God's Word for today

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Does it really matter what we drink at Communion?

One of the wonderful things about my son being at an Anglican Church school is the Christian ethos that the school has. It is this aspect that has attracted many parents to the school - including Christians (of many different denominations), Muslims, Hindus, as well as those who do not profess any particular faith.

An important part of the life of the school is the regular chapel services that they have. While attendance is voluntary given the diverse faiths present, I have always encouraged my son to take part. Not that he needs too much encouragement - he has, after all, grown up in the church, and with me going into full-time ministry, he is going to see a lot more of it! He has known Jesus as his Lord and Saviour for as long as he can remember, and takes great delight in serving God.

About once a month the chapel service includes Communion, and once again my son takes part in the full knowledge and understanding of the significance of this sacrament. But I was somewhat taken aback when he came home from school one day, and said: "Dad! We had Communion today, and guess what - there was WINE in the cup!"

My first reaction was one of concern. After all, I am accuatomed to the Methodist practice of abstaining from alcohol. Our Laws and Disciplines prohibit bringing alcoholic beverages onto church premises, while Communion is celebrated using grape juice - not wine. This stems from early Methodism, where as a result of the problems with alcohol abuse that was so present among the working-class people to whom the Wesleys were ministering, total abstension from alcohol became a way of life and a matter of discipline for the fledgeling Methodist movement.

The Anglicans, on the other hand, have no such qualms concerning partaking of alcoholic beverages, provided that this is done responsibly and in moderation. It is probably for this reason that I am often pressed into service as barman whenever our school has a function. Maybe it has something to do with being a candidate for the Methodist ministry (I won't drink the stock), coupled with my background as an accountant (I'll be able to accurately count what's left)?

I also had a problem getting my mind around my 9 year-old son drinking wine. But then I realised that I was being silly, for the quantity of wine that a typical Communion cup holds contains far less alcohol than a teaspoon of cough medicine. However, I still had this nagging feeling inside me...

So the other week at our Parents / Staff Association committee meeting, I discussed the matter with the school principal. He responded by saying that the church services were under the control of the Bishop of the Diocese, and the matter would need to be taken up with him. However, the principal indicated that I should not have any expectations of the procedure being changed on theological grounds, citing Jesus' turning the water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana as one example.

Now I don't actually want to get into a theological debate on this matter - largely because I don't believe I have any theological grounds on which to base such a debate. After all, the Bible does not prohibit the consumption of alcoholic beverages - in fact, the moderate consumption of wine is even sanctioned in certain parts of Scripture. This has been supported by modern medicine, which indicates that the occasional glass of red wine is actually beneficial to one's health.

The Bible does however warn against overindulgence, and I can't for one minute see the Bishop sanctioning such overindulgence either. Besides, the minute quantity of wine in a Communion cup could never be seen as "overindulgence", even for the smallest child.

So am I just being silly? While I may have made a personal choice not to partake in alcoholic beverages, I am not so anti-alcohol as to disassociate myself from those who do partake. In fact, during my time as a member of The Welsh Male Voice Choir of South Africa, I enjoyed many a "sing-song" in the pub after a concert, Coke in hand, singing with gusto. Besides, having a beer or a glass of wine at a party is in a completely different context to drinking of the cup at Communion.

I have heard from some friends that some Anglican churches have implemented the "two-queue" system for Communion services, where one line is for grape juice while the other is for wine. However, this practice is by no means universal.

When it comes down to brass tacks, does it really matter what beverage is in the Communion cup? Contrary to the stiff, formal image portrayed in the painting of the Last Supper, I believe that the atmosphere among Jesus and His disciples was far more relaxed. The Gospels speak of Jesus taking "the cup", which may or may not have contained wine. Certainly the references to His blood indicate that it is highly likely that it was wine. I'm not sure that it really matters.

At the risk of souding totally irreverent, suppose that the Last Supper had been around a braai, and the fellowship meal consisted of a boerewors roll and a Coke. Would it have made any difference? I don;t think so. What's of vital importance, however, is that when we gather around the table in Jesus' name, we remember His sacrifice on the cross - the breaking of His body, and the shedding of His blood.

Perhaps I'm just being an over-protective parent, then? What do you think? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill, or am I within my rights to be concerned, even though logic tells me that the whole wine issue is perhaps rather silly? What do you think?


David said...

Steve, I think you will find that Anglican Communion wine has a similar strength to Sherry or Port.

Steven Jones said...

Forgive my ignorance, MP, but how strong IS sherry or port?

Chris Klopp said...

Great post. I'm a Methodist too (UMC) and I often have discussions like this with my fellow Methodists. I just wanted to clarify something regarding your statement that the Bible doesn't say what was in the cup. Luke ch. 22 says the meal was a Passover meal, and as we all know, Jews drink wine for Passover. So the Bible doesn't have to say what was in the cup because the original audience knew what one drinks at the Passover meal.



Anonymous said...

No problem what we drink. Just consider alcoholics.