The two brothers James and John, sons of Zebedee, were ambitious. They were sure that Jesus was going to lead an uprising, oust the Romans and rule over Israel. And they wanted to be in on it. They wanted to make sure that when Jesus came to power they would too.
And Jesus responded to them in his normal cryptic fashion talking about drinking cups and being baptized. Jesus also used the metaphor of a cup in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed that this cup pass from him. That helps us to understanding more of what he may have meant.
In his little book, Can You Drink This Cup? Henri Nouwen, A Catholic priest, explored Jesus’ metaphor of the cup in more depth. For Nouwen, drinking the cup was not just about accepting suffering but about drinking everything that your life brings you. Each one of us has a mixed life – there are times of great blessing and there are times of suffering and limitation, and often they are simultaneous. Blessing and suffering. We don’t get to choose many of the circumstances of our lives but we can choose how we respond to them.
As we take, hold and drink the cup of life that God has given us we can drink it with abandon and joy or we can sip at it, resisting every taste. Nouwen challenges us to drink the cup to its very dregs, savoring it, both the blessings and the pain. This is what it means to be fully alive, to allow ourselves to experience everything that God brings us. Not to resist the moving of the Holy Spirit, not to resist the openings that come but to let go and trust that God will see us through. It takes courage to drink the cup we are given and many of us hang back fearfully.
Drinking it will mean making difficult choices, perhaps living with times of uncertainty when you don’t know what the future holds and there are seem to be few options, none of them good. Drinking it will demand that you say no to yourself in order to make choices which are more life filled and loving than your small ego wants to make.
Each one of us is given a different life, and the cup you are given to drink is different from the one I am given to drink. As someone who loves to eat, drinking life to its full might seem to mean eating at all the best restaurants, frequently. But as some of you know, I am currently choosing to eat a restricted diet for health reasons. I’m glad to say I’m seeing some good results, but it’s calling on resources of self-discipline and will- power that I didn’t know I had. This for me is drinking my cup. My cup includes the challenges of a hereditary predisposition to diabetes and high blood pressure. Drinking my cup to the full means accepting those limitations because they are part of my cup, and finding the most life-giving and healthy ways to deal with them.
So drinking the cup of life does not mean we say ‘Yes’ to everything. It does not mean that we say yes to unhealthy behaviors and addictions or to nurturing resentments and anger. As disciples of Christ we get to drink a cup which is bigger than just our little personal one; we get to participate in the cup of Christ. That is a huge calling and a huge privilege. As members of Christ’s body we are called to join with him in his work of redemption and in his sacrifice. This is part of the mystery of our Eucharistic sharing – as we share the bread and the wine together we are symbolically participating in Christ’s body and his life blood. Then, as we live our lives Monday through Saturday, living them in the awareness that we are participating in God’s mission, that we are called in every moment to be living the realities of our baptism, as we do that we are participating in the unfolding of the redemption of the world.
This morning we are celebrating a baptism. We are welcoming Bryson into the Church as a full member of the Body. Jesus asked James and John, “Are you able to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They should probably have answered ‘No”, because they had no idea what they were getting into and perhaps that should be our advice to Bryson this morning - consider saying “No”.
When we baptize Bryson we are not just welcoming her into a social club or a nice faith community. We are initiating her. We are celebrating an ancient sacrament, a rite which has been used by the church for two thousand years to initiate people into the sacred mysteries. In baptism we are each joined with Christ in his death and resurrection. We are translated from the reign of this world into the reign of God. We are made new people and we spend the rest of our lives working that out and realizing it as we continue to participate in God’s mission.
The 1979 Prayer Book provided us with a new liturgy of baptism, one based on the understanding is that the Church is not made of deacons, priests and bishops but of all the baptized. It is as solemn an undertaking to be baptized into the lay order as it is to be ordained into the diaconate or priesthood. And so we have a baptismal covenant, which acknowledges the role that each one of us is called to play in God’s mission as we work for the reconciliation and redemption of the world. In a few moments Bryson will be committing herself to that covenant and it is an opportunity for all of us to remind ourselves of our own baptismal vows and the realities of our own baptism.
This is our participation in the baptism and the cup of Christ. In our baptism we are marked as Christ’s own for ever and called to be active participants in God’s mission. We are given the ability to drink the cup of our lives to the full, not drinking alone, but always drinking together with the Christ who has called us and who is faithful. We become fully a part of something so much bigger than we are.
May God always give us the grace to live into this reality.