Dear Christ Church Family,
Are we watching the end or a new beginning? It’s a question that is going through the minds of many of us right now as we look out our windows. The Psalmist in our Psalm today had the same question.
Thursday, June 4, 2020 RCL Daily Office Readings, Year 2
There are times when I read a Bible passage, trying to get a hold on its meaning, when a phrase gets a hold on me. That happened as I was reading one of our Psalms for today. I was reading Psalm 60, but not in my usual New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). It was the King James Version (KJV). I had never seen this particular phrase the way I suddenly did. The words leaped off the page. “Thou hast made us to drink the wine of astonishment.”
Instead of thinking immediately of the context of the passage, I was compelled into thinking how that description fits the Cup of Christ. The wine of communion, the sacramental element of the crushed grape, is the wine of astonishment for us. Christ’s blood was shed for us. We are astonished, indeed, by the depth of love, the gift of forgiveness and relational healing, and the intervening power of Jesus’ Spirit infused within us for the facing of the circumstances of our lives.
In that light, I returned to Psalm 60 and the wine of astonishment as the gift that is given when we experience communion. The Psalm’s context shows us that God had gained the Psalmist’s attention through a series of emotional calamities. A shattering national defeat had awakened the Psalmist out of the slumbers of complacency and forced him to see God’s judgment in what was happening. The Psalmist was not simplistic in his view of tragedy. Instead he asked, “Lord, what are you trying to tell me and your people?” He listened for what God had to say and what God wanted to have happen to his people through what was happening to them. And what he heard was the experience of the heady wine of astonishment. There is a progression in his astonishing realization: God’s judgment, God’s intervention, and God’s ultimate victory for God’s people. The wine of communion is all three for us.
We are astonished by the blood of the Cross. It startles us with the realization of how seriously God takes sin. It’s rebellion, self-justification, the running of our own lives until they run amuck, the selfishness and pride that twist our own natures, and starve the people around us for love.
Only a Cross could astonish us! Only a love like the Son of God’s could blast us out of our self-erected incarceration. The wine of the communion confronts us. We cannot take it lightly or with ceremonial uninvolvement. To take the cup is to take the cup of salvation. That is radical. It is saying, “Lord, you died for me! My sin and sins made it necessary! Forgive me, Lord!”
But this must be rediscovered in every circumstance, problem, and tension. The Psalmist was astonished, after what he and his people had done, that God would still persist to help them. “You have set a banner for those who fear you…that your beloved may be delivered.” (KJV vs 4-5)
To be God’s beloved! That’s the source of amazement, inexpressible joy, astonishment that blasts us open in incredulous delight. It’s one thing to know that we have failed and been forgiven, but to go on compulsively, repetitiously, intentionally to do those things that break God’s heart and still be “beloved” is so far beyond our barter concept of love that we find it near impossible to capture. That’s why we need the wine of astonishment repeatedly and often. We forget so easily. No wonder Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
If you are grasping this message, feeling the inner pangs of desire for the wine of astonishment, then you may well have already figured out where I’m going with this. The wine of astonishment, the Cup of Christ is also a metaphor for the power of God working through us and in us. And we need this just now. We stand now where the Psalmist did, our nation in trouble. Our nation is at a moral crossroads, as a democracy, as a nation of law, however unevenly applied these blessings have been. And we are also at that crossroads as a people, as a people who must choose between condemnation or compassion, as a people who must choose between judgment or justice, who must choose between bartered love or self-sacrificial love.
But the Cup of Christ isn’t just for our personal restoration, it also holds the draught we need to work for our nation’s redemption. The cup of astonishment is not yet empty. If we will drink this wine of justice and forgiveness, of limitless love and grace, then Jesus’ banner of love will be erected in us and among us to rally round together. That banner of love will direct our feet in the way to go. “With God we shall do valiantly” (vs 12) is the settled confidence of the Psalmist. With Christ’s love, the wine of astonishment, in this our time of national crisis, so shall we.