Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Communion wine/ whine

Growing up Baptist, I never had the pleasure of drinking wine at communion until I was a rebellious high school student sneaking over to the local Episcopal Church with my closest friend. It was quite an awe-inspiring experience for this non-liturgical kid. Being immature, I could not explain why, but my soul was stirred by the process of walking up front, having a priest place a wafer on my tongue, drinking wine from a common cup and tasting something bitter at communion.

Until serving at Ecclesia, I had only served churches which did the typically theologically weak Baptist individualistic single serving juice and wafer at your pew which represents nothing but a remembrance and memorial (God forbid something spiritual happen). At Ecclesia communion was through intinction, physically active and used a common cup. Radical stuff for a bunch of Baptists. Most radically, we had 2 stations (1 for wine and 1 for juice). We had a recovering alcoholic on staff and this felt proper to us. Using wine in a Southern Baptist Church in the Bible Belt pre-2000 was dangerous.

Upon planting a church in Boston we continued this practice (to the chagrin of many local Baptists). However, when we began to meet in homes, communion became much more "early church-like" with a communion meal substituting for a separate ceremony.

What I am getting to is this. Grape Juice is a poor substitute for wine and my denominational heritage worked way too hard to justify juice at communion (always ignoring Paul's exhortation to the Corinthian church to stop getting drunk and save some wine for everyone else in 1 Corinthians 11:20-22- how the heck can they get drunk on grape juice?). Upon leaving Boston and taking communion in CMA, Baptist, UMC, PCUSA and Christian churches I am left a bit dry (yes, I am a closet Anglican). The bitterness and bite of a good red wine is a perfect reminder of the bitterness of the spilt blood of Jesus Christ.

In defense of my whine about wine, I leave you with the words of Frederick Buechner ,

Unfermented grape juice is a bland and pleasant drink, especially on a warm afternoon mixed half-and-half with ginger ale. It is a ghastly symbol of the life blood of Jesus Christ, especially when served in individual antiseptic, thimble-sized glasses.
Wine is booze, which means it is dangerous and drunkmaking. It makes the timid brave and the reserved amorous. It loosens the tongue and breaks the ice, especially when served in a loving cup. It kills germs. As symbols go, it is a rather splendid one (Wishful Thinking, 1973, p120)

1 comment:

Alex F said...

I agree. When we started using wine in communion at our church I was struck by the added meaning of the bitterness of the wine. (Interestingly enough the Abstract of Principles - the confessional document of Southern Seminary written by several founders of the SBC - specifically mentions wine in communion.)

And communion itself is a symbol of our union with Christ and, hence, our union with each other in him.