Drinking from the Cup
I hope the blog entitled "Making the Mystery Real" provided a helpful explanation of the dynamics of the Eucharist and how all of us can participate in a powerful way in the sacrament of Holy Communion. There's another aspect of the Eucharist that I'd like to address now, and that's the meaning behind drinking the Blood of Jesus from the cup.
The "blood covenant" is one of the great themes of the Bible, one that every Christian should know. It's developed in a more comprehensive manner in the Resources section of this website under a document called "The Power of the Blood of Jesus."
After Cain has killed Abel as described in the Book of Genesis, he is confronted by God. When Cain gets defensive, God exclaims: "Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground!" The theme of Abel's blood crying out from the ground so moved Shakespeare that he refers to it in many of his tragedies. It's a clue that God hears that cry and is going to respond to it.
In the Book of Leviticus, God tells Moses that the Israelites are not to consume the blood of any animal, because, He says, "the life of every living creature is in its blood." The idea is that the essence, the identity, of every living creature is captured in its blood. A human would not consume the blood of an animal because that would amount to merging the life of a lower form of creature with a human being.
Back in the early days of Judaism, a "blood covenant" was a recognized method of ritualizing a peace treaty between two warring factions. Each group would have sent one representative forward, each of whom would cut himself and put some of his blood into a single cup. The two representatives would have then drunk from that one cup, symbolizing that from that moment on the lives of the two factions were now completely united.
So when Jesus, at the Last Supper, raised a cup of wine and said that it was his blood, the blood of a new covenant, the apostles would have known that he was offering them the opportunity to unite with His very life. They would have been shocked, but they would have understood the power of what He was doing.
Drinking from the cup of Jesus' blood in the Eucharist gives us the most powerful means possible of uniting our life with the life of Jesus. His identity, the very essence of who He is, is commingled with our own flesh, with our own blood.
There's one more aspect of drinking from the cup that must be understood. When we drink from the cup, it means that we, too, hear the cry of Abel's blood. The cry of Abel's blood is the cry of every person in the world who is starving, abused, falsely imprisoned, aborted and so on. When we drink from the cup, by the power of the grace we receive from being united with the divine life of Jesus, we are committing to hear the cry of Abel's blood in our world and respond to that cry. As Saint John Chrysostom once said, "If we knew the commitment we were supposed to be making when we participate in the Eucharist, our legs would be trembling."
In Chapter 20 of Matthew's gospel, Jesus asks James and John if they can drink from the chalice from which He will drink. Not knowing what He means, they say "Yes." Now that we know what it means, Jesus puts the same question to us. Can we drink from the cup that Jesus offers us? Do we realize the power that is available to us when we receive the Blood of Jesus? And do we accept the responsibility that comes with having access to that power?