October 17, 2021
“James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him,
‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’
He replied, ‘What do you wish me to do for you?’
They answered him, ‘Grant that in your glory
we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.’
Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking.
Can you drink the cup that I drink
or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’
They said to him, ‘We can.’
Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink, you will drink,
and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized…’”
James and John had no idea what they were asking of Jesus. (I wonder of the many prayers I pray, how many of them I am clueless about what I am truly asking). I admire their boldness when asked if they can drink from the same cup and be baptized with the same baptism as Jesus. “We can,” they said. In this context, the cup is the cup of suffering and the baptism is death upon the cross. About the cup of suffering, Jesus himself would pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.” It is interesting that Jesus chose to take James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who fall asleep along with Peter, when he goes to pray. In Mark’s Gospel, the only words Jesus speaks upon the cross are right before he breathes his last. “And at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which is translated, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” After he dies, he is taken down from the cross and laid in a tomb. Indeed, the cup of suffering and the baptism of death are steep conditions for glory.
On the other hand, perhaps suffering and death are not all that remarkable of conditions. Who of us has not experienced suffering or which of us will escape death? In various ways, it is part of the human condition to suffer and the lot for all to die. No, the remarkable thing is that God himself suffered and died. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, our Lord Jesus Christ “came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried.” Jesus suffered and died for us. In this cup and this baptism, God entered fully into our own suffering and our own death. We are not abandoned or alone to drink from that cup or be baptized with that baptism. God is with us. He dwells with his people. He heard our cry and has made his home with us. Jesus drank from the cup of suffering and descended from the cross into the waters of the tomb. Moses sang, “Who is like you among the gods, O LORD?” Indeed.
Isaiah writes of the suffering servant, “If he gives his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him.” It is Jesus who fulfills the will of the Father. God raised him from the dead. Suffering and death are not the end. In Christ, the cup of suffering becomes a cup of blessing, which is our communion. The baptism of death promises eternal life even as the grave claims our mortal bodies. Paul writes, “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” If we are suffering, if we are facing death, we are not alone! Like Jesus and because of Jesus, we too will live.