“After supper he took the cup...” So says the Eucharistic Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer. Hmm. “After supper?” Did you ever wonder about that? Not “at supper” or “during supper" but "after supper"? And what about “the cup”? Not “a cup” or “his cup.” Perhaps there is something more going on here than meets the eye.
This past Sunday we heard a reading about the prophet Elijah, thought to be the greatest of the prophet. It is the same Elijah who, along with Moses, appears to Jesus at the Transfiguration, an event we celebrate on August 6.
The reading and Father Cato’s sermon reminded me of the association of the phrase “after supper he took the cup” with the prophet Elijah. It has to do with the Passover. If you have ever been to a passover Seder or even heard something about one, you may recall that a cup of wine is on the table for a guest that is not there. It is there for Elijah in the hope that he will someday return.
The language suggests to me that it is this cup that Jesus takes, not just “a cup,” not “his cup,” but “the cup.” And note that He takes it “after dinner.” It is the cup poured for Elijah. In his passover supper with his apostles I think it is the cup of Elijah that Jesus redefines as a representation of the blood he will shed in his coming sacrifice. He commands his apostles to not only drink it but whenever they do so that it be in memory of him. I doubt that Jesus was envisioning the eventual evolution of a Solemn Pontifical High Mass. More likely he is redefining the passover rite that his followers will continue to observe in the Jewish tradition. No longer will it be only in memory of freeing of the Hebrews from slavery and Elijah. Henceforth, Passover will also be in memory of him.
In a way our own communion service is a recollection o a passover meal, and whenever I see the lone chalice on the altar after it is unveiled, I think of the cup of Isaiah and the symbolic use that Jesus makes of it.
Food for further thought perhaps.
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 31-May-2016.