There is an old proverb that says there is “many a slip between the cup and the lip.” Before I tell you why that is relevant to this little story, let me give a bit of background.
This is an ancient proverb that means that when there is a sufficient time gap between two events, almost anything can happen so that things may change suddenly. It follows that we can’t be sure of success until the event is really over.
Last Sunday I was asked by our pastor to participate in the Sunday morning service. It is a church where various members participate—young and old—so I was not surprised that I was called upon to help. I have done so before on a few occasions. So I had the cup, so to speak, and I needed to get it to the lip.
My job was twofold: first, I was to give the Scripture reading from 1 Corinthians 8 and secondly and later I was to assist in serving communion.
Ours is a quiet church: no band up front, no overheads, no announcements—just follow along in the church bulletin: interact with the rest of the congregation by reading the bold print of the litergy, participate in the unison prayer, mediate when advised in the bulletin, listen to the children’s “sermon,” sing a couple of songs with the congregation, listen to the choral group (but no applause), pass the collection plate, and stay awake during the pastor’s sermon.
A woman named Jo and I read the Scripture. We waited a sufficient length of time after Hymn 100, then quietly went to the podium and read our assignments—Jo first, then me. I read my chapter from the Contemporary English Version (CEV), one that most of the congregation had never heard, but a “modern” version used throughout much of the non-Western world where English is spoken. It is a publication by the Bible Society (“in your country”) and as with the 1611 King James Bible, the general goal is that “the Scripture be understood even by ordinary people.” The translators heave “carefully studied every word, phrase, clause, and paragraph of the original.”
I often read from the CEV and have read from it in our Bible Study group, some 12-15 of older men, with the pastor as our teacher. When I first read from it I was told that it was a “paraphrase,” something like being told your pick-up is a Toyota, instead of a Ford 150—definitely an inferior grade.
When I started reading 1 Corinthians 8, my wife was concerned that I was mistakenly reading the wrong chapter. It was about “eating meat offered to idols” and seemed completely out of context. Nevertheless, I could tell the congregation was following my reading with intense interest. The text was so plain that they couldn’t help but wonder what was going on. After the service several people asked me about the version I was using. Their interest bordered on suspicion. I’m not sure what version I will use if I am ever asked again—perhaps a Greek-English interlinear version.
After the “Song of Preparation” and the sermon, it was time for communion—the “Table of the Lord.” There were four pairs of us to offer the congregants the bread and juice. After the pastor motion for us to come to the front, he held the bread loaves heavenward, broke them in half and wrapped each half in a clean white towel. I was given the bread and Jo was given the chalice of juice. We then turned and stepped down from the stage to the floor and waited while the members of the church who wanted to participate filed by.
I was told to tear off a piece of the bread and say, “The body of Christ broken for you,” and the person was then to dip the bread in the juice while Jo said “The blood of Christ shed for you.” That didn’t seem too difficult. However, the bread crust of the outer shell of the bread was hard and I had to rip it off with some insistence. Sometimes the recipient would get a bigger piece than I intended and if I went for the inside core, only a small bit would sometimes tear off. I was a little frustrated, although I appeared calm and pastoral. As one young woman came up with her mother, I ripped a piece off the outer crust and it fell on the floor. I quickly retrieved it and told the girl “You won’t have to eat that,” as I held it with the loaf. Her mother replied, “Oh, she will eat it!” I was glad for her sense of humor. We had been told by the pastor to wash our hands well because the flu is going around, so I was worried that I could start some sort of epidemic, holding my floor-smitten piece of bread in my hand.
There were about 225 or so people dipping their bread and walking back to their seats, so it took some time. I still had the chunk of bread I had retrieved from the floor and was sure I could somehow get it in my pocket when we returned to the stage to serve the pastor and each other. The left-over bread would be food for the pastor’s chickens and the juice was to be poured on the ground, not down the sink, to show our respect for the environment.
Our church and most others have made communion a very sacred affair, so some recipients held their hands out as if receiving an offering, others picked the piece of bread out of my fingers before I could even offer it to them, and people looked sad, happy and puzzled about how to hold their hand or hands. It was a fascinating study in body language.
I have taken communion at Anglican, Brethren, Lutheran, Charismatic, Baptist and other denominational churches in England, Australia, New Zealand and many states in the U.S. But my participation at the church in Texas proved that the old adage that something can slip between “the cup and the lip” is indeed true.