1 week ago
Friday, 6 February 2009
Holy Communion---Wine or Juice?
It is a well known (and laudatory) fact that Christ's first miracle was turning water into wine. It also a well known (and lamentable) fact that throughout history some Christians have been trying to un-do this miracle by turning wine back into water.
One expression of this “undoing the miracle” is the rejection -- against the 2000 year Christian tradition -- of using wine for the commemoration of the Last Supper which we call the Holy Communion, the Lord's Supper, or the Eucharist.
(The greatest of Christian heresies, Islam, went even further: it forbid wine altogether. I am using the word “heresy” in the technical sense: Mohammed, in his conversion from heathenism to Islam, learned his knowledge of “Christianity” from heretical monks and incorporated Jewish elements into his faith.)
The driving force behind an attempt to “undo Christ's miracle” is, unsurprisingly, not altogether Christ-ian. In some instances it echoes an anti-Christian prejudice. Although Scripture speaks univocally against misuses of wine, it is as unanimous in its approval of wine itself. Christ himself, our Lord and God incarnate, both made and drank wine; Paul adviced Timothy to mix wine with his drinking water to help him recover from some stomach problems; and so on.
I hope there's not too many unfriendly critics who think that I and other Christians who object to using juice instead of wine are “upset just because they can't have alcohol”.
The “paradox of puritanism” is that by denying something that is actually justified, the negative consquences outweigh the positive.
One negative consequence of adopting juice instead of wine is -- and this is pretty hard to explain but I'll try -- the making of the Holy Communion even less meaningful and profound than it already is in some churches.
It sends the message: We can change our customs, especially our customs that deal with bodily functions and outward signs, however we want to -- because after all, the Christian life is “spiritual”, not material. The Holy Communion is “only spiritual”, baptism is “only spiritual”, and so on.
This is not Christian at all. According to Christianity, a man has -- no, he is -- a soul and a body. You can distinguish between them conceptually, but in reality they are inseparable, man is a composite being, not a dualistic being. The soul is not the “good” part and the body the “bad” part, as Hinduism, Buddhism and early Christian heresies (Gnosticism and Manicheanism) teach. Man was made “good”, body and soul.
The “flesh” (as opposite of “spirit”) has never in authentic Christian understanding referred to the body -- “flesh” refers to fallen man in his totality, body and soul, insofar as he is opposed to God.
Similarly, the “world” (as opposite to “the kingdom of God”) has never in authentic Christian understanding referred to the creation -- “world” refers to the structures in creation and our societies insofar as they are against the will of God.
Of course, if a church does the other extreme -- replaces wine not with juice but with vodka -- the results would be as catastrophic. But in a different way: instead of Muslim puritanism we'd have alcoholism to deal with. Forced absolutism and alcoholism both spring from a certain “abuse” of alcohol.
So, as with everything, better just to follow Christ and avoid both extremes.