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We’ve been graced with two sacraments: water baptism and communion. While we recognise the significance of communion, we sometimes struggle to grasp the profound meaning behind its elements.
Communion Elements: Bread and Wine
Our first encounter with bread and wine is in the book of Genesis:
And Melchizedek, the king of Salem and a priest of God Most High, brought Abram some bread and wine. Melchizedek blessed Abram with this blessing: “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. Gen 14:18-19 NLT
The term “wine” originates from the Hebrew word ‘yayin’, indicating a fermented, effervescent drink. This word has been utilised 140 times in the Old Testament, including Genesis 9:21, where Noah succumbs to drunkenness.
Additional scriptures further illuminate this topic, such as:
For forty years I led you through the wilderness, yet your clothes and sandals did not wear out. You ate no bread and drank no wine or other alcoholic drink, but he gave you food so you would know that he is the LORD your God. Deut 29:5-6
Upon entering the Promised Land, the law proclaimed:
The LORD said to Moses, “Give these instructions to the people of Israel: The offerings you present as special gifts are a pleasing aroma to me; they are my food. See to it that they are brought at the appointed times and offered according to my instructions. “Say to the people: This is the special gift you must present to the LORD as your daily burnt offering. You must offer two one-year-old male lambs with no defects. Sacrifice one lamb in the morning and the other in the evening. With each lamb you must offer a grain offering of two quarts of choice flour mixed with one quart of pure oil of pressed olives. This is the regular burnt offering instituted at Mount Sinai as a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the LORD. Along with it you must present the proper liquid offering of one quart of alcoholic drink with each lamb, poured out in the Holy Place as an offering to the LORD. Offer the second lamb in the evening with the same grain offering and liquid offering. It, too, is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the LORD. Num 28:1-8
From wherever you live, bring two loaves of bread to be lifted up before the LORD as a special offering. Make these loaves from four quarts of choice flour, and bake them with yeast. They will be an offering to the LORD from the first of your crops. Along with the bread, present seven one-year-old male lambs with no defects, one young bull, and two rams as burnt offerings to the LORD. These burnt offerings, together with the grain offerings and liquid offerings, will be a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the LORD. Lev 23:17-18
When you present these offerings, you must also give the LORD a grain offering of two quarts of choice flour mixed with one quart of olive oil. For each lamb offered as a burnt offering or a special sacrifice, you must also present one quart of wine as a liquid offering. “If the sacrifice is a ram, give a grain offering of four quarts of choice flour mixed with a third of a gallon of olive oil, and give a third of a gallon of wine as a liquid offering. This will be a pleasing aroma to the LORD. Num 15:4-7
Could it be just grape juice? Freshly squeezed grape juice, when left at room temperature, begins to ferment within 2-5 days, influenced by the sugar content of the grapes, temperature, and the presence of wild yeasts in the environment. This process concludes within 7-10 days. The liquid offering was presented 365 days per year.
These two elements reappear in a well-known Gospel passage:
As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.” And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many. Mark my words—I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.” Mat 26:27-29
John was the sole disciple to document this miracle:
The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee.… When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over. “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!” This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him. Joh 2:1-11
The Greek term for “wine” is “oinos”, utilised 33 times in the New Testament.
John the Baptist abstained from wine for he was a Nazarite from birth. Luk 1:15 Luk 7:33
The Nazarite vow entailed the dedication of the whole life to God and consisted of:
- Abstaining from all products of the grape, including the wine or the fruit, fresh or dried Num 6:3-4
- Allowing the hair of the head to grow, unharmed by a razor Num 6:5
- Abstaining from coming near of a dead body to avoid defilement Num 6:6
The Nazarite vow was highly esteemed among the Hebrews (Amos 2:11). Samuel was a Nazarite (1 Sam 1:11), as was also Samson (Judges 13:4-5)
Paul provided a stern admonition:
Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, Eph 5:18
And he provided thoughtful advice on drinking wine publicly:
It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble. Rom 14:21
Therefore, it’s deemed sinful if you:
- Drink too much.
- Cause others to stumble.
