours in the hot sun.

Here, in the cool of the Garden, Jesus asks his father, if it is possible, for another way to proceed. Had there been another way, I am confident that God could have found it. If there had been a way to spare His Son this suffering and torture, this humiliation and intense pain, I know that a way would have been made.

The fact that no other option was available is telling. There was no other way. And, in fact, Jesus is confirming this in his prayer. There really is no other way, and so he submits himself to the violence that is about to overcome him.

The cup remains. He knows that he must drink from it on our behalf because there is really no other way to accomplish the task at hand.

At the final passover supper that Jesus celebrated with his disciples, mere moments before this prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus made a promise to his disciples. At the end of the meal, after he had taken the cup of wine he said, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of thecovenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom." (Matthew 26:27-29)

Here he promises them that he will not taste the fruit of the vine until the day comes when we are all able to sit as guests in His Father's house and share a glorious celebration meal at the marriage feast of the Lamb.

Hours later, in the Garden, he is on his face, asking with anguish if there is another way for things to be accomplished, using again this image of the cup from which he must drink; the cup of the Lord's wrath which will soon be poured out upon himself for the sins of all men. Your sins. My sins. Every sin.

On the hill called Golgotha, straining for every breath, his body flooded with pain against the nails which have pierced his hands and feet, Jesus is offered wine vinegar, mixed with gall. This concoction was a drug intended to ease his suffering. He only has to suck the gall mixed with wine from the sponge which is lifted up to his mouth and swallow deeply to quench his thirst and anesthetize his physical agony.

Yet, as the drug touches his lips, Jesus refuses this, remembering his promise to his disciples not to drink again from the fruit of the vine until it finds fulfillment in the Kingdom of God. Now, when his pain is at its greatest, he refuses the cup that would remove him from his suffering and drinks deep from the cup that was offered to him in the Garden the night before. He has made his choice. He has fully submitted himself to the will of his Father, fulfilling his promise to his friends, and his prayer to God, "Not my will, but thine be done."

I am thankful that Jesus accepted the cup that was before him that night in Gethsemane. I am thankful that he refused the cup of gall that would have given him an escape from his pain and suffering. I'm thankful that Jesus chose instead to honor his promise to his disciples, so that one day, I might raise my glass alongside them, and toast the One who gave himself for us all that day. I look forward to that drink, and I will be watching the face of Jesus closely as he tastes this good wine, for the first time in over 2,000 years, at yet another supper which I know he has also "eagerly desired to share" with us.

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