"You have fed them with the bead of tears,and given them tears to drink in full measure." - Psalm 80:5
To hear some of us clergy talk, you'd think it must have been fun to be at the Last Supper. We just pile up so many nice-sounding words—community, blessing, heaven, love, unity, good, forgiveness, everyone, welcome, life—and say it all with such wide smiles and open countenances. Then we go and serve it with grape juice and delicious bread. It's no wonder some people seem to think it was a birthday party.
It's easy to miss all the other words in there: betrayal, desertion, break, blood, death, sins, not-again-until. The Psalmist would have heard them, though. He knows that the bread tastes like ashes, that the cup of blessing—at least sometimes—tastes bitter as tears, not sweet as a concord grape. Maybe if he were to hear us tell the story as what it is—the story of a gathering the night before the end of the world—maybe that would make it that much sweeter to his sufferer's soul when he comes to believe that it's not the end after all.
Maybe that's true of the lady two rows back on the right, too. Maybe once in a while—not every time, mind you, but once in a while—the bread should be flat and stale and covered with dry flour like ashes. Maybe the cup should contain bitter red wine vinegar, or grape juice watered down with salt water like tears. Maybe once in a while we clergy should tell the story as if our hearts were breaking as we tell it. Maybe if we do that, it'll be that much sweeter to the suffering soul in the second row on the right when she comes to believe that it's not the end after all.
Oh God, save us from cheap rejoicing. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is the Pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, Syracuse, New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.