Monday, July 31, 2006

The Cup of Salvation

The Cup of Salvation
a meditation by Ed Pacht

"This is My Body," said Our Lord, displaying the bread of that Last Supper before sharing it with His disciples. "This is My Body," repeats the priest at the Christian altar, displaying the bread of the Sacrament before sharing it with the faithful. The meaning is clear, the intent obvious, and so it has been understood by the Church of God for nearly two millennia. The priest, speaking as the living icon of his Lord, indicates by the Lord’s own words that this very bread, now held and pointed at or lifted up before our eyes,. has become the true Body of that same Lord, given once and for all on the Cross of Calvary and here placed into the hands and mouths of mortal men. This is a great and glorious Mystery, and we believe and confess it to be true.

There is a deepening of the Mystery, however, when we come to consider the life-giving and holy drink of His Blood. He took the cup, and, as recorded by SS. Matthew and Mark and quoted in our own Book of Common Prayer, said, "This is My Blood." However, SS Luke and Paul render these words as, "This cup is the New Testament in my Blood," and the Gregorian Canon of the old Latin Mass quotes it as, "This is the cup of My Blood." Even in Matthew and Mark, as also in our liturgy, though the contents are quite obviously meant, and are declared to be His Blood, it is the cup that is being pointed at, and not the contents. Why? Is it merely because the wine is hiding inside the cup? Well, of course there is something in that, but, surely one could indicate that rubrically by saying, ‘he shall take the wine,‘ verbally by not mentioning the container at all, and ceremonially by pointing down into the cup at the contents themselves. Why are we not as consistent in this as we are with the host? The question causes me to look deeper.

The Blood of His dying poured from his tortured Body, the physical life and strength draining from him, soaking into the ground at the whipping-stake, and on the Via Dolorosa. It soaked into the wood of the Cross and yet again into the ground at its foot. His life-blood drained and the life with it. He cried, "It is finished," and gave up the ghost. It was, as the author of Hebrews points out, much like the blood of bulls and goats in the temple sacrifices, whose blood was poured out on the ground and sprinkled upon the holy things as a sign of worship to God and blessing by Him, poured out and forever separated from the sacrificial victim.. But the Sacrifice that wrought our salvation did not stop there. There is more.

When, at Mass, we participate in that one sacrifice once and eternally offered, we eat the Body of Our Lord, and drink His Blood; but we are not drinking the blood of a dead sacrifice. In the Temple that was forbidden, so fervently that Orthodox Jews to this day will not eat meat that still contains blood. They use rock salt to draw the last of the blood from the flesh before they will cook the meat. What, then, does it mean that Christians are asked, yea commanded, to drink His Blood? And what makes the cup so important an element?

The Blood of His Death was, as we have seen, poured out, dispersed, lost in the earth, but it is not the blood of death with which we celebrate. We do not remember a dead God. We worship a living Saviour and King as we celebrate the marriage feast of the Lamb once slain and now living and reigning forever. Our feast is not upon dead things, but upon His living and loving Presence. Then, His Blood was poured out, dispersed, but now, His Blood is contained, contained as in any living creature, in His living Body. And His Body, we are told, is His Church.

The Wine is His Blood, which is no longer poured out, but contained. Oh are we careful that not one drop be lost! It is to be contained, cherished, and free to flow in the living Body that carries His Presence in this earth. "This Cup is my Blood." We drink from the Cup, and the Blood of the Sacrifice courses through our veins, and we walk, filled with His own life, into the world for which He died and rose.

July 29, 2006


Joshua said...

Ed -
Thanks for this post. I, and others in my circle of friends have been wrestleing with our theology of the Eucahrist. Even though you haven't stated your thoughts in the form of propositions, I really appreciate what you've said. Thanks for the meditation.

poetreader said...

Thank you for that. One thing that wears me out is the great effort put into trying to state propositions about the ultimately incomprehensible. We can indeed make a lot of quite accurate observations around the edge of the Mystery,and othodoxy does matter in making those observations, but ultimately, it is mystery, and we can do little more than point at its heart, for there, at its heart is the infinite God, far beyond our powers of inderstanding. Thus, while I do enjoy rational discourse, I think my best theologizing is in my poetry and in semo-poetoc prose like this little meditation.

Thanks again for the kind words. Hey, I'm in Rochester NH, only a couple of hours from Boston. In the scale represented by this blog, that makes us close neighbors.