Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Wine to gladden the human heart

Okay, I admit it. I am in danger of becoming obsessed with wine. But at this stage in the Lenten journey that may not be surprising!

However, it is not Lent or the absence of wine that has been dominating my thoughts. Rather it is the attitude of some Christians to wine – and other alcoholic drinks. I am well aware that attitudes and practice within the Christian community has changed over the last few decades. When I first made a clear decision to follow in the Way of Jesus it was in a context in which drinking alcohol was considered to be inappropriate for Christians. For me that represented a welcome break with some of my underage pre-Christian teenage practice which had involved a fair amount of alcohol indulgence. A clean break was – for me – an important part of beginning the road of discipleship.

Not that I stayed ‘tee-total’. Attitudes in the ‘evangelical’ Christian world were beginning to change and more and more people were drinking on occasion. Not in excess – or anything like it. But wine with a meal or a couple of pints of an evening were considered relatively normal by some of my fellow Christians, while others were still adhering to abstinence, and urging everyone else to do likewise!

That said I entirely respect those who do not drink. I have many friends who (for a variety of reasons) cannot drink, or others who choose not to out of personal Christian conviction. And, of course, I completely understand those who give up alcohol for a season as a spiritual discipline (for example, for Lent!).

When I read the Bible I find that it is almost entirely positive about wine etc, while being negative about drunkenness. And in church history we find that Christian ‘tee-totalism’ is a very recent phenomenon. Of course, there were always those who chose to deny themselves wine and strong drink for reasons for personal choice or spiritual discipline. But by and large the Scriptural witness is positive towards wine (it gladdens our hearts!) but negative towards drunkenness.

And when we come to regard our Protestant tradition pre the 19th / early 20th century obsession with ‘temperance’ then we find that the likes of Luther, Calvin and Knox were not slow to use wine or extol its virtues.

But what has really made we wonder recently is a wedding celebration we attended. It was a lovely event and I am delighted that we were there. However, at the couple’s request there was no alcohol served which was fine as far as I was concerned as a) I was driving and b) it is Lent! But I could not help wondering ‘Why?’ If ever there was a time for wine was it not a wedding? But what was even stranger is that the preacher in his address used the drinking of wine with a meal as an illustration of what he wanted to say. So what was all that about?!?

It took me back several years to a similar event when a relative was getting married and again for reasons of the couple’s choice arising out of their personal Christian commitment, no alcohol was served. But the officiant used the Wedding in Cana of Galilee as his theme and spoke of the wedding turning out like a free day in Oddbins?!? But then no wine to toast the happy couple of celebrate their new life together!

And again I ask, ‘Why?’

If people cannot celebrate a wedding (of all things) with a glass of bubbly, but still hear the preachers speak of water being turned into wine, what on earth is going on? Anyone got a clue?

Easter Day cannot come quickly enough!