by Sonya M. Whetstone


“My cup runneth over.”

 When I read or pray this particular verse from Psalm 23, I am immediately challenged by one thing: waste.  What is the point of filling a cup beyond its limits? Would I not stop pouring into the cup when the liquid reaches the rim of the glass? That is what the cup is for, afterall; it holds the drink, making it possible for us to drink. But when a cup overflows, it is impossible to drink what is lost. Yet, I believe that it is not limitation that this verse teaches us but instead the abundance of God. I am learning this through liturgy.

 In Matthew 14, we read that Jesus’s disciples wanted to send away the crowd to go find food. Jesus told them there was no need to do this. “You give them something to eat?” His disciples made an excellent observation; they only had five loaves and two fish. In Matthew 15, we read that Jesus had compassion on another crowd of people and wanted to feed them. He called to his disciples to tell them this. They were again astonished at the request Jesus made. How could they possibly feed that many people? The disciples had only seven loaves and a less precise number of fish. The disciples were faced with an apparent limitation. In both examples Jesus demonstrated exactly how the crowd would be fed.  He took the loaves and few small fish that the disciples had and gave thanks and broke the bread and gave them to his disciples. His disciples then passed them out to the crowd. What we find is “they all ate and were satisfied.”

 In the first account of this miracle, they took up seven loaves of broken pieces left over, in the other, twelve. But what I find most astonishing is not only that Christ fed thousands with a few fish and some bread but that there were pieces left over. Would the abundance of God be as evident without those baskets of pieces? How would we know that Christ’s provision was more than enough, if not for those baskets?  

 Before his death Christ asks his disciples to remember him through bread and wine, which are to be for them his body and blood:

 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and   after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the  new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of  sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

 Christ is using a meal to teach his disciples. He is filling our ordinary food and drink with the utmost significance, his own death. For although Christ was poured out for us, we know that God chose Christ to pour all of himself into. Christ bore the frailty of our own flesh and demonstrated that even it, especially it, could not constrain the love of God. In fact, God became man and loved us fully, completely to excess in that act. Though Christ became man and suffered as man, he exceeded his body. We know this by his resurrection.

 In praying the liturgy of the Church, whether the Daily Office or the Holy Eucharist, I see again a form that exists to show the abundance of God.  It would be easy to see the form of worship as a constraint. Just as a cup can only hold so much liquid, a basket only so much bread, our words can only say so much. But if we look past the words on the page, if we see past the binding of those pages, we will see the excess that can only be attributed to God. We will see that the words of the liturgy have bound us to the body of Christ, to one another, and to God. 

 As our voices resound with many voices throughout the history of the Church, who have prayed the same prayers we do, we exhibit a trust in those who have come before us. The same trust allows those who follow to be bound to us. The exuberant and genuine response to God also comes through obedience and trust in the liturgy. The form we follow does limit us to certain words and responses, but it frees us from the limitations of our own personal preferences. We no longer have the burden of making all the choices of worship and prayer. We share that burden by praying the words given to us and by praying them together. When we get beyond ourselves, we realize worship is not about us. Indeed, we are privileged to participate in it, but it is not about one person. We see beyond ourselves to those neglected, mistreated, and missing from the midst of us. When the liturgy becomes second nature to us, when we can recite the prayers from memory, we will know the limits of those words and exceed them.  We can share in a rich heritage that God has poured himself into and will continue to pour into.

We find throughout Scripture that God is not constrained by space or form. And he is no more limited by the traditions of men than he is than by, say, the hollow of a cup, or the shallow basin of a bread basket, or the frail flesh of man.  God is continually using the common to direct us to himself. When I consider again the image from Psalm 23, I realize that God is not concerned with wastefulness. In the economy of God, there is no waste. The wine that overflows, the pieces of bread that are leftover, the wounds of Christ, are not waste but excess. They are the evidence of the overabundant generosity of God, for it is through sacrifice and brokenness that we become rich in God. Whether we stumble through the liturgy or fumble with our words, we can embrace our limitations. When we gather morning and evening to pray the Daily Office together, we find a well that does not run dry, or better still, a cup that is perpetually overflowing. Would we ask that there be no cup? For it is by this cup that we know the abundance of God. The words cascade over the lip of the cup, over our own lips, and are not lost; they are never lost.

Sonya M. Whetstone is originally from Georgia and joined the Common Friars in August 2010. Her interests include writing creative nonfiction, obsessing over movies, and acting as editor of the Altar & Table.





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