By Daniel Schantz
“The blossoming [grape] vines spread their fragrance” (Song of Solomon 2:13).
The grape juice our churches use for Communion was developed by Thomas Welch, a Methodist minister, physician, and teetotaler, in the 1860s. He thought it hypocritical for preachers to oppose drinking and then serve alcoholic wine for the Lord’s Supper. Since grape juice contains its own leaven, he used pasteurization to stop fermentation. Welch’s Grape Juice Company resulted from his efforts to sell the juice to churches.
But the choice of “grape juice” as the symbol of Christ was entirely God’s idea, and it was the perfect choice because the grape is rich in symbolism.
The grape symbolizes beauty: A vineyard is a place of charm. Clusters of purple pearls hang from leathery vines, accented with crepe green leaves. Drenched with dew, these orbs of sweetness are mouthwatering to behold. Could any fruit better represent the fairest Lord Jesus? The blood of the grape was the ideal choice to illustrate the liquid love that dissolves the sins of the world.
The grape symbolizes life: The fruit of the vine has always been a symbol of the good life, a toast to joy, friendship, and success. Furthermore, the health benefits of grapes are now widely known and appreciated.
Since grapes are grown on every continent except Antarctica, the symbol is recognized by every civilization on earth.
The blood of Christ is a lifesaving transfusion. Jesus said to his disciples, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53).
The grape symbolizes sacrifice: To make grape juice, the grape must give up its life. Trampled by bare feet or squeezed in a press, the grapes lose their pretty shape, and their beautiful skins are discarded.
The squeezing of the grape is like the crushing of the life of Christ for our sins, when he was executed in our place.
The grape symbolizes sweetness: 20 to 30 percent of the grape is sugar, making it one of the sweetest fruits you can eat.
Imagine for a moment picking washtubs of grapes from an arbor. Imagine the smell as they are cooked in a big pot and then pressed through a funnel-shaped colander to remove the seeds and skins. The house fills with the ambrosia of fresh grapes, a fragrance that lingers for days.
Beauty, life, sacrifice, sweetness—they all come together in Christ.
We drink to that.
Daniel Schantz is a professor emeritus of Central Christian College of the Bible, Moberly, Missouri.