Concise Lexicon of Christianity

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Should we use a common cup for Communion?

In the same way, after the supper [Jesus] took the cup, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
—Luke 22:20, NIV

The full question is: Is it more biblical to use a common cup for Communion, or can each person have their own tiny little Communion cup?

Suppose I wrote to you and said that it was late, so we took the car. Does that mean we only had one car among us, or that we took the car rather than the bus?

The Bible says that Jesus took the cup, but that doesn’t necessarily imply that there was only one cup from which they all drank. Is the gospel writer saying, He took the cup, the one we all drank from, or is he saying, He took the cup that was in front of Him. If it were me, I would have taken the pitcher. The definite article is used differently in Greek and may not be significant at all.

So the text allows us to suppose two scenarios: one, that He took a cup and passed it around, or two that He raised His own cup and blessed the wine that they all had in their individual cups. On the one hand, it was a Passover feast, and there is no evidence that there was a common cup at a Passover feast in those days. On the other hand, Jesus gave the Passover wine a new meaning, by making it the blood that was shed by the sacrifice, namely Himself. So maybe sharing a common cup was more congruent to His meaning. Since the text doesn’t insist that it was one way or the other, I think that both scenarios are equally likely. I also think that the gospel writer would consider the detail an unnecessary nicety in view of the gravity of the occasion.

Of course, the text does say that they were reclined at the table:

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.
—Luke 22:14-16, NIV

Today, we surround a dining room table with chairs. In those days, they used couches, each one sloped so that a person would be reclined with the top of the body higher.

Is it important to get the number of cups right? If it is, then we are in serious trouble. I don’t know of a church that has a Communion table large enough for the entire congregation to be reclined at it at the same time, nor do they have the appropriate furniture for reclining at tables. If we are picky about the number of cups, then we should also make sure we are all reclining around the same table, on Roman-style couches, and that we only have Communion at the end of a communal meal. Just having the right number of cups wouldn’t be enough for an accurate historical reenactment.

I take comfort in the fact that Jesus said, do this in remembrance of me, and not, do this, but remember the crockery.