Posted by: Mark Nielsen | January 22, 2010

Hey Hey, Holy Grail!

(Yes that title’s an homage to former Cub broadcasters Jack Brickhouse and Harry “Holy Cow” Carey, for those keeping score. Now on to our real subject: communion — boring though it may be compared to the “hot stove” league.)

This may have been obvious to millions of people over the years, but for some reason one simple piece of information about the Last Supper seems to have sort of escaped me till now:

The grail was not the mythical, golden $20,000 jewel-encrusted chalice we we’ve been told it was by well-intentioned artists and ministers. No, it was instead two cents worth of clay — thrown on a wheel and fired in a simple oven.

The contrast occurred to me at communion last sunday, when I had a choice between a golden (brass?) chalice and a simple brown pottery cup. (I went for pottery.)

The original grail must have looked like the brown one. It probably had chips, was well-used and unpainted, and occupied no place of honor at the table, neither before nor after that day.

And then it was lost — contrary to all those cool legends involving knights who say “Nee!”. And for that matter, has any other cup also been called a grail, or was that the only one ever made? It’s funny to think about (okay, funny to me…)

I believe the grail was lost because it was not the point: the contents were. The blood and the Spirit did their work from that moment onward, and the grail was almost certainly shattered eventually, and returned to the earth from whence it came. Like that whole ashes-to-ashes thing. You may even have tread upon some of the dust of it yourself.

Jesus was a poor man, as were most of his friends. But to badly paraphrase those Mastercard commercials: “One ancient clay cup: Two cents.  Drinking wine that enfolds you in a community and redeems all of mankind: priceless.”



  1. Reblogged this on Marking Time and commented:

    Reblogging an old entry below. Lately I’ve been chewing on archaeology, and Scripture (especially postmodern textual analysis, where the culture, linguistic nuances, and origin of primary sources matter as much as the content itself). I’ve always noted the contrast between historical “facts” versus spiritually useful “concepts”. For example –from an even older biblical period — Anita Diamant’s choice in the excellent novel _The Red Tent_ (about Jacob and his wives and concubines) to turn Rachel and Leah’s “servants” into sisters. Maybe they were cousins, but according to Genesis, definitely not sisters… but as members of Jacob’s “clan”, and valued more than modern or more recent servants, I can see why Diamant did this. Modern readers necessarily see things like servants and holy objects in such a different light than ancient people… so I can at least tolerate (usually) the choice to “dress up” or “dumb down” what seems mundane or foreign to us, especially if there’s a larger point to be made. Conjecture and conflation is not necessarily anti-biblical, at least if it’s done carefully.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: