When The Wine Runs Out
They were at a party, and the wine ran out.
Almost anyone who's at least middle-aged knows--from first hand experience--that sometimes the wine runs out in a larger, metaphorical sense. The wine runs out in the wedding of life. The sense of satisfaction, and celebration, runs out of a marriage, or a job. A project, or a friendship.
I can recall a summer when I must have been 11 or 12 years old. Like all summers in Georgia, it was very, very hot. Like a lot of children during the summer vacation, I got very, very bored. You long--all during the school year--for vacation to come. Then, after a few weeks, there's just not enough to do. One suffocating afternoon, I prowled around the house looking for something--anything--to divert me. I found a big stack of back issues of The Reader's Digest. So I started reading them. It was something to do. It filled up the afternoon. I went back to that stack of magazines pretty frequently after that. Many of the articles were above my head, but some that I liked I read over and over.
It's really odd the things that stick in your mind. I remember an article I read called The Day at the Beach. Recently, I went to our local library, looked through the back numbers of The Reader's Digest, and sure enough I found it. It was written by a man named Arthur Gordon, and it began this way:
Not long ago, I came to one of those bleak periods that many of us encounter from time to time, a sudden drastic dip in the graph of living when everything gets stale and flat, energy wanes, enthusiasm dies. The effect on my work was frightening. Every morning I would clench my teeth and mutter: "Today life will take in some of its old meaning. You've got to break through this thing. You've got to!" But the barren days went by, and the paralysis grew worse. The time came when I knew I had to have help.
The article goes on to describe how he went to his family doctor, a man older than himself. Not a psychiatrist--a general practitioner--someone who from years of experience had accumulated a fund of wisdom and insight.
"I don't know what's wrong," I told him miserably, "but I just seem to have come to a dead end. Can you help me?" "Where were you happiest as a child?" "As a child?' I echoed. "Why, at the beach, I suppose. We had a summer cottage there. We all loved it." "All right. Here's what I want you to do." He told me to drive to the beach alone the following morning, arriving not later than nine o'clock. I could take some lunch, but I was not to read, listen to the radio or talk to anyone. "In addition," he said, "I'll give you a prescription to be taken every three hours." He tore off four prescription blanks, wrote a few words on each, folded them, numbered them and handed them to me. "Take these at nine, twelve, three, and six." I glanced at them, and asked "Are you serious?" He gave a short bark of a laugh. "You won't think I'm joking when you get my bill!"
The rest of this brief article is about the day at the beach: a day of silence, recollection, memory, being ministered to and healed by the sights and sounds of ocean and sky. The doctor's prescriptions were brief instructions about spending the time. The first said "Listen carefully." The noon one said "Try reaching back." The essay ends this way:
The Western sky was a blaze of crimson as I took out the last slip of paper. Six words this time. I walked slowly out on the beach. A few yards below the high-water mark I stopped and read the words again: "Write your worries on the sand." I let the paper blow away, reached down and picked up a fragment of shell. Kneeling there under the vault of the sky, I wrote several words on the sand, one above the other. Then I walked away, and I did not look back. I had written my troubles on the sand. And the tide was coming in.
I have no idea if Arthur Gordon, the author, was a Christian. But whether he was or not, his story carries a meaning for us, who are Christians. The point is this: When the wine runs out, there's a guest at the wedding who can do something about it.
Jesus took some very ordinary things--common household jars, water from the well out back. He took ordinary things, and invested them with--well, what did he invest them with? I don't know. His power? God's grace? I don't know. But you've been at a party where things were dead, and then they come to life. Jesus was the life at that party. He took ordinary water, invested it with himself, and it became extraordinary.
Wine can be hidden in the water of life for many years, unrecognized. Christ can take the common stuff of our life, the commonplace things, and make them into gifts. That stack of old Reader's Digests. It's a trivial example. But it's amazing to me nonetheless, that that article, gathering dust in the attic of my mind for 30 years, now blooms out in a good way. Christ touched that memory, and turned it from water into wine.
I stand in line at the supermarket check-out counter, leafing through a magazine about family life. "Is Your Marriage Flavorless?" asks the headline in an article. "Does your marriage seem like all work--cleaning the house, taking care of the kids, fixing the leaking roof, having the car repaired?" Sure it does. The wine runs out, even in the very best of marriages. "These never-ending responsibilities can become oppressive and deading." Then the author suggests a list of very ordinary ingredients to put, or put back, into a marriage grown dull. Pleasure, romance, compliments--ordinary things. But the point is, Christ can take that water and turn it into wine.
God created common things--things like food, drink, sex, laughter, pleasures large and small--"to be enjoyed with thanksgiving." For everything that God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected when it is taken with thanksgiving" (1 Tim 4:3-4). When common things are taken with thanksgiving, the glory of God that went into creation shines through. Ordinary water becomes vintage wine.
There was a group of seventeenth-century English poets who were famous for their extremely fanciful comparisons and extravagant images. One of them, Richard Crashaw, wrote a poem on this wedding at Cana. This is how he describes the miracle. "The modest water saw its God, and blushed." In the poem's fanciful imagination, ordinary water became conscious in the presence of its Maker--its sovereign and master. The water blushed--overcome with awe, dazzled by recognition, by sudden awareness of the Holy. That's how we react when we're in the presence of something overwhelmingly grand. We get excited, we become modest, we experience a rush of emotion. The modest water saw its God, and blushed.
When we recognize Christ as a guest at our affairs--a wedding or a wake or anything in between, then we'll see even commonplace objects and mundane routines and oh-so-familiar faces as they really are: Shot through with God's glory. "The world is charged with the grandeur of God/It will flame out..." Another poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins. "It will flame out." The bush will be on fire. The water will become wine, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
R. Bruce Birdsey Allentown, PA