Holding the Cup: An Easter Meditation for Friday

This Easter weekend I am choosing to draw closer to the cross by way of Henri Nouwen’s little classic, “Can You Drink The Cup?”

You may recall that as Jesus’ life was ebbing away, the mother of James and John came to Jesus and asked for her two sons to be given positions of honor and authority in his coming kingdom (Matthew 20:20-23).  In response, Jesus asked her sons the question that became the title of Nouwen’s book.  They boldly but unwittingly declare that they can.  Then Jesus confirms that they are actually right; they too will have to drink the cup or, as Nouwen unpacks Jesus’ cup image, live the kind of sacrificial life Jesus is living.  Nouwen structures his book around the three actions one must do to truly become like Christ in this way: holding, lifting and drinking the cup.

As one might drink a cup of fine wine, one does not gulp it down.  One holds the cup and reflects on its substance.  One determines what this cup truly holds.  What vintage, scents, and undertones.  It is this assessment that makes the drink all the more fulfilling.

Holding the cup of life means looking critically at what we are living. . . . Without looking at life critically we lose our vision and our direction.  When we drink the cup without holding it first, we may simply get drunk and wander around aimlessly. (p.27)

Jesus resolutely held his cup on the night before his death.  He held the cup of God’s wrath, almost slumping under the weight of it, struggling with whether to drink this bitter draught.  He saw the cup for what it was: a cup of sorrow.

My soul is sorrowful to the point of death. (Matthew 26:38)

Yet Jesus was also able to see that the very same cup of sorrow could become a cup of joy.  He would become a “man of sorrow” for a time but in order to truly become a “man of joy.”  In crucifixion Jesus was able to “draw all people to [him]self” (John 12:32).  A “kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies” but in so doing that one seed “produces many seeds” (John 12:24).

The “cup of sorrows” and the “cup on joys” cannot be separated. (p.49)

James and John would go on to drink the same cup of sorrow and joy.  Their lives would also be marked by sacrifice and suffering.  They too would “enter glory” only after suffering (Luke 24:26).  The same is true of us, if we are willing to hold the cup.  We will see it for what it is — a cup of sorrow followed by joy.  Such is our lot, as we follow the Crucified One.

Joys are hidden in sorrows. (p. 50)