The Fourth Cup

FourthCup

Sermon from Maundy Thursday Service at First United Methodist Church, Sweeny Texas.

10 Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to give Jesus up to them. 11 When they heard it, they were delighted and promised to give him money. So he started looking for an opportunity to turn him in.

12 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was sacrificed, the disciples said to Jesus, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover meal?”

13 He sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city. A man carrying a water jar will meet you. Follow him 14Wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks, “Where is my guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?”’ 15He will show you a large room upstairs already furnished. Prepare for us there.” 16 The disciples left, came into the city, found everything just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

17 That evening, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 During the meal, Jesus said, “I assure you that one of you will betray me—someone eating with me.”

19 Deeply saddened, they asked him, one by one, “It’s not me, is it?”

20 Jesus answered, “It’s one of the Twelve, one who is dipping bread with me into this bowl. 21The Human One goes to his death just as it is written about him. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays the Human One! It would have been better for him if he had never been born.”

22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 I assure you that I won’t drink wine again until that day when I drink it in a new way in God’s kingdom.” 26 After singing songs of praise, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14:10-26, Common English Bible)

Christine Oscar, pastor of St. Mary’s United Methodist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, tells a story of her, at the time, four-year-old niece, Alisha:

One day while babysitting, Christine fixed the children their favorite lunch of burritos and apple juice. As she left the room, she heard four-year-old Alisha begin to celebrate communion with her lunch items. She seemed to have memorized the liturgy really well, except when it came to the cup. Alicia was heard to say, “And Jesus took the cup, and he blessed it, and he gave God thanks for it, and he said, ‘Fill it with Folgers and wake ’em up!'”

            There are four cups of wine in the Jewish Passover liturgy and when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion, tradition holds He was actually using the third cup.

            Late last week I ran across something in my study time that intrigued me. As a result, I have spent a great deal of time looking, reading, researching and studying. Tradition also holds that when Jesus said, I assure you that I won’t drink wine again until that day when I drink it in a new way in God’s kingdom,” Jesus was declining to partake and even to serve the fourth cup. The article I was reading went on to say that Jesus did indeed take the fourth cup, just not in the manner we might expect.

We are going to talk about that four cups but because many here tonight have never participate in a Seder meal, the traditional Passover meal, I think some explanation is in order.

There is a great deal of liturgy and Scripture that is part of the meal. I am not going to attempt to share all that is said and done during the meal. Our primary focus tonight is on the four cups.

These cups of the Seder are based on the promise God made to Israel when He sent Moses to deliver them from Egypt. God said, Therefore, say to the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord. I’ll bring you out from Egyptian forced labor. I’ll rescue you from your slavery to them. I’ll set you free with great power and with momentous events of justice. I’ll take you as my people, and I’ll be your God. You will know that I, the Lord, am your God, who has freed you from Egyptian forced labor. (Exodus 6:6-7)

The first cup is called Sanctification. The liturgy used comes from the first part of verse six (Therefore, say to the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord. I’ll bring you out from Egyptian forced labor.) This cup is served at the beginning of the meal, before any food is actually served. Following this first cup, an appetizer of fresh herbs is served to the participants. The herbs are usually parsley. The symbolize the bitterness of the tears of the Israelites in slavery.

The second cup is the cup of Blessing. The liturgy uses the second part of verse six (I’ll rescue you from your slavery to them). Following this cup, the main course, consisting of the Passover lamb is served. Bread would have been an important element in this part of the dinner. It also made it possible for Jesus to take the bread, break it and give it to his disciples.

If you remember our communion liturgy, we read the words, “After the supper He [Jesus] took the Cup and after giving thanks… The tradition of the Church indicates that Jesus was using the third cup, the Cup of Redemption and is tied to the final portion of verse six (I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and mighty acts of judgment).

Both the serving of the bread and wine were a departure from the traditional Passover Seder. There was also another departure from the Seder meal, the Fourth cup. It is the cup of Acceptance. The liturgy brings verse seven into the picture (I will take you as my people and I will be your God.). Tradition says that when Jesus said “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you,” He was referring to the 3rd cup of the Passover, the Cup of Redemption. By His shed blood, we can be redeemed from our bondage to sin, just as the Israelites were redeemed from their bondage to Egypt. Jesus then said He wouldn’t drink wine again until the Kingdom had come.

            First the host would ask God to sanctify those present. Then there was a cry out for blessing. Third the prayer would be for God to redeem those gathered. And fourth, had it happened, would have the host praying God would accept them and they would accept God. The fourth cup is the cup of acceptance. Only Jesus never said the fourth portion of the liturgy that night. He then said He wouldn’t drink wine again until the Kingdom had come.

            Scholars almost universally agree, that night, neither Jesus nor the disciples took of the fourth cup. In his Gospel, Mark moves from the serving of the third cup and Jesus’ unusual words to singing hymns of praise. Following these hymns, Jesus and the disciples left for the Mount of Olives.

            That brings us to what I stumbled upon last week. Jesus did, according to some scholars, and I was surprised by the number I found believe Jesus’ liturgy of the fourth cup begins in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus has left the disciples and moved on by himself to pray. When many picture the scene, we think of the famous Heinrich Hoffman painting where Jesus is on his knees, arms resting on a rock with a peaceful covering his face. It is a beautiful painting but it really isn’t very biblical. The Scriptures say,” He said to them, ‘I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert.’” Those are not the words of a man who is serene and peaceful.

            The fourth cup begins in those prayers. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible. Take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want.”

            Then he is arrested, put through a sham of a trial, and nailed to a cross. And, it is there the fourth cup becomes complete. Jesus says he thirsts. Someone, using a pole and a sponge soaked in “sour wine.” He said he wouldn’t drink wine again, until the Kingdom had come. He is drinking wine, sour wine, sure, but wine non-the-less. Then he said, “It is finished.”

            Most of my life I have accepted the idea, “It is finished,” to mean God’s redeeming work was now complete. Everything needing to be done was now complete. And, remember, the fourth cup is the cup of acceptance. Jesus was essentially saying, “Passover is over. The need for Passover is no longer. Passover involved blood sacrifices that were no longer needed because the ultimate blood sacrifice came to an end. With that, Passover and the need for it were no longer necessary.

            As Jesus drank the Cup of Acceptance, he was saying to all present and even us now, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” And, as we drink from the Cup of Acceptance, we need to realize we need to accept Him. Without Him there would be no covenant. There would be no need.

Robert Benton’s Academy Award-winning film Places in the Heart … is the story of a young woman, widowed within the first few minutes of the film, struggling against principalities and powers of evil incarnate in everyday life of central Texas during the 1930s. Forces work to take away the only thing her husband has left her and her two small children – a small farm in Texas. Lynching’s, brutality, infidelity, racism, greed, duplicity all of these are woven into the lives of those who make up the tapestry of Benton’s story.

The film ends with a communion service. At first the camera shows you a few of the good folk in town. Next, some of the not-so-good. Then the banker and others who conspired to take away the farm. The camera continues to move with the cups of wine. There is the faithful black farmhand who helped bring in the crop so the widow might pay her mortgage; next to him, the blind boarder. The plate passes to the children, then to their mother. She is seated next to her late husband. As you are trying to take this in, the plate moves to the young man who shot her husband. They commune, and each respond: “the peace of God.” All are gathered at table, to share the bread and cup of salvation. Suddenly this is more than Sunday morning; this is the kingdom, eternity captured in time…

This is not a human point of view. The camera has given us a look at life, the way Jesus said God looks at it. God has done something to enable everyone to come home. The apostle Paul says it this way: “In Christ, God was reconciling us to himself, not counting our trespasses against us…”

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