Water Into Wine

For a few years, my wife Roberta and I lived in the town of Sonoma, in the heart of the wine country of northern California.  I became marinated in the mystery that is the vine, the never fully apprehended wonder that is wine. More deeply appreciative of the central place that this mystical substance held in the imaginations of the writers of the Bible. The natural beauty of a vineyard distills itself into the taste of a grape. And in a fermentation tank, the juice of a grape, in stillness and quietude and darkness, unseen and untouched, sublimates into wine. What a marvel, what a miracle!  In Sonoma, wine seems more plentiful than water – it’s tough to get a water hookup if you are building a house outside of town. Yet winemaking continues to be miraculous, commonplace though it may be. The grape juice in the vat just sits there and turns into something other than grape juice. It turns into a substance that tantalizes the tongue, dazzles the mind, lightens the heart.

It can happen to you, too.

Yes, you can sit there, in silence and stillness, and be transformed into a new being. And you don’t have to drink wine to do it, either!

In the vat, fermenting, processes are underway in the juice of the grapes that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Uncountable trillions of yeast bacteria are going through their quick life cycles, eating the sugars and excreting them as alcohol, and doing other subtle and un-measurable things to add flavor to the wine. There is so much going on in wine vats and in oak barrels that no winemaker, no enologist, can possibly give it a full scientific explanation. Someone in my church told me that the only liquid that
is more complex than wine is human blood.  That may have no scientific meaning, but it has the ring of truth to it!  It’s another reason to appreciate Jesus’ words at his last supper, when he equated his blood with the wine in his cup.

Let awe overwhelm you, let a tingle run up your spine, as you consider this: your soul is fermenting and transforming right now. Out of your sight. Out of your conscious awareness.  Change is going on in your soul that you know little or nothing of.

Jesus went to Cana because Mom wanted him to. He didn’t really want to go. She shamed into going to the wedding party. Oh, how guilty I am of the same thing with my daughter, conning her into going to events she wants nothing to do with, but will do just to humor me. Jesus showed up as the host was running out of wine, a huge faux pas in that time as well as ours. His mom shamed him into solving the problem. Oh, it’s a myth, it’s a fabulous tale, what happened. Impossible. Historically implausible, but spiritually as true as true can be. Jesus saw some big earthenware jars full of water. He turned them into jars full of wine. The party perked instead of pooped.

You are a jar of water. The Christ is turning you into wine right now. You don’t know how. I don’t know how. I daresay Jesus didn’t know how either.  Stuff is going on in that jar of yours that nobody can explain.

You may have been a jar full of anger. Somebody did you wrong, and you resented them, maybe resented them more than you knew. The hurt and the anger went deep. The Christ yeasted your anger and your hurt and without you even knowing it.  Now it is being transformed into compassion and kindness.  I don’t know how.  I can’t explain how anger can turn into empathy and sympathy, but that is what happens. Let it happen, and it will.

You may have been a jar full of fear. Fear of being shamed or blamed, fear of failing or appearing to be a failure. Fear of losing your status or your looks or your youth. But the Christ passed over your jar of fear and without you knowing how, it is being sublimated into courage and strength. Let it happen, and it will.

You may have been a jar of selfishness. You may have strayed into the false assumption that you were put on this earth just for the purpose of satisfying your own desires and instincts. You may have come to define others as just entities whose job it is to meet your needs and cater to your preferences. You may have fallen into the seductive and currently fashionable belief system that says that greed is good for everybody.  But the Christ has passed by your jar of selfishness and now, without your conscious intervention, you are being transformed into a being who seeks the common good.  You are fermenting into someone who shares and sacrifices for others, who still seeks good for self but not at the cost of insensitivity to the needs of others.

You are changing, and maybe all it took for you to change was to be willing for the grace of God to enter your soul and ferment within you, in ways you don’t understand and can’t explain. You will be the life of the party. You’ll be the best that was saved for last.

You are in these grapes, you are being pressed into the juice, poured into the vat, filled into the cask, drawn into the bottle, poured into the cup that the Christ offers to all. From being sweet and simple, you are becoming fascinating and complex, a gift of God to yourself and all those whose lives you grace with your presence.  Let it happen, and it will.

What’s in your jar?

Into what is it fermenting?

Review & Commentary

  • Dennis Arnold

    Each week I split my sermon between an extended homily and a communion meditation. I appreciate your comparison of the fermentation process to spiritual change. I will probably run a mile or two with the idea giving you all due credit. Thanks. Dennis