Saturday, May 31, 2008

Thoughts After a Wedding

I went to a wedding of a student of mine today. I don't say this very often, or lightly, but it was a beautiful ceremony. It's clear that this young man and woman desire to honor God in their lives and to follow Him. Everything in the ceremony pointed to Christ, genuinely and honestly.

The readings were beautiful, and one, from John 15, stirred quite a bit of contemplation within me.

1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.

2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.

4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

We took communion today, and this verse came to mind as I thought about the wine we drank as the blood of Christ. I began thinking about the power of story and how Christ used stories, parables and metaphors so often to convey fundamental truths about our life. I relish the fact that our Creator is a creator, a God of Story, a God of art and music, and believe that the depths of the stories He told can always be plumbed for hidden truths.

This passage about the vine and the branches, and the cup that we shared, brought to mind the passage I read in Thomas Merton a week or so ago, where he says that our suffering "is the Passion of Christ, stretching out its tendrils into my life in order to bear rich clusters of grapes, making my soul dizzy with the wine of Christ's love, and pouring that wine as strong as fire upon the whole world."

We are so familiar with the richness in the symbolism of the vine and the branches, of grapes needing to be crushed, to die and ferment into new life. We've all heard the sermons about the need for the Master Gardener to prune us so that we will bear more fruit. But what I've never thought about was something that flashed into mind this afternoon at this wedding, something that I had read about wine a few weeks ago that didn't resonate with me at all until today.

A friend of mine at work has been praising the wines from Spain, and specifically some wines that are coming from 100 year old vines that were abandoned long ago. I decided to research them some more and began reading about the wines that were being produced. The writer of the article I read reported that the new vintners recognized the wisdom of the vintners who had planted the vines near the turn of the last century, because they instinctively knew that the terribly poor soil and arid conditions were ideally suited towards making the best of wines.

Grapes need terrible soil to work their magic. When the soil is awful, the vines have to work harder--they create smaller grapes that are more concentrated with sugars, which when crushed, produce amazing and remarkable wines. I find this mind blowing.

It is no accident that Christ uses the metaphor of vines and branches, and speaks of wine so often, or that his first miracle dealt with transforming water into wine. Wine is about suffering--we are pruned in our suffering, we are crushed as he was crushed, poured out, as Merton says, as "wine as strong as fire upon the world." What dawned on me today was the fact that in order to be "wine as strong as fire," we've got to be planted in pretty awful soil.

Suffering, I'm coming to believe, is the soil God uses to make us into the sons and daughters that He desires us to become. It's clear that whatever ailments we might have, or what weaknesses may exhibit themselves in our lives, or whatever tragedies occur, as they inevitably do, all are being used by God to allow us to become wine as strong as fire, to then be poured out upon the world. And indeed, wherever God plants us, no matter what the quality of the soil might be, He recognizes that for us, for the particular wine He desires to produce within us, the soil we find ourselves in is exactly the right soil that we need to become the man or woman He willed for us to be from before the dawning of this world.

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