[The Leaven – exploring the relationship between science and religion (cont)]
As leaven was seen as an impurity that symbolised corruption only unleavened bread is used to celebrate the Passover and to symbolise the body of Christ. The symbolic use of wine in the present Eucharist originated from the words of Jesus at the last supper, which occurred during the feast of unleavened bread:
As the disciples were eating, Christ took bread and blessed it, he broke it and shared it amongst the disciples saying “Take and eat it,” he said; “ this is my body.” He then took the cup, gave thanks to God and passed it to them. “Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
[Mt. 26.26-29; Mk. 14.22-26; Lk. 22.14-20; 1 Cor. 11.23-25]
At this stage Jesus was committed to his fate, he would be condemned to death. He persistently associated with people that were unclean; he did not observe strict ritual procedures such as hand washing; he disrupted the traditions of the Temple; and was constantly defamatory towards the policies of the Pharisees and Sadducees. He was a negative influence that had to be eliminated. It was the role of the High Priest to sanction and condemn those that had not obeyed the Torah. Jesus already knew that one of his disciples had betrayed him to the high priest so took it upon himself to play the role of Passover sacrificial lamb. It is evident from Biblical accounts that Jesus was condemned before the Passover as it was against Jewish tradition to execute during a religious festival or on the Sabbath:
Then the chief priests and the elders met together in the palace of Caiaphas, the High Priest, and made plans to arrest Jesus secretly and put him to death. “We must not do it during the festival,” they said, “or the people will riot.”
[Mt. 26.3-5; Mk. 14.1-2; Lk. 22.1-2; Jn. 11.45-53]
Ironically, this meal is far more poignant as it takes place just before a festival that commemorates the Jews freedom from persecution. Jesus refers to himself as the sacrificial animal used in the traditional ceremony and to the wine as the sacrificial blood but in this instance the destroyer did not pass over (see previous post). Following the meal, Jesus and his disciples retired to the Mount of Olives . Here, the High Priest’s servants apprehended Jesus after being led to him by the disloyal disciple Judas Iscariot. He was brought before the High Priest and the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court that tries those who disobey the Torah, and charged with threatening to destroy the Temple and with blasphemy
The Sanhedrin delivered Jesus to the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, on the grounds that he was claiming to be the King of the Jews and a potential rebel. Roman and Jewish religions would probably have had a very contrasting outlook and therefore Pilate was reluctant to condemn Jesus. Perhaps Pilate shared many viewpoints with Jesus in regard to the Jewish religion and therefore asked the crowd if he should be set free. The crowd responded unfavourably. He was condemned to death by crucifixion, a Roman method of execution. Fearing retribution the disciples denied their beliefs when interrogated by the Pharisees, but following the death of Jesus continued to preach his teachings in exile.
The modern Eucharist was established to serve as a reminder of how Jesus gave his life in return for his convictions. In many aspects this religious ceremony seems to go against the philosophies of Jesus by its ritual connotations and sectarian exclusiveness. Perhaps serving more as a means of retaining ceremonial sacrifices and symbolic worship favoured by the Pharisees that were originally rejected in the teachings of Jesus. In the Eucharist, wine is used to symbolise the blood of Christ but grape juice is sometimes substituted on moral grounds. Many disagree with this principle and regard grape juice as a leavened drink because it has the potential to ferment. Some believe it is impure and it gives rise to objections when it is used symbolically to represent the blood of Christ. Their argument is that wine that has fermented is physically separated from the yeast containing sediment. It is seen as having had the leaven removed and no longer has the potential to ferment, it is predominately thought of as unleavened. Those that follow the doctrines of a Christian religion but strongly object to the moral use of alcohol put forward the argument that the wine used by Christ to represent his blood is a non-alcoholic grape juice.
In the New Testament messages are communicated so that they are accessible to those that they are expected to influence. If there were a spiritual objection to drinking alcoholic wine than surely these ideals would be put forward in Biblical teachings? Additionally, if this were the case, why not use water as the pure and sinless drink in the last supper? The Hebrews seemed to have an innate sense of disease prevention. In sacrifices they used animals that had no blemishes, they ostracised those individuals that were viewed as unclean, they removed potential microbial contaminants, such as leaven, from food. Water in that era would have been the source of many contaminants and likely to contain as many microbes as leaven, therefore wine would be less likely to cause disease. Water could therefore be interpreted, as a disease-causing agent in contrast wine would have been associated with disease prevention. As the processes behind diseases were unknown they were attributed to acts of retribution by angry deities. In the disease-ridden Biblical era, a gift of wine to the Lord would perhaps have been perceived as more suitable than a gift of murky water.