Who first discovered that rainwater collected in the crease of a leaf or the indentation of a small rock could not only quench an individual’s thirst but, a turning point in human development, be shared with another? A telling and poignant beginning in interpersonal relations, to be sure! And from that lost time, that accident in our development, a simple cup has become one of the world’s most universal and significant religious symbols. From that natural occurrence where humans shared water to the deep mystery of Eucharist, sharing by cup has symbolized nearly every profound human emotion and divine grace.…the cup helps families gathered for the meal of Passover to know and celebrate who they are in Yahweh, the Lord God.
By the time religious history was first recorded, and certainly by the time of the Hebrew Scriptures, the cup had become more than a means of serving bodily needs. It had been invested with an unusually persuasive power to convene tribes, to maintain a sensitivity about community, to cause families to remember their roots, and to celebrate God’s attention to human needs.Think of the Old Testament stories in which the cup plays a dramatic role. The beginning of Genesis 44 sets the scene for Joseph to use his treasured divining cup as a means of reconciliation with the envious and conniving brothers, who had years earlier sold him into Egypt.Familiar also is the cup of happiness which overflows (Ps 23:5). The psalms abound with such references: the cup of bitterness, the shepherd’s cup, the cup of salvation.But central to Jewish family life is the cup which brings blessing! Used four times in the lavish and symbolically rich Seder during the retelling of the Exodus story, the cup helps families gathered for the meal of Passover to know and celebrate who they are in Yahweh, the Lord God.Eucharist is the high point of Christian sharing of the cup.
New Testament usage of the cup is an intense adventure into the dynamics of suffering, compassion, challenge and sacrifice. Once Jesus used the cup to question his followers about their willingness to undergo suffering like his (Mt 20:22). On another occasion, the cup symbolized for Jesus the bitterness he must taste if he would do the Father’s will (Mt 26:39).Eucharist is the high point of Christian sharing of the cup. It is Christ’s blood, a true and real presence making the simplest vessel or the most ornate goblet into a sacramental chalice. Just as Eucharist implies joyous thanksgiving shared within the body of Christ, so the cup becomes a symbol for reconciliation within that body.But what of its ordinary use? How might it serve also in binding together fragmented and pressured families?
Every family strives to strengthen its bonds by mutually sharing’ hopes and fears, joys and sorrows. The blessing cup is a family tradition you can begin in your home to help you toward this goal.
So select a cup, metal, pottery or glass. Keep it in a prominent place to remind you of your mutual hope. Then gather your family for prayer at special times, holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, times of change, growth or loss.
Before beginning your celebration, decide who will lead the prayer and who will read the Scripture. These might be permanent responsibilities. In a growing family it is more likely that roles will become more flexible as the family matures.
Let the filling of the cup be a ceremonious act, even a special privilege, that marks the beginning of a special event. Fill it with your favorite beverage or whatever fits the occasion and the taste of the participants. Then open the prayer with the Sign of the Cross, presenting the significance of the day to the Lord in a few words. Listen together to a brief passage from Scripture that relates to the event you celebrate.
The leader can then announce the response to the petitions and start them with a few prayers formulated in advance. Other family members are then invited to add their own prayers, perhaps a special birthday wish or a particular worry or left free to pray silently for needs that words refuse to hold.
Let the filling of the cup be a ceremonious act, even a special privilege, that marks the beginning of a special event.
When the leader senses that all have had their say, he or she collects the family’s prayers into one, the “collect,” and offers them to the Lord. The unity achieved in prayer is then celebrated by passing the common cup.
A prayer or song lifted in unison, perhaps with hands held around the family circle, seals the individual members as one before the Lord, and the simple ritual is ended.
May your blessing cup be filled to overflowing!