My first swig of wine came last December during communion. It was lukewarm and bitter, dragging itself down the throat with particular agitation. I coughed-up “Joy to the World” and tried to ignore how apparent my third-pew-ordeal was to the congregation. I joined that church last Sunday (pending congregational vote) and have grown accustomed to our communion service.
Well, ‘accustomed’ is probably not accurate. I’ve learned how to prepare for it. But the wine is just as lukewarm and bitter. While my pleasure in the wine itself has not elevated, my appreciation and love for the Lord’s Supper has gone through the roof.
The Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of the cross (1 Co 11:26). The bread represents Christ’s body, the wine His blood (1 Co 11:23-26; cf. Matt 26:26-29). It is a meal in remembrance of Christ’s last supper with the disciples (Matt 26:20-25), which itself was a meal in remembrance of God’s work in Egypt (Ex 12:42-51), which itself was a foreshadow of Christ’s work on the cross. It also looks forward to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:7-10), where the first meal in Adam (Gen 3:1-19) is undone and the final meal in Christ (Ro 5:12-14; cf. Jn 6:35-40) is partook and enjoyed forever.
But the imagery of bread and wine, of a meal, has an even greater root in Scripture. Unleavened bread and bitter wine are symbolic of Christ’s work on behalf of His church.
Unleavened bread became a symbol of sanctification to God in remembrance of His work (Ex 12:14-27). Paul told the Corinthians that they are unleavened by the sacrifice of Christ, and therefore should not allow the leaven of unrepentance to dwell among them (1 Co 5:6-8). Similarly, Christ was the only truly unleavened bread, having lived a life of complete holiness to God. It is His purity that we receive credit for (Ro 3:24) and unto which we are powerfully conformed (Ro 8:29). Having unleavened bread during our communion services, then, is important.
Bitter wine became a symbol of God’s wrath against the wicked (for a detailed study, see “A Brief Look at Golgotha: Drinking Down God’s Wrath“). In the Old (Ps 75:8) and New (Rev 14:10) Testaments, God’s righteous indignation against the wicked is described as a frothing cup, which His enemies drink to the dregs. Christ prayed in Gethsemene, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt 26:39). The cup He spoke of was not the Roman nails but the wrath of God.
I’ve always drank grape juice in communion. It is sweet, familiar and pleasant to the mouth. But how much more appropriate is bitter wine? I have found these past two months that the unpleasant flavor forces me to think of Christ’s own cup, that He drank on my behalf. It has been a surprisingly helpful part of our Sunday morning worship.
Actually, the Lord’s Supper has become my favorite time of the week. It is when my tired, grumbly, crumbling flesh is forced by bitter liquid to gaze upon Christ’s mangled frame. My regenerated heart rejoices in thankfulness for the grace of God in the gospel.
I’ve yet to leave worship without pondering, “I’m blessed because He was cursed.”