As a father of four, my drinks are constantly being commandeered by a child. No one taught me that this was necessary. It just came with the territory as a parent. We are family. We drink after one another. We do not think twice about it. It is just one of the rhythms of our life together.
In the New Testament, the church of Jesus Christ also embraced such familial rhythms. Each week, Christians gathered to partake of the Lord’s Supper. This supper most likely consisted of a common cup that would be shared and a loaf of bread that would be broken and distributed among the members of the local church. At the moment of drinking the cup, there would be somewhat of an identity crisis. For the ethnic Jew in the church at Ephesus, Paul’s theology of a broken-down wall of hostility was not just theoretical. Every time the cup was passed to them, they had to determine which identity was more important to them: their identity as a Jew that kept them separated from the unclean Gentiles or their identity in Jesus that united them together. The issue was bigger than personal hygiene or disease control. The issue was about identity. Is my identity in Jesus more important than my identity as a Jew?
As we reflect on racial reconciliation in the church, I often wonder how a return to a common cup would either strengthen our bonds as a Christian family or simply expose what we genuinely value regarding our identity. We may denounce a “separate, but equal” mentality, but when we “strategically” shape our worship gatherings to be about appealing to one group’s preferences over another group instead of thinking deeply about Christ’s prerogative of forming our identity around Him, it seems we may be guilty of simply baptizing the “separate but equal” mentality of the Jim Crow era.
In the New Testament, the common cup of the Lord’s Supper did more than simply hold the communion wine. Week after week, as Jews and Gentiles gathered together as the body of Christ, they were confronted afresh with their fundamental identity in Christ. They were no longer Jews or Gentiles that had no association with one another. They were no longer separate but equal. They were joint heirs with Christ, members of the same family, participants in the same body. When an ethnic Jew received the common cup after a Gentile brother, they were declaring to the world that their Jewishness was no longer foundational to their identity. Christ had torn down the dividing walls of hostility.
Whether or not a church returns to the use of a common cup in their corporate worship service is not the point here. This is not chiefly about returning to a common cup. Instead, it is about provoking the church of Jesus to think deeply about what they communicate to the world when something other than union with Christ becomes the ultimate foundation of its corporate gatherings. When a church’s stylistic or social preferences are given more consideration than Christ’s prerogative to demonstrate the power of His gospel to unite people from every kindred, tongue, tribe, nation, and generation in worship, the church is on the verge of abandoning the narrow road and rebuilding a wall that Christ tore down in His own body.
If churches are not careful, they may unwillingly and unknowingly perpetuate this “separate but equal” mentality by strategically gathering or planting churches based on some identity other than the one shared in Jesus Christ. Separate water fountains and bathrooms may no longer be a reality, but clean, safe, and familiar expressions of one’s individual worship preferences in the church of Jesus Christ may be just as much of an obstacle to racial reconciliation in the church as such abhorrent laws were to societal reconciliation in the mid-20th century. New Covenant Christianity is not about our comfort. It is about our communion with Christ and those people for whom His blood was shed. People from every kindred, tongue, tribe, and nation. People who have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. People who drink of the same cup of blessing.