To pretend that our histories are absolute or inerrant is a mistake, but to ignore the power of our fallible traditions to inform, enrich, criticize, and transform the present is a grave mistake, too. In fact, we are historically formed. . . .
To live today - knowledgeably, reflectively, self-critically - bringing into our time the redemptive resources of biblical reflection and practice
is to be a progressive Christian.
~Delwin Brown

Communion and Covenant

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The word is part of the liturgy, but it seems we blow by it every time.  What word am I thinking of?  COVENANT.

But, you may be asking, what does Communion have to do with covenant?  Isn’t that just a symbolic meal to replenish our souls?

Have you ever noticed that the cup we share is the “cup of the COVENANT?”  A covenant assumes that each party has an obligation, so what is our obligation in Holy Communion?

Some will answer “forgiveness” since our Communion liturgy says the cup is “for the forgiveness of sins.” Interestingly, only Matthew’s gospel says that the cup is “for the forgiveness of sins” (see Matthew 26:26-29 and compare 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Mark 14:22-25, and Luke 22:14-20).  Since Jesus commands us to forgive in Matthew 6:14-15, that is surely part of it, but what is our obligation inherent in the other passages where forgiveness is not spoken of?

Mark gives us the clearest answer, I believe.  There are only three other passages in that gospel that use the term “cup,” the latter two most important to our discussion here:

  • Mark 9:41 where Jesus says those who share a cup of water with us, who bear the name of Christ, will be rewarded;
  • Mark 10:38-39 where Jesus asks James and John if they are able to drink the cup Jesus is to drink, which Jesus says they will do; and
  • Mark 14:36 in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus asks God to remove the cup from him.

What is the cup?  It is the cup of discipleship, of commitment to the teachings and example of Jesus Christ who was willing to drink “the cup.”  When we accept the “cup of the covenant” in Communion, we are obligating ourselves to living out the instruction and commitments of our ultimate teacher as Christians – Jesus.

God provides our abilities and inspiration – even our forgiveness – to be free to serve God and others.  In Holy Communion, we are vowing to uphold our end of the covenant by taking up our cross to serve within and outside of the church where we have received the sacrament. Let us serve together.

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