- Look down on those who consume alcohol. (Self-righteousness)
Wine’s dual nature is depicted throughout the Scriptures:
Wine to make them glad, olive oil to soothe their skin, and bread to give them strength. Psa 104:15
After much thought, I decided to cheer myself with wine. And while still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness. In this way, I tried to experience the only happiness most people find during their brief life in this world. Ecc 2:3
So go ahead. Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this! Ecc 9:7
A party gives laughter, wine gives happiness, and money gives everything! Ecc 10:19
But, we also witness the flip side:
Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls. Those led astray by drink cannot be wise. Pro 20:1
Those who love pleasure become poor; those who love wine and luxury will never be rich. Pro 21:17
Don’t gaze at the wine, seeing how red it is, how it sparkles in the cup, how smoothly it goes down. Pro 23:31
Many followers of Christ refrain from alcohol due to its potential to instigate sin. This belief possibly originated from a book titled “Sipping Saints” published many years ago. Perhaps alcohol, like sex within marriage, was given for our CONTROLLED enjoyment. If mismanaged, both can lead to devastation. Are there any married couples who abstain because sex might lead to sin? See more: Behind Closed Doors: Sex, Sin, and Salvation
What constitutes excessive alcohol?
Medical research suggests the following to be manageable for your liver:
- Males: 1.5 glasses of wine or equivalent per day.
- Females: 1 glass of wine or equivalent per day.
Exceeding these guidelines would be deemed excessive.
The Two Elements
The processes of making wine and bread, which date back around 6,000 years, are strikingly similar. Both grapes and wheat are crushed, it dies, and fermentation causes them to come back to life to re-emerge in a new form. The bread is baked and the wine is bottled at a specific time to halt the process.
These products bring life and joy – just as Jesus does for us. He was crushed, died, and then resurrected after three days, gifting us with life and joy. The recipe may appear simple but requires a skilled hand to produce exceptional bread and wine. Time and passion are the key ingredients.
Jesus associated His life with these two elements: bread and wine. He crafts and shapes us with that same dedication of time and passion.
Reflect on the Old Testament sacrifices. Every day, at dawn and dusk, a lamb, a loaf of bread, and some wine were offered to the Most High, creating a pleasing aroma.
The next time you participate in communion, inhale the aroma of the bread and wine. If the bread signifies “life” or the body of Christ, then the wine must symbolise “death” or the blood of Christ.
We continually encounter the two choices in the Word.
- Adam reminded Eve daily about the two trees in the Garden of Eden.
- Moses daily reminded the Israelites of the dual nature of Blessings and Cursings (Deut 28).
Satan’s sole mission from the beginning is to cause man to sin. In order to do that, he deceives us so that we disregard sin.
As you partake in communion, ponder on the choices you make daily.
- Will you opt for life or death?
- Love or hate?
- Truth or lies?
- Obedience or disobedience?
“If you love me, obey my commandments. Joh 14:15 See 1,050 commandments in the NT.
For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Rom 8:6
Are you carnally minded (impure thoughts) or spiritually minded (holy thoughts)?
Do you strive to take every thought captive to grow more and more into the image of Christ?
This represents the body of Christ, symbolising His physical sacrifices. Just as the bread is broken during the sacrament, Jesus’ body was ‘broken’ on the cross. When we consume the bread, it serves as a reminder of His suffering and the physical toll He endured for our sake.
The wine stands for the blood of Christ, shed during His crucifixion. The use of wine exemplifies the new covenant between God and His people, a bond sealed by Jesus’ sacrifice. When we drink the wine, we remember His bloodshed, a testament to His love for us and His commitment to our redemption.
Furthermore, both bread and wine are sustenance, nourishing and necessary for life. In the same vein, Christ’s sacrifice is fundamental for spiritual life and growth. By partaking in the bread and the wine, we acknowledge our continual need for His spiritual nourishment.
The process of making both bread and wine, involving transformation and renewal, also resonates with Christian beliefs about spiritual rebirth through Christ. Grains and grapes undergo significant change to become bread and wine. Similarly, through Christ’s sacrifice and our acceptance of Him, we too experience a transformation, a ‘spiritual rebirth’, and are invited to partake in eternal life.
Lastly, communion is not just a personal act of faith but also a communal one. When we break the bread and share the wine, we are united as a community of believers, jointly partaking in Christ’s body and blood. This communal aspect of the sacrament underscores the concept of the Church as the body of Christ interconnected and united in faith and love.