"Have you not asked those who travel the roads, and do you not accept their testimony?" (Job 28:29)

Monday, August 24, 2020

Old Wine, New Bottle!

ANYONE WHO enters a winery or market looking for a celebratory vintage can attest to the dilemma. We get intertwined amongst bottles of various tendrils of the merchant’s grape arbor. The mind can become confused. This I find true each time my wheels roll me toward the store to purchase a pleasing wine for a church congregation. Choosing a fine eucharist wine is a daunting task.

 Whenever I take on this responsibility, I just look for a simple, tasty red wine. The red fruit of the vine is for consuming during our celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Considered to be consecrated as the real blood of Jesus Christ during the holiest of ceremonies, I view the impact on the sensibilities of God and his people brings my choice of communion wine a very great significance. This is not a task for the faint hearted.

 However, for help in the matter I’ve turned to the greatest advice… the Holy Bible. If the wine becomes a sacrament, because it certainly participates in the reality of our Lord’s shed blood. Though we are sinful

and imperfect… we believers want to choose the best possible wine for that unique and holy occasion. Color is important. Smell is important. And taste is very important. Thus for the task, before motoring to the store… I choose to get the Holy Spirit’s help.

 In referring to the scriptures, I found several relevant stories and verses. Seemingly, the first and most important section I read was the story of Jesus turning water into wine… the very best wine. The occasion happened during a wedding in Cana of Galilee. They had run out of wine for the wedding guests. Jesus was in attendance, and was subsequently called upon by his mother to help the happy gathering. Jesus, though somewhat reluctant… changed water into wine. The change was dramatic… and the taste divine.

 When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” (John 2:9-10)

The wine that Jesus made was the newest wine, but from the text we know that the steward of the wedding was startled. The wine he served was the best wine… like an old wine… well refined.

 At the store, as I chose and paid for what I hoped was a tasty, blood red wine, I thought about how often we Christians argue about the wine that we favor. No doubt some in my congregation would approve of the slightly, dry wine I had chosen… and others would favor something sweeter.

 With some doubts then, I returned to my car, simply because I am not a judge of fine wines. During that week, I considered my selection several times, doubting the wisdom of my wine choosing. Later in the week, my unhinged beliefs about the selection emerged on Saturday, just before my making final worship preparations for the next day. Thoughts about my wine choice were spurred once again, surprisingly… by a car show that I attended that very afternoon. Now dear reader, please know that while there seems to be no remote connection between the two topics… wine and cars… hear me out.

 Being held locally, the car show presented a vehicle that help to solve my struggles. I had seen the antique car many times before, but this time it made unique impact. It had aged well. Sitting there in beige, the ‘30s era Ford was just as savory to my tastes during that late afternoon show as the first time I’d seen it. A grand, restored example of its era, the car gave those who are knowledgeable about such things… a taste of Henry’s early manufacturing venture into the flathead V-8 engine. You see, that year demonstrated the grafting of a new engine into the already very successful lineage of the Model “A”… in order to produce the Model “B”… a car that led Ford into a new era of engine power. The essence grew into a taste that would last for several decades. Sweet, smooth power strokes from that engine’s eight cylinder design carried Ford, Mercury and Lincoln vehicles until to the end of its production in 1953. It reminded me of the white wine that my wife often loved to sip as we sat on the parsonage porch in the evening.

 That afternoon, I remembered that the flathead V-8 engine, however, was like a fine wine. It was not always dry. Like a wine, it occasionally emerged with a sour bite. You see, if one of the two thermostats stuck… unequal cooling took place. Overheating and cylinder block cracking could quickly leave a vinegary taste in an owner’s mouth. Pulling the dipstick would reveal the milky white hue of water in the oil.

 However, the old car’s mystique kept Ford aficionados faithful to the taste for decades. As World War II ended, many mechanics who had kept cars, tanks, trucks, airplanes, and boat engines and more running during the turmoil… returned home. Some of these found fertile fields with Model “T”, “A” and “B” Ford vehicles sitting amongst the overgrown orchards they had left behind. These wonderful pioneers of the hotrod age, with skills of making do with little, put new corks in the old Ford bottles. This skill led such lords of the Ford vineyard such as Zora Arkus Duntov to produce overhead valve cylinder heads for the basic block, for marine use.

 Given this, even today I find it marvelous that the reclamation of old Ford heritage began just as we found the orchard that sprang up from the Chevrolet 265 c.i.d. V-8 small block. The small-sized OHV (over-head-valve) V-8 engine put new zest into old standards. As the years rolled forward more so, Chevrolet small block sizes grew to 283, 327, 305 and 350 c.i.d versions. Ford also began to cultivate the OHV, V-8, 260, 289 and 302 c.i.d. small block engines. Each engine was an off-the-shelf candidate that could satisfy the tastes of those car builders who demanded brand purity.

 As I considered this history when walking through the show, I remembered many long-standing Chevy-vs-Ford debates. I even remembered and a rather blasphemous friend who dared squeeze a Mopar 340 into his Model “A” and another who went for the old 394 Hemi. The sour thought still makes me taste vinegar and want a spit cup.

 You see, I think that as each hot rodder reached for automotive perfection, each fell just a bottle of nitrous short. Whether holding to the original V-8, or grafting the chassis to wedge, semi-hemi or hemi engines, the original Ford taste was improved… but not perfected. I thought about this fact during that following evening, and determined that as usual… things play out just as they should. God has the creative habit of making our lives palatable after all. You see, just as no automobile… whether antique, classic, high boy or hotrod… is not quite perfect… neither is any brand or bottle of communion wine. However, even when that which is offered is not preferred in taste, it is the spirit in the wine that makes the event special. Thus it always is with the Holy Eucharist.

 What makes communion wine perfect is not the human, nor genetic rootedness of what is grown, crushed, fermented and consumed… but the presence of perfection that was provided by God. Scripture describes this growth. In the Holy Bible we read about how Jesus, who is the Son of God… took bread, broke it… and thus gave us His body to pay the penalty for our sins. He died that we might live!

 He also then raised a cup of wine before his followers and said… “This cup is the new covenant in my blood shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.” Having done so, he told those present at that supper, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

 Knowing this truth as we enter the sanctuary as part of the kingdom then, we are called to gather and remember these words. Whether the wine is new or old, sweet or dry, red, blush or otherwise… these words being spoken are surely the words of God granting us forgiveness and eternal life.

 Personally, for my taste during communion, I obviously prefer a red grape wine in preference to just using grape juice. Wine has a certain liveliness of spirit. It just seems to fit my own mental picture of my risen Lord’s smiling face.

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