Like many, I find myself especially drawn to the Arthurian stories. Any stories that capture the public imagination for 700 years are worth pondering. I propose to spend time thinking about some Arthurian characters and story elements in coming posts.
The first one will be the Holy Grail, primarily as it is spoken of in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The Holy Grail is the chalice that was used by Jesus at the Last Supper. It finds its way into treatments as various as The Da Vinci Code and Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail. As a Lutheran, I found its place in the Indiana Jones movie especially intriguing. It was central to the movie, even though its corresponding reality, Holy Communion, had been peripheral to the evangelical faith of my youth. In my Presbyterian church, communion was something we did four times a year, without any preparation beforehand. No one told us of any benefits it offered, but sometimes we heard warnings of taking it unworthily or explanations of why we didn’t need to worry too much. Either way, it was understandable that something that could prove dangerous but not very beneficial was rarely done. We would not have sought it out when it wasn’t offered. But Indiana Jones was not to be put off by danger. He knew this cup was worthy of a quest.
As with an Anglican communion service, this Indiana Jones movie tried to offer something for everybody to appreciate, whatever their view of Holy Communion. Sometimes it emphasized the real body and blood, as when Indiana read the lines, “Across the desert and through the mountain to the Canyon of the Crescent Moon, to the Temple where the cup that holds the blood of Jesus Christ resides forever.” Sometimes it emphasized the internal state that receiving communion might bring, as when Indie’s father, Henry Jones, said that what he discovered was “illumination.” The Nazi, Walter Donovan, wanted the grail because it offered “everlasting life,” which he took to be a mere extension of this one. In each case, while the benefits of the grail matched in some way what certain groups claimed to be the chief benefits of Holy Communion, they had this one difference. Choosing the right cup from among many others was a major part of the story. There was a danger in choosing the wrong cup, as demonstrated by the one who “chose poorly.” One single cup offered all these benefits, but only to the one who found it. This is so unlike our Holy Communion.
Or is it?
St. Paul says, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a union with the blood of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16). We all partake of the one cup, the cup of blessing which we bless. This is not seen as a bunch of different cups, but as one cup, the same cup that Jesus blessed at the Last Supper. The way St. Paul argues it, there has only ever been one cup in the church. So when you drink of that cup, you drink of the Holy Grail.
The Indiana Jones movie makes much of the Holy Grail. It had unique powers that people would go to the ends of the earth and fight over. Everlasting life would be worth braving any danger to find. But when we read St. Paul, we find that the chalice in our own parish has these same powers. It delivers the “medicine of immortality,” as church father Justin Martyr called it. We just don't see the results of it in time. Our hope is future. You don’t need Sir Galahad or Indiana Jones to go on a quest to make this possible for you. Your pastor can deliver this. As exciting as the Arthurian stories are, you are in a better story. Don’t leave the treasure hidden in a warehouse, as it were. Enjoy it.
Rick Ritchie resides in Southern California and is a graduate of Christ College Irvine and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has contributed to the books Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation, Let Christ be Christ, and Theologia and Apologia.
Theologia et Apologia gathers together eighteen essays, written by a wide range of scholars, on Reformation theology and its defense. Orthodox theology, grounded in the Scriptures, calls humanity to believe.