The Fourth Cup of Maundy Thursday

The Last Supper is what Christians today call “communion,” and what the Jews referred to as “Passover”—and it’s this meal that we reflect on this Maundy Thursday. Like all holidays, Passover, had many traditions built into it as this holiday celebrated the Hebrews being liberated from Egyptian tyranny.

Around Jesus’ time, the Passover supper had a 4 stage practice of sorts revolving around several cups of wine. The first cup was called the “cup of sanctification,” where a blessing was spoke and appetizers were eaten. In time, this would give way to the second “cup of proclamation,” where the story of Passover would be told and the meaning of the different foods they were about to eat, explained. Customs varied for the third “cup of blessing,” but it likely had a blessing, followed by more appetizers, and then the eating of the Passover meal. Once the meal was over, the fourth “cup of praise” would be poured as they sang the customary Psalms. Once they were done singing, they’d drink this final cup and the meal would be over.

Because communion consists of one cup of wine that we consider the blood of Jesus, we often miss all the other cups going on in the Last Supper. Luke tells us that the “cup after supper” (ie. the third cup of blessing that was drank at the end of the meal) was the one that Jesus chose to identify as the blood of the new covenant. (Indeed, Paul himself literally calls the blood of Christ the “cup of blessing” elsewhere.) Luke also mentions that Jesus shared another cup before this, which was likely the “cup of proclamation,” since Jesus explained the meaning of the bread alongside that cup. Though this must have caught the disciples off guard, for they would have expected Jesus to stick to the usual script and explain the Passover bread of Egypt. Instead, Jesus redefined the bread as his own body, adding a New Covenant custom into the Old Covenant Passover meal.

Another intriguing thing happens after these cups. Matthew and Mark say that Jesus and the disciples sang hymns (which brings us to the fourth cup), but it doesn’t say they drank a cup to end the meal. Instead, Jesus said he would never drink wine again until the Kingdom of God came!

How terrifying this cup must have been for Jesus to think about, for the Kingdom of God where this cup was located could only be reached through a cross. This is why Jesus cried out in prayer, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me”—all while sweating great drops of blood under the stress of contemplating the cross and pushing his disciples to stay awake with him in his time of need.

But we know the story. There in the Garden of Gethsemane (his own Garden of Eden), faced with the temptation to go another route than God’s (which Satan had already offered him, just as he offered Adam and Eve), Jesus chose to be faithful to God and embraced the suffering of the cross, becoming a cup of blessing for us.

And we are now stuck in a divine pause—the Passover of all Passovers. For just as salvation passed over Egypt for those who had the blood of the lamb on their doorposts, one day, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, salvation will come to those who have the blood of lamb of Jesus on the doorposts of their hearts. And one of the main reasons God has patiently waited to bring about the end of this 2,000 year Passover meal is because he wishes to see more receive his son’s cup of blessing—for he longs for us all to be a part of the coming Wedding Feast of the Lamb where we will finally partake of the final cup of Passover anew in the Kingdom of God with Jesus Himself.

This research is taken from Brant Pitre’s book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Jewish Eucharist. Though you can note that we take a different route on where the fourth cup is actually drank. Pitre would place it on the cross, which, to be fair, has a lot of cups of sour wine connected to it. I think this very well could be accurate since Jesus consistently relates the cross to “a cup,” but I have focused on some different Passover/new creation themes that I think might also work. If the cross is the fourth cup itself, then the Wedding Feast would serve as a new cup of a New Creation holiday.

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