While still a seminary student, I was assisting in the distribution of Holy Communion when I heard a little girl say something jarring. “Daddy, can I throw that in the trash?” The church used disposable plastic cups at Communion, and there was a basket near the altar rail to deposit the used cups. It was a natural question for this little girl to ask. Children like to participate in what the adults are doing, and the ritual action of the Sacrament leads to curiosity.

coffee cups in trash can
I cringed as I saw her eagerly chuck it upon the growing mound of plastic, still dripping with the Sacrament. That Cup was not garbage. It contains the very blood of Christ. In his Lectures on the Christian Sacraments, St. Cyril of Jerusalem discusses the proper approach toward the Lord’s Supper:

“Approaching, therefore, come not with thy wrists extended, or thy fingers open; but make thy left hand as if a throne for thy right, which is on the eve of receiving the King. And having hollowed thy palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying after it, Amen. Then after thou hast with carefulness hallowed thine eyes by the touch of the Holy Body, partake thereof; giving heed lest thou lose any of it; for what thou losest is a loss to thee as it were from one of thine own members. For tell me, if any one gave thee gold dust, wouldest thou not with all precaution keep it fast, being on thy guard against losing any of it, and suffering loss? How much more cautiously then wilt thou observe that not a crumb falls from thee, of what is more precious than gold and precious stones?

“Then after having partaken of the Body of Christ, approach also to the Cup of His Blood; not stretching forth thine hands, but bending and saying in the way of worship and reverence, Amen, be thou hallowed by partaking also of the Blood of Christ. And while the moisture is still upon thy lips, touching it with thine hands, hallow both thine eyes and brow and the other senses. Then wait for the prayer, and give thanks unto God, who hath accounted thee worthy of so great mysteries.”

 Can you imagine St. Cyril’s response to that little girl asking if a plastic cup with the Lord’s Blood yet in it is fit for the trash? It wasn’t the child’s fault; but the nature of the vessel (less permanent than her breakfast dishes) and the action she regularly witnessed taught her that this was not a sacred thing.
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Wherever our Lord’s Supper is celebrated, Pastor, Altar Guild, and all the people should strive to treat the Communion vessels and their holy Contents with great care. At Immanuel, after all have communed, pastor and assistants eat or drink what remains, and cleanse the vessels with water. After the Divine Service, the Altar Guild lovingly washes the vessels, and pours the water used to cleanse the individual cups on the ground (not in the sewer). Our Lord’s Gifts are not garbage. Every crumb is more precious than gold, every drop more valuable than all the world’s oil. Why? Because Jesus says, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:54). We cannot thank our Lord Jesus enough for such a Gift.