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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

no juice at the first communion

I really enjoyed this article. It sums up a lot of my favorite points about wine. I was saving it for passover but I had forgotten about it. There are a couple things I might critique in it but I thought you guys might have fun doing so in the comments. See you at T4GCON tomorrow.

UPI's Uwe Siemon-Netto
No juice at the first Communion

By Uwe Siemon-Netto
UPI Religious Affairs Editor
Friday, March 18, 2005

WASHINGTON – On the first-ever Maundy Thursday almost 2,000 years ago, Christ took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this whenever your drink, in remembrance of me." (1 Corinthians 11:25)

The cup contained Passover wine. Today, many U.S. pastors, especially the Rev. Jerry Falwell, condemn the drinking of such a beverage as sinful. Indeed, in most American churches, including sanctuaries of most mainline denominations, sweet grape juice is served instead of wine in shot glasses or plastic finger cups at Holy Communion.

Hence many ministers in the United States have a saying about vacant vessels or heads: There are "as empty as Jerry Falwell's wine cellar."

Type the words "wine or grape juice" into your Google search engine and you will get some 11,500 results, including many a learned treatise claiming that the liquid in Christ's cup in the Upper Room the night before his crucifixion was unfermented.

The trouble with this assertion is of course this: Nowhere in first-century Palestine could a drop of unfermented grape juice to be found at Passover time.

Like elsewhere in the northern hemisphere, grapes were picked in August or September. As soon as grapes were off the vine and crushed by the naked feet of slaves, back then, their juice would start bubbling and become more and more potent.

As the Christian History magazine reminds us in its current issue, it wasn't until the 19th century that an alcohol-free swill could be produced from the "blood of the vine," to use a Biblical term.

Inspired by teetotalism, Thomas Bramwell Welch, an American Methodist dentist, and his son Charles first pasteurized grape juice in 1869, heating it and thus killing the microorganisms that cause fermentation.

Since then, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians and most other Protestants use Welch's grape juice or similar products for communion. Only Lutherans and Anglicans stuck to wine. Some of their congregations even serve up a particularly potent drink to give the "communicant a bit of a kick – or a little help to the Holy Spirit," as some Lutheran pastors like to say.

Roman Catholic churches have withheld the chalice from laity since the high Middle Ages and are only now slowly returning to the "common cup," which then of course contains real wine.

Eastern Orthodox congregations blend wine, bread and warm water to a mush in the chalice from which the priest communes the faithful with a spoon.

Of course, these last four faith groups believe that Christ is truly present in the wine, either trough transubstantiation (Catholic), meaning that by consecrating the wine has turned into is blood, or "consubstantiation" (Lutheran and Anglican), meaning that he is "truly present in, with and under" the two elements of the Eucharist, although bread still remains bread and wine remains wine.

To the orthodox, his real presence is a mystery, which they do not seek to explain.

The other Protestant churches either emphasize the commemorative aspect of Holy Communion or affirm, as Calvinists do, solely Christ's spiritual presence in the Lord's Supper.

Since the Welchs' invention of alcohol-free grape juice – by the way, the Greek word for juice, Khymos, is nowhere to be found in the New Testament – the wine faction and its opponents in the Christian Church have been at loggerheads, sometimes light-heartedly, sometimes in earnest.

Once I overheard the Anglican wife of the late David Reed, the much-lamented ultimate pulpit prince of Presbyterianism, rail against his denomination's devotion to juice: "Blasphemy!"

She was jesting, of course, but her banter had a serious core. By withholding wine from the faithful – and, worse, by calling its consumption a sinful act, as Jerry Falwell does – Protestant ministers open themselves to the charge of calling Jesus sinful, at least implicitly.

Thus they place themselves in line with those of Christ's hostile contemporaries who labeled him an "oinopotes," a wine souse. Jesus never refuted the charge that he was a "glutton and a drunkard." (Matthew 11:18-19)

Some Protestants theologians try to overcome this dilemma by claiming that the wine he offered to his disciples in the Upper Room was perhaps not grape juice but essentially no more than water containing perhaps 2.5 percent alcohol per volume.

However, any vintner will tell you that this is nonsense because such weak wine would never last from the fall to springtime; it would be vinegar, unworthy of being served at a Passover Seder.

Of course, the Bible warns against intoxication, saying it "takes away the understanding." (Hosea 4:11) "Wine is treacherous," the prophet Habakkuk cautions. And priests were forbidden to drink wine when on duty in the Temple.

But much more frequently Scripture's authors praise the wine, to wit Jesus Sirach who in the Book of Ecclesiasticus called it "one of the good things ... created for good people." (39:25-26)

"Go eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do," counsels the canonical Book of Ecclesiastes – not to be confused with the Apocryphal Ecclesiasticus – the people of Israel. (9:7)

Vineyards dotted ancient Palestine, where 150 varieties of grapes were grown in Old Testament days. So important was wine to agriculture then that specialists in viticulture were traded at three times the price of regular slaves working the land.

What modern medicine has only recently rediscovered was well known two millennia ago – wine had healing properties. In his parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus said that an injured man's wounds were treated with oil and wine. (Luke 10:34)

And the apostle Paul advises his readers to drink a little wine "for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments." (1Timothy 5:25)

But out of all Biblical narratives there is none where wine flows more lavishly than in story about Christ's first miracle at the wedding feast at Kana in Galilee; there he turned water from six stone jars into the best of wines.

This amount of wine is truly staggering. Experts on first-century Palestine have calculated that the volume of six stone stars corresponded to 652 to 948 modern bottles of 0.75 liters each.

Wine, the Bible tells us, is one of God's abundant gifts of love to his people. Like music, its function is to lighten man's lot this side of Paradise. But linked to its role in Christ's Passion, wine (and not grape juice) also has a significant role for the end of times.

As the Book of Revelation tells us, only wine and oil are protected from the apocalyptic flame. (Revelation 6:6) .


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