The Bottom of the Cup
Like a lot of individuals, my background includes growing up in a small church of less than a hundred people. And as is typical with a lot of these size churches, the experience was somewhat more simple and didn’t include much in the way of extras. Metal folding chairs instead of pews, a lawn that could be mowed in under an hour, and those little disposable plastic communion cups. I am forever grateful for the life lessons that I learned in such an environment. There the foundation was laid on which I built my faith and the anchor that holds me to the truth was dropped somewhere way back there in the waters of my youth.
Today I still attend what most would describe as a small church, but it is considerably larger in attendance and the building itself keeps expanding as the church continues to grow. I admit that in this larger setting it can take a bit more effort to find those personal moments of truth we all grow on, but God is forever faithful in producing these in the lives of those who seek them. Sometimes they are subtle. Sometimes He even plants them squarely in front of us where we can’t help but see them. I can testify to His ability to teach me using my eyes to see through His, in order to better understand what forgiveness is.
Our church uses the tried and true method of celebrating communion that many churches use as a reminder of Christ’s saving work on the cross; otherwise known as the Cracker and Grape Juice sacraments; and those afore mentioned little disposable plastic cups. One of the truths I was able to take away from growing up in a Christian home was the reason why our church observes communion. It was made clear to me that it is done regularly as a reminder of what Christ has done for us, and that it is not done in order to gain salvation. This I have managed to hang onto ever since, but it is not always easy to focus on this during communion as I think most people would have to admit. Our church observes communion once every month and it is incorporated into the regular service without taking a lot of time.
I know it’s a weakness for me to admit that I don’t always have success maintaining my thoughts and focus during these times, but it’s the truth. It’s easy for thoughts to drift to the day ahead, or the surroundings, or other thoughts. I know it’s much more personally meaningful to stay on track and really be thankful and humble in spirit at this time, but it doesn’t always turn out that way.
Awhile back as we moved into communion time I knew I was distracted internally so I prayed for a little help in maintaining my focus on forgiveness, as well as hankfulness and a peaceful spirit. But I didn’t immediately feel different or find that I was more aware of what was being said or sung. But I was awake, and I guess you could say that sometimes God works with what is available.
Long ago as a child, when my parents explained to me what communion meant, they encouraged me to start participating. In addition to their words, my mother instilled in me the fear of God making it clear to me that handling those little plastic cups filled with permanently staining liquid was a major responsibility. God forbid if there ever be any kind of “incident” that was my fault, well, it was not likely that I would ever see the Kingdom of Heaven. I understood. I rarely ever misunderstood anything my mother said. Especially when it was backed up by that look my Dad would give me. Sort of an “I get what’s left of you when she’s finished” look. So I was awake with at least adequate coordination when the cups were passed, but ahead and to my left a boy of about 10 years or so must have been thinking about something else. There was no hyper activity or fooling around happening as he sat with his family, but things just happen sometimes. The cup and the juice had a parting of ways and it mostly ended up in his lap with some of it in his hand and the rest on his chair.
After a terrible pause he slowly, and I mean slowly turned his head up to look at his mom. In his face was utter dejection and dread. I could see in his eyes that this young man had been given the same lecture I had received as a child and yet here it was; Judgment Day. There was nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. He sat motionless holding the very evidence in his hand, waiting for the blow to fall. He was guilty. He was convicted. He was dead. And he knew it. In his eyes I saw the resolve to just take the “I told you so” and the subsequent punishment he knew was coming. What else could he do?
There was another very long pause as his mother stared back at him. But instead of an outburst, his mom just gathered up a tissue or paper towel and she began to clean up as much as possible. She was gentle, caring, and spoke not a word. I couldn’t see her face, but I gathered that she was more concerned with solving the immediate problem and putting things back as best as it could be done. She was not interested in finding a weapon to deal out retribution. At least not immediately. In the face of the boy where there was fear and dread, there was now amazement and relief as well as genuine regret at what had happened. He knew he had been given a reprieve.
I was preparing to go back to just being awake when I thought I could sense a voice from somewhere inside asking, “Do you get it?” Suddenly I wasn’t looking at a 10 year old boy with a understanding mother. I was staring right into my own life and seeing me. Here was a sinner with nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Caught with the evidence in my own hand and sitting in a staining puddle of my own sin. I was guilty. I was convicted. I was dead. And I now slowly lifted my head to my Father in heaven who had given me the command to never be found in such a circumstance. I saw my own resolve to take the consequences and stubbornly face the judgment and righteous wrath that I knew was coming. I knew I couldn’t find a way around it. Instead, all I have ever found is mercy. Instead of an angry, violent reaction to my deliberate disobedience, there has always been this loving, forgiving hand more concerned with cleaning up the mess, and getting things back to the way He desires for me to be. When we most deserve to feel the whip for our actions, He is merciful and holds His hand except to give help. As His child I have known grace more than I
have not known it and here in front of me was the illustration that I needed to
better understand God’s forgiveness.
I had my perspective on communion that I was seeking. But often times I am guilty of stopping short of the mark when it comes to what God desires for me to understand, and I needed one more small illustration. I was by this time having a bit of trouble keeping my composure in light of the truth I had just seen, so I maintained a downward glance at the floor as the cups were being picked up and a hymn was being sung. There at the bottom of the cup, magnified by the plastic was my fingerprint. And it was as if God was saying to me, “That is uniquely yours. I made it just for you as your own identity. And I tailor made this forgiveness just for you too. It is as unique as your own fingerprint.”
I pretty much spent the rest of the day regaining and loosing my composure. Beyond this I have been able to take away a better understanding of how I am to deal with my forgiveness of others. Luke 6:37-38 says, “Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
I sincerely think I would prefer this measure of blessing be poured into my lap, than something that stains and brings judgment. I also like Col. 3: 13-14; “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
I think it is in the love of the Father that we find the ability to follow His lead. Even when we don’t think that we can. The light of His love drives away the shadow of our own desires towards others and leaves us with the reality of our own forgiveness which we cannot deny. How do we deny it to others? I truly appreciate the chance to forgive as I have been forgiven, and I also truly appreciate lessons learned from a little throw away plastic cup.