The Cup of the Master

Trinitarian Congregational Church – World Communion Sunday

Anthony S. Kill

October 1, 2017

Texts: Philippians 2:1-11; Matthew 20:20-28


Today is World Communion Sunday.

In every country on earth, Christians join together in spirit at the Lord’s table, each in our own churches and following our own rituals, but by intention becoming part of a congregation of many millions.

The thought behind World Communion Sunday is that the barriers between the nations are most effectively brought down as all people everywhere come into communion with one Lord, to eat at one symbolic table.

As  we unite in spirit in this great corporate act of  worship, we demonstrate to ourselves and to the world the oneness of humankind under God.

I love the image of people from all cultures and costumes and customs sitting together at one table, breaking and passing bread and sharing the common cup, celebrating our unity.

This is a radical witness.

In a time when so many are so quick to distrust foreigners, despise immigrants, exploit the divide between races, and dismiss as inferior those “others” whose culture and customs are different from ours, we hold a worship service that celebrates our unity as children of God,       symbolically sitting down at a common table and breaking bread together with all of them.

It is truly a counter-cultural thing to do.

But today’s two scripture readings made me pause to think again about this image.

What is the cup that we are passing around this world-wide Communion table?

Is it just a cup of joy, a cup of peace, a cup of companionship and welcome, a cup of refreshment?

That certainly is the cup that we come to church looking for, isn’t it?

We come to drink from the stream of living water, and have our souls refreshed; We come to partake in the communion of this community of love, and have our hearts renewed.

Perhaps we even come to raise a cup of thanksgiving, for all the blessings and graces we have received.

But there is also another cup at this table, is there a cup of struggle as well, a cup of suffering, a cup of service,  a cup of sorrow.

Jesus seems to be suggesting that to James and John, the sons of Zebedee, in today’s Gospel.  “Can you drink this cup that I am about to drink?” And he certainly saw that cup clearly later, in the evening of his last supper, when he held up the cup and said “this holds my blood” and still later in the garden, when he knelt and sweat blood as he prayed “Father, remove this cup from me, if you can – yet not my will, but thine be done.”

And in the Philippians passage, Paul encourages us to drink from that cup of selfless service as well, to be imitators of Christ in the outpouring of his life and his love for others.

A few verses later, in the third chapter of Philippians, Paul writes, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

World Communion Sunday is a statement that we are not only kindred to all the world’s Christians, and the world-wide church.

It is a statement that we are kindred to all the people of the world – all of God’s children in whatever situation.

We are in kindred communion with the people of Puerto Rico, reeling from the great devastation of hurricane Maria; and the people of the Caribbean and Florida, and the people of Houston.

We are in kindred communion with the immigrants who were suddenly separated from their families and uprooted for deportation this week, and the thousands more immigrants who live in constant fear of deportation.

We are in kindred communion with the Rohingya refugees dying daily as they flee persecution in Myanmar, and the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing oppression and warfare around the world.

We share the bitter cup of their struggle and sickness and terror and yearning. That is what “being in Communion with them” means.

And this isn’t just about a far-flung world of people and places we only read or hear about.

Someone right here may need to ask us to share their cup with them today; or they may need us to share our cup of suffering with them.

This is a great spiritual challenge, and a great spiritual discipline.

To feel the pain and suffering of people who may at first seem far different and alien from us, and know that it is a grace from God,              and a gift to God, to be able to do that.

Anyone can lift a toast and share a cup of joy.

But it takes great love and devotion and empathy  to share a cup of  tragedy or heartache together.

Can you drink the cup that Jesus drinks?  That Jesus offers us to drink?

Is your love and devotion great enough?

The world is parched with thirst.

Thirst for a cup of healing that can satisfy a hunger and slake a thirst even deeper and more desperate than the body’s hunger and thirst for nourishment.

It is the hunger for understanding; the thirst for justice, the yearning for compassion and acceptance, for mercy and for grace.

When the cup is passed to you today, do more than remember the One who first blessed it and shared it with you.

Remember the ones with whom you share it — all of the ones with whom you share it.

Drink of their cup too, and share the bread of their lives, even as you offer them yours.

This is the meal of our communion—our common union— with every one that God would call to the table of life.

Celebrating One World in Communion is one way  that we give witness to God’s vision for the world.

We bear witness to how God wants the world to be, how we want to receive and treat and serve the other,  and how we want to be received and treated by each other.

The church in every generation is to hold before the world Jesus’ vision of what the human race really looks like, a God’s eye view of the earth and its destiny.

This is Jesus’ house, and Jesus’ meal table, — the One who loved to gather with the alienated and the marginalized and the outsiders for supper.

The church is to be that banquet table where there are no separating barriers, no unknown languages, no passports or border crossings,        no entrance requirements or financial means test or demand of unfailing virtue, no dividing lines of color or class or ethnicity or income or education, no “alien” peoples or cultures or lifestyles.

For the true church, there are only fellow children of God, only kinfolk and family, fellow sinners and fellow forgivers,  all needing to hear and share the good news of God’s free grace.