Today is Maundy Thursday, on which we commemorate the Last Supper of our Lord Jesus on the night that he was betrayed. Psalm 116 has a long connection with the Lord’s Supper in general and with the Maundy Thursday service in particular. According to ancient rabbinical writings, at the time of Jesus four ritual cups of wine were consumed at four points in the Passover meal. This was so important that the rabbis taught the poorest man in Israel must drink the four ritual cups, even if it meant selling all his possessions.
Each cup symbolized some element of the story of deliverance from Egypt:
- Cup of Sanctification remembered that God set Israel apart as his people.
- Cup of Plagues remembered that God delievered them from Egypt by plagues.
- Cup of Redemption remembered that God redeemed with mighty acts.
- Cup of Praise remembered that God called them to the Promised Land.
When the Scriptures recount that, after supper Jesus took the cup saying, “this cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20), it is the third cup of the Passover meal, the cup of redemption, that Jesus lifts up. Then as good Jews, after drinking this cup, Jesus and his disciples would have sung Psalms 115-118.
This means that Psalm 116 was one of the hymns that Jesus and his disciples sang together on that Passover. How astounding! Can you imagine what Jesus was thinking? What would he think, as he sang: “The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the LORD: “O LORD, save me!” (Psalm 116:3-4)
Jesus sang this psalm knowing that the cup of redemption for others would first need to be the cup of wrath for himself. He drank the bitter cup of judgment against sin when the cords of death would entangle him on the cross and the anguish of the grave come upon him, when trouble and sorrow would overcome him in the garden of Gethsemane till drops of blood fell from his brow, and when he would cry out on the cross, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Our Lord Jesus chose not to save himself, so that he could save us.
We celebrate Maundy Thursday by reciting the very hymn that Jesus sang, and by remembering his cup of wrath that became our cup of redemption. We revel in the love of “Jesus, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2).