Who among us, baptized as infants, has not longed for an adult sacrament in which we can proclaim our commitment to Jesus? Especially on days like today, when we celebrate Jesus’ baptism, we’d like to respond in a formal, mature way to the call he extends to each of his followers.
Yet those who understand the biblical account of the Lord’s Supper know there’s no need to create a sacrament. We already have an outward sign, instituted by Christ, in which we can say, “Yes!” or “No!” to a call to become another Christ. We do exactly that when we step forward to receive from the Eucharistic cup.
John Meier singles out Jesus’ words over the cup in the earliest account of the Last Supper we possess: I Corinthians 11. “This is the cup of the covenant in my blood.” Fr. Meier contends that Jesus, knowing his death is imminent, is worried that the vision which drove his public ministry would come to an end at 3:00 o’clock the next afternoon. During his last meal with his closest friends, Jesus looks for some assurance they’ll carry on the work that was bringing about his death. The outward sign they were willing to do so was their drinking from his cup; the cup that symbolized the unique covenant he had made with Yahweh at his baptism, the agreement he would soon seal with his blood.
Presuming Meier is correct; every time we stand up and receive from the Eucharistic cup we’re experiencing the equivalent of an “adult baptism.” We’re publicly stating our commitment to carry on the work of Jesus.
As a good Jew, Jesus had entered into the covenant every Jew makes with Yahweh, both the “pre-law” contract in Genesis 16 and the Sinai agreement in Exodus. Yet, from the gospels, it’s clear that he also entered into his own personal relationship with Yahweh.
More than five hundred years before Jesus’ last meal, Deutero-Isaiah insisted that every commitment, every covenant with God is unique, he’s certain, for instance, that Yahweh called him to prophetic ministry, but he’s also certain he’s different from his prophetic predecessors. He’s extremely low-key: “not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street.” He’s never to crush people with his divine proclamations: “A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench.” And his ministry is to reach far beyond the exiled Israelites to whom he’s originally sent: “He shall bring forth justice to the nations (Gentiles) . . . the coastlands (Gentiles) will wait for his teaching.”
Luke, the author of Acts, knows that those carrying on the ministry of Jesus will, like Deutero-Isaiah, have to start pushing the boundaries of their “security zone.” Just as the prophet believed his words would eventually reach beyond Judaism, Peter realizes the eventual is now. That’s why, in today’s passage, he states a major theme of Luke’s two volume work: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” On Easter Sunday night we presume none of the disciples who drank from Jesus’ cup three nights earlier realized this specific implication of his or her action.
If Jesus’ baptism weren’t significant, the first three evangelists would have omitted it from their narratives - as John did. At the time the gospels were composed, the Baptist’s followers were still active, claiming John, not Jesus, was the Messiah. Since superiors normally baptize inferiors, they argued John was superior to Jesus. (This seems to be why Matthew has the two discuss who should baptize whom.) Yet in spite of such misunderstandings, 3 of 4 writers still included the event. They couldn’t narrate Jesus stories without letting us know about the importance of his commitment to Yahweh and its consequences.
Knowing this, what excuse could any Christian give for passing on the Eucharistic cup?