“Cup of the New Covenant”
A sermon from Pastor Jane Jeuland
After Jesus celebrates his last meal with his disciples, Jesus spends much of the night teaching his disciples, prophesying the events that will take place, preparing his disciples for what is to come, and offering words of comfort and prayers for them when they will inevitably experience grief over his death. Later in the night Jesus goes off to pray on his own and several times he finds his disciples asleep. He wakes up his disciples three times asking them to stay with him, remain with him, watch and pray. Then at one point Jesus utters this very human prayer to God, “Father, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet not my will, but your will be done.”
As morning arrives, soldiers set out looking for Jesus. Jesus seems to know where they are and when he will encounter them yet he does not run and hide. Given his prayer that he be spared of this cup, you would think, he would want to avoid this at all costs and hunker down with his disciples in an undisclosed location with guards surrounding him, yet Jesus does not hide. He does not try to run away, instead Jesus moves toward the soldiers. It seems that he now has fully accepted that it is indeed God’s will for him to move forward with all that will take place.
As Jesus encounters the soldiers, he approaches them boldly and asks who they are looking for even though, John is careful to point out, Jesus already he knew they were looking for him. The soldiers say, “Jesus of Nazareth” and Jesus responds, “I am he.” During this interaction with the soldiers, Peter becomes indignant and strikes one of the soldiers ear with his sword. Jesus immediately rebukes Peter and asks, “Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” In other words, he says to Peter, “Do not try to stop this. I am going to drink this cup.”
But what is this cup that Jesus asked God to take from him in the wee hours of the night, and what is this cup that Jesus says was given to him by the Father, the cup he says he must drink even as soldiers come to arrest him?
Old Testament authors often used the cup to signify God’s judgement on those who sinned against God. Psalm 75 depicts God pouring a cup of “wine in judgement” stating that “all the wicked must drink it and drain it to the dregs.” Psalm 11 describes God raining blazing coals on the wicked.” The psalm goes on, “fire, sulfur, and scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.”
Earlier in Jesus’ ministry James and John ask Jesus if they could share in his kingly glory, but Jesus responds, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?”
The cup that Jesus asks God to take from him, the cup Jesus accepts is God’s will for him to drink, the cup that Jesus says he must drink – it is the cup of suffering, it is the cup of God’s judgement, it is the cup that is meant for sinners.
It was not meant for someone who is sinless, yet Jesus moves toward it, willingly drinking this cup that was not meant for him.
Jesus approaches his accusers never resisting arrest, never resisting torture. He walks toward the cross never resisting the humiliation and pain he is subjected to. For three hours he hangs on the cross in agony and then after hours of extreme discomfort and pain he says with the last breaths that he has, “I am thirsty.” When people are dying they often say, “I want to go home” even if they are lying in their own bed at home. We believe they are talking about their home with God in heaven, not the earthly home we think of here.
As Jesus utters these words, “I am thirsty” I wonder if he is saying.. in a way.. take me home. Give me the last drops of this cup of suffering and judgement. Let me drink the last of the cup that I am here to drink.
“I am thirsty. Give me the last of the cup, so that I may die.”
The soldiers offer him bitter, sour wine on the end of stick and as he receives this last cup of wine, this last touch of wine on his lips, he utters these words, “it is finished.”
It is finished. I have drank the bitter cup of judgement to the the last dregs. I have taken on all of yours sins, drank all of God’s judgement, I have taken on all the burden of sin from each and every one of you. I drank all the condemnation. Now it is finished.
Why would Jesus do this?
Why would Jesus willing walk up to the soldiers and hand himself over? Why would he drink this bitter cup of judgement, this sour cup of suffering when he did not want to, when he did not deserve even one drop of it?
He drank this cup of judgment so that we might drink the cup of freedom, he drank this cup of suffering so that we might drink the cup of salvation.
Jesus willingly hands himself over. He lays down his life. He drinks all the shame, all the condemnation so that we might live… so that we might drink of God’s love and mercy and join in everlasting life.
When Jesus willingly hands himself over and lays down his life for us, when he drinks the cup of judgement that we deserve, he establishes for us a new covenant, a new agreement between us and God. No longer are we to drink the cup of shame, no longer are we to drink the cup of condemnation. Now we drink the cup of new life in Christ. We drink the cup of forgiveness. We drink the cup that grants us everlasting life.
In our Eucharistic prayers, we remember Jesus’s words, “Drink this all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink, do this for the remembrance of me.”
The cup of wine that we will share in a few moments, the cup of wine that we celebrate every Sunday is not a cup of sorrow. Jesus does not say to us, “drink this cup all of you, this is my blood of condemnation, which was shed to make you feel ashamed of your sins.” Instead Jesus encourages us to drink this “cup of the new covenant,” which was shed for our forgiveness.
So whenever you drink of this cup, whenever you drain this cup, remember that Jesus already drained this cup of all of its judgement and suffering and have given you in exchange a new covenant, a new cup full of forgiveness, love, and life everlasting.
This is why today is a good, good Friday. Jesus hung on the cross on this day. He drank every last drop of bitter, sour judgment, so that we may now drink the cup of salvation.
So, when you drink the wine today and whenever you drink it, do so in remembrance that Christ consumed the judgement for you and feed on the forgiveness, freedom, and salvation that he has given you in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving. Amen