Bittersweet – Dr Karen Walker
The 23rd psalm uses a wonderfully rich image of a cup that is filled to overflowing. The psalmist experiences such an abundance from God that is simply beyond their finite capacity and the blessings bubble over. The psalmist wrote ‘my cup overflows’ – it is a delightful picture of abundance, and of plenty and being located within the body of the 23rd psalm it is also one of peace and rest.
The image of the cup is scattered throughout our Bible and does not always have such a positive tone.
The psalmist (75:8) wrote “in the hand of the Lord is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices. He pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs.” With the red wine representing the blood, the spices the wicked actions of people and ‘very dregs’ referring to the cup being fully emptied – what a powerful image is found in this psalm of praise. The judgement of God on the wicked is bitter, it has to be fully tasted and consumed. This is such a contrast to Psalm 23 with its image of abundance, generosity and grace overflowing.
In the story of Joseph there are two cups. In Genesis 40 a cup of was part of the dream of the Pharoah’s cupbearer which Joseph was able to interpret. As a result of the pharoah’s servant’s experience in the prison he recommended Joseph to pharaoh in order that his dreams could be interpreted. These events resulted in Joseph being restored to pharoah’s court in a senior role. Later in the narrative we encounter the cup of trickery (Joseph’s silver cup was planted in the bag of the youngest brother’s bag after his brothers came to Egypt seeking food). Great fear and consternation was experienced by his brothers as they experienced total powerlessness in the presence of such power and abundance. The ultimate outcome of the cup of trickery was the reconciliation of Joseph with his brothers and his father, and the saving of his extended family during a time of harsh famine and drought. Here we see a cup as a tool used by God in the cupbearer’s dream and later used by Joseph as a means of effecting reconciliation and peace with his brothers.
When Jesus spoke about the cup it was of bitterness and despair –and his friends couldn’t take it from him because he needed to drink from its bitterest depths.
When I hold the cup at communion I remember these images, I am touched by their witness to the holiness of God and the faithfulness of Jesus. I remember the reconciliation of Joseph with his family and the bitterness of Israel living under the judgement of God. Such a simple object, the cup, with such potent images associated with it.