Can You Drink the Cup?

As I looked at the calendar this morning, I had to stop and get my breath: Lent is three weeks away.

Oh me.

There is a piece of scripture that has always haunted me: Matthew 20:20-23.

20Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons. She bowed down in front of him to ask him for a favor. 21He asked her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Promise that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22Jesus replied, “You don’t realize what you’re asking. Can you drink from the cup that I’m going to drink from?” They told him, “We can.” 23He said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup. But it’s not up to me to grant you a seat at my right hand or at my left. These positions have already been prepared for others by my Father.”

Can I drink the cup? Some days I think I can. Other days, I know that I can’t – or won’t. But that’s when I see the cup as a cup of sorrow. What about the cup of blessing?

Henri Nouwen was one of my favorite writers, and his book Can You Drink the Cup? is one of his best. He talks about how offering someone a drink in our society is a method of hospitality: someone comes to our home, and we offer them a cup of coffee, a glass of tea, water, wine, coke – whatever. And when we lift our cups together, are we not affirming life together? What about the tradition of the toast at a party or wedding? Even the different languages of toasts affirm life: in Latin we say ”Prosit” (be well); in German, ”Zum Wohl” (to your well being), in English, “Cheers” or “Here, Here!”; in Italian, ”Alla tua salute” (to your health), in Hebrew, ”L’chaim” (to life)… you get the idea.

Perhaps when we lift the cup, we lift it up to life: affirm it, celebrate it. To quote Nouwen: “Celebrate it as a gift from God.”

At the same time, community life is not easy, but if we’re honest with each other we don’t hide our joys or sorrows – we share them, and we offer them in the context of hope. “To life” we should toast when we lift our cup. Again, to quote Nouwen:

When we lift our cup of our life and share with one another our sufferings and joys in mutual vulnerability, the new covenant can become visible among us. The surprise of it all is that it is often the least among us who reveal to us that our cup is a cup of blessings.

Jesus is among the least of us – the living Christ among us. A cup of blessing indeed.

Maybe Lent isn't such a downer after all...