Considering the Wrath of God

I must be feeling better. I’m blogging.

Something I came across a while ago in scripture (because yes, I’m the kind of person who is excited by those sorts of things). In each of the gospel accounts — including John — Jesus makes reference to a cup he must drink when he is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest.

In Mark, it goes like this:

32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:32-36 ESV)

In Matthew, it goes like this:

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:36-39 ESV)

Luke relates it the following way:

39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:39-42 ESV)

Even in the Gospel of John, though the reference to the cup there comes after his arrest, and not before, and after Jesus has a conversation with those who have come to arrest him, something he does not do in synoptic gospels:

7 So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” 9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken:“Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” 10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me.” (John 18:7-11 ESV)

I don’t think this is a small or meaningless reference, not a mere detail for color. This talk of the “cup” — ποτήριον — refers, I think, to something in the Hebrew version of Jeremiah 25, a very powerful reference to judgement.

15 Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. 16 They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.” 17 So I took the cup from the Lord’s hand, and made all the nations to whom the Lord sent me drink it…
[A list of all the nations compelled to drink the cup, beginning with Jerusalem and ending with Babylon.]
27 “Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you. ’ 28 “And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: You must drink! 29 For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the Lord of hosts. (Jeremiah 25:15-17, 27-29 ESV)

And this last bit from the midst of the Lord’s judgement against the nations:

33 “And those pierced by the Lord on that day shall extend from one end of the earth to the other. They shall not be lamented, or gathered, or buried; they shall be dung on the surface of the ground.” (Jeremiah 25:33 ESV)

It seems that Jeremiah 25 in Greek is not the same as Jeremiah 25 in the Hebrew — the Greek appears to lack the text as I’ve quoted (it is most certainly present in the Hebrew). So, I don’t know if the Greek word for cup, ποτήριον, is used at all in this judgment context.

But this is so powerful an image, of a cup, given by the Lord (the God of Israel), to Jeremiah so that the nations may drink of that cup.

It is a cup of judgement, of wrath, of war and violence, of sickness and despair. And it is given to the entire world.

Is this the cup that Jesus struggles with? I think it’s too powerful an allusion to be an accident. But I don’t know what to make of the fact it’s not in the Septuagint. I’m not sure what people might have heard.

I’ve been coming around to the notion that the life — and death, and rising — of Jesus parallels that of Israel. This judgment on Jesus is also the judgment God poured out and will pour out again on faithless Israel. Jeremiah tries to get Judah to accept its fate, and Judah fights. And loses — goes into exile and dies. This cup Jeremiah passes around, this cup of incredibly violent judgement (Babylon is God’s judgment on faithless Israel, but Babylon, in turn, will be judged, will drink that cup and fall), is it the cup that Jesus asks to be passed, and that he finally (at least symbolically) takes to drink?

And does this give us another way to think of communion — not just as a ritual meal of bread and wine, of the actual bodily presence of God in our midst, but of our participation in Christ taking that cup of judgment with him? We tend to think of Jesus as taking the wrath for us (that he dies for our sakes), but if, in being united to Christ in baptism and supper, we participate in his life and resurrection, do we not also become part of his death as well? Do we not die with him? Do we not struggle with death, with “taking the cup,” with judgment and wrath? If this can be said about the communion cup — it is not just fellowship and presence, but also wrath, then can we say that our being united to him makes it possible for us to participate in his taking that cup of wrath with him?

Christians have historically said — he took the wrath so that we don’t have to. But what if what’s happening here is he took the wrath so that we can as well?

Because he who was “pierced by the Lord on that day” and who is unmourned (out of fear?) rose from the tomb. The wrath of God — and I’ve never liked that term, but this passage from Jeremiah makes it possible for me to consider it seriously and positively — is going to be poured out, and the cup must be drunk. Because God is about to work disaster.

The difference is, I think, that with Christ, we rise a new creation after taking that cup. We are not dead. Because he is not dead.

I’m going to have to think about this for a while…

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