Bruce Barnard: A Common Cup*

This month’s post was written by esteemed NazToo member, Bruce Barnard. Bruce is a pastor, adjunct professor, doctoral student at George Fox Seminary, and currently Dean of the Palmer Institute for the Metro New York District Church of the Nazarene. Bruce’s calling is to speak for the disenfranchised, the societal outcasts and those whose lives have been marginalized by mainstream Christianity. He’s a pastor, husband, dad, son, brother, student, and friend to many. Bruce and his wife Amy lead Nazarene church planting in Manhattan and have their own house church. They love the city, their chocolate lab Madison, and all the great eateries in New York City.

I have a coffee cup handed down to me after my grandfather died. It’s a brown ceramic cup with a kind of greenish dripping paint around the rim. It was crafted and fired by someone named Van Briggle whose artist symbol was apparently the outline of a stained glass window. My grandfather’s cup has his name carved into it – “MAC,” all capital letters.

When I was a kid, we moved from Southern California to Oklahoma, and would once a year return to the home of my grandparents. I don’t remember ever seeing my grandfather without this mug in his hand. The smell of what he would have been drinking (likely coffee but never alcohol as he was a tee-totaling Nazarene all his life) is long gone. But the image of it in his hand, and the aroma of the coffee he drank, is still with me to this day. This was his cup, and now it is my cup. This is a cup of remembrance.

To those of us who follow Christ, we remember another cup. It was Passover. Jesus knew the importance of the literal cup he would share with his disciples, and he knew the symbol of the cup would be forever tied to the sacrifice he was about to shed for them (and us). And he did this over a meal at the dinner table.

Jesus instructed his disciples to prepare for the meal by locating a host who would lead them to an upper room of a home. To find this host, and then the sacred space, the disciples “only” had to locate a man carrying a jar of water among the largest gathering of Jews the city of Jerusalem had seen. A predetermined sign of a man performing what was [then] a woman’s task was enough to stand out to Peter and John. The room was secured, a kataluma, much like the one this same Christ came into the world in as a baby, and the meal prepared.

This Passover meal for these disciples, the last in the company of their Rabbi, ushered in what would be dark days. The Passover lambs were slaughtered before dark, and now Jesus and his disciples were gathering as the meal began. Darkness surrounded them, even in the soul of one sitting at the table.

Jesus prefaces the meal with a foreshadowing of the days ahead, a semiotic moment they all missed (likely because their eyes and ears were blocked by thoughts of food). He then took a cup of wine, prayed for it giving thanks to His Father, and told his disciples to share it; for Jesus, he would have no more.

Then a breaking of bread, another symbol of the moment ahead – “This is my body, which is given for you.” His friends had no idea what this meant, but the taking, blessing, and breaking were things they were accustomed to. This seemed like any other dinner party they had been to with Jesus – bread, wine, fellowship, laughter, joy.

After dinner, Jesus returned to the cup – “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.” – and another foreshadowing moment the disciples missed because they had “greater” things to discuss.

Scholars have long deconstructed the theological implications of this moment and these symbols – bread and a cup. And no blog would do justice in just a few words to those debates. However, it seems to me that Jesus was, as Dr. Rob Staples suggested, taking the mundane and making it holy. If I were to rephrase that (a daring task I know!), I would suggest Jesus was taking a common table item and making it even more common.

This cup had to be common and common. There could be nothing physically attractive about this cup; it could not be the cup of a king, prince, or politician. It also had to be common (figuratively) in the sense that if it is for one, it is for anyone and everyone. Jesus took what was lying around a Seder meal and turned it into a symbol that would stand out and stand up for thousands of years.

As I think about those that come to NazToo to engage in dialogue and conversation, I find great solace in that WE ARE FOR EVERYONE and ANYONE. You might even say we are COMMON and COMMON. We don’t try to have all the answers, and never the only answer. What happens here is this interchange of ideas, of hopes, of dreams, of passions.

NazToo is a place for the marginalized to come; it’s a place for the “odd one out” to get picked for a team; it’s a place for the hurting to find healing, the hungry to be fed, and the thirsty to find drink (and yes, some Nazarenes in here drink). It’s also a place for those on a journey to seek out the Master Teacher in new, fresh, deep ways, and to do so without judgment and condemnation.

Everyone who comes here leaves a piece of themselves, and those pieces now make up parts of my journey. I would not be the pastor, elder, husband, dad, human being I am without those of you in this group and those reading this. You have shared your cup of life with me, and I with you. Together we have gathered around a social media table, and in doing so prove once again His Table is for everyone. It’s the cup from which we drink.

The cup Christ offered his disciples is the same cup He offers us. May we drink from it, may we saturate our soul with its life-giving joy, may we join this new covenant with Him, may we never forget. And may it be so each time you and I arrive here.

(*adapted for NazToo from the book, “From the Garden to the Garden City,” a story lectionary being released this summer in collaboration with Leonard Sweet, David McDonald, and doctoral cohort members from “Preaching Through Story” at George Fox Seminary)