Buechner and Hunsinger on Wine


This is a follow-up quote for my previous post, “The Case for Wine.” I’ve seen this quote, from bloggers and elsewhere, multiple times, and it is worth sharing again. This relates to my responses to Objections #2 and #3 in the previous post, namely that wine is not interchangeable with grape juice without changing the signification (what is represented and indicated by the sign). Here is Frederick Buechner:

Unfermented grape juice is a bland and pleasant drink, especially on a warm afternoon mixed half-and-half with ginger ale. It is a ghastly symbol of the life blood of Jesus Christ, especially when served in individual antiseptic, thimble-sized glasses. Wine is booze, which means it is dangerous and drunk-making. It makes the timid brave and the reserved amorous. It loosens the tongue and breaks the ice especially when served in a loving cup. It kills germs. As symbols go, it is a rather splendid one. [Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, p. 96]

Last month, Robin Parry posted an excerpt from George Hunsinger’s Eucharist and Ecumenism, which complements the Buechner quote rather nicely:

What I like least, I’m afraid, is the usual form of celebration in American Protestant churches like my own. What does it symbolize when little trays of pre-cut white bread are passed through the pews, to be followed by larger, more cumbersome trays with grape-juice-filled little cups (these days, more often than not, even disposable plastic cups). I feel embarrassed when these services are visited by ecumenical friends. How can they help musing that what is being symbolized here is the essence of Protestant individualism and privatized religion, the alone communing with the Alone (as Plotinus said), a deracinated form of community, giving new meaning to Rahner’s phrase “anonymous Christians”? [p. 332]

When it comes to bland, antiseptic, Gnostic-like Protestantism in America, there is no better symbol than grape juice. And our bread is no better:



[HT: stufffundieslike.com]



  1. I posted your last post to my facebook wall and it provoked a long debate. One of the points that was made was why insist on real wine if we don’t also insist on unleavened bread? Any thoughts?

    • Honestly, I haven’t give it much thought, simply because the Reformed tradition has long considered it indifferent whether we use leaven or unleavened. I would have to give further reflection and study on the signification involved (e.g., yeast represents sin, but it also represents life and growth of the kingdom). Here is Charles Hodge in his commentary on 1 Corinthians:

      11:27, Took bread. Matthew 26:26 , it is said, “ as they were eating, ” i.e. during the repast, “ Jesus took bread, ” that is, he took of the bread lying on the table; and as it was at the time of the Passover, there is no doubt that the bread used was unleavened. It was the thin Passover bread of the Jews. But as no part of the significancy of the rite depends on the kind of bread used, as there is no precept on the subject, and as the apostles subsequently in the celebration of the ordinance used ordinary bread, it is evidently a matter of indifference what kind of bread is used. It was however for a long time a subject of bitter controversy. At first the Latins and Greeks used leavened bread; when the Latins introduced the unleavened wafer from superstitious fear of any of the fragments being dropped, the Greeks retained the use of fermented bread, and accused the Latins of Judaizing. Romanists and Lutherans use unleavened wafers; Protestants generally ordinary bread.

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