Alcohol And Holy Week

Published 4:35 pm Thursday, March 28, 2013

Irony of ironies, the Cumberland ABC store grand opening was this week, Holy Week. Tuesday morning, tucked away between Palm Sunday and Easter, hard liquor was made available for purchase in Cumberland County.

Ironic or, perhaps, appropriate. Depends on which side you're on. The many pastors who spoke during last May's Cumberland Board of Supervisors meeting would certainly find it highly inappropriate.

And, yet, I tend to think the timing of the opening is appropriate.

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Life is messy. Alcohol can make it messier. There are drunks who drive, putting themselves and others at risk. There are those who harm others or themselves when they drink in excess. Innocent people are killed. When we begin talking about alcohol, some people speak from very real, personal experiences of trauma, pain and hurt because a person in their lives chose to drink too much.

While I personally never had any of those experiences, I used to choose not to drink alcohol. I used to think that if I did things like not drink alcohol or go to church more often, God would some how be happier with me. Maybe I thought he'd be happier because I wouldn't be quite as big a mess to clean up. Maybe because he wouldn't have to work as hard to “save” me. I mean, I'd already half-way saved myself!

But, the truth is, I still had plenty of messes in my life.

I now believe the point of Holy Week, ultimately, is not us drawing close to God in order to get away from our messes. The point is that God drew close to us and our messes. God became a human so that we could hear him and see him and touch him and talk about him in a way that we can understand and relate to, at least partially. Now, through Holy Week, we have a story to tell. A story that involves betrayal, pieces of gold, the crow of a rooster, bread, love, wine, things we all can touch on some level.

When Jesus sat down to eat his last supper with his closest friends and followers, what did he choose to make a key part of his ministry? Wine.

A Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, points out during a sermon that a lot has changed since the Bible was written, often making it difficult to relate to it. She confesses, “I have no form of reference for shepherds and agrarian life, and I don't know what it's like to have a king or a Caesar, and I don't know a single fisherman, much less a centurion, and I guess I can't speak for all of you but personally I've never felt I might need to sacrifice a goat for my sins.”

The one thing that hasn't changed over all those years, she says? The human condition.

And, I would add, alcohol. I'm sure cavemen were fermenting vats of fruit just about the time they invented the wheel. Certainly some of the first debacles in Scripture involve alcohol. Even Noah had a vineyard. That didn't go well. Look it up: Genesis 9.

You don't think there were mean drunks back in Jesus' day? You don't think there were those who became addicted? Of course there were.

Life is messy, alcohol is messy and Jesus knew that and he did not swerve away. As a matter of fact, instead of hanging out with those who looked clean and put together, he tended to be with those who looked the messiest: thieves, liars and whores. And, instead of offering water – pretty straightforward, easy to clean-up stuff – Jesus offered his followers a messy drink, a drink that held the power for both pleasure and pain.

Sure, there is the it-was-really-just-grape-juice argument. Personally, I find it far-fetched and an anachronistic attempt to read our own fears into Scripture.

The fact of the matter is, Scripture states – and Christian tradition has held for a few thousand years – that on the night that he was betrayed Jesus took wine and he thanked God for it and offered it to his disciples, saying “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood.”

Water would have been so much easier for many to swallow. But, no, wine. And this isn't just wine. This is wine that is also his blood. That is, if we go with what Scripture says.

Kind of confusing. Kind of weird and bizarre. Early accusations against the church of cannibalism don't seem too far a field, do they?

There is something I didn't tell you about that Lutheran pastor. She is a recovering alcoholic. By the grace of God, she has been clean and sober over 20 years. While attending an outdoor Eucharist she officiated last summer, I was given the opportunity to come forward and receive either wine or juice, both in mason jars.

Certainly there is a time when grape juice is appropriate. Certainly, there is a time when alcohol is not appropriate. But, most of all, what is always appropriate is to remember that God has come to us, in the middle of all our human messiness. That God can speak into the life of a struggling alcoholic and bring a light for all to see.

Gold chalice, disposable plastic communion cups, mason jars, wine, juice. This is my blood, poured out for you. I am God, come to earth to reach you.

Holy Week is not about cleaning ourselves up, putting on our best clothes or cooking our best meals so that God or, more likely, others can admire how put together we are. It is not about getting rid of the messiness of life.

Holy Week is realizing who we are and realizing who Jesus is and that he came to be with us. Nadia has this to say about Holy Week:

“So go ahead. Don't wait until you think your motivations are correct. Don't wait till you are sure you believe every single line of the Nicene Creed (no one does). Don't worry about coming to church this week for the right reasons. Just wave branches. Shout praise for the wrong reason. Eat a meal. Have your feet washed. Grab at coins. Shout, 'Crucify him.' Walk away when the cock crows. Because we, as we are and not as some improved version of ourselves…we are who God came to save. And nothing can stop what's going to happen.”

So, while I won't condemn you if you decide to visit the ABC store, I will encourage you to visit church at some point this weekend. Because, whether you drink or not, whether you think you have it all put together or not, whether you're an alcoholic or Amish, you need to be reminded that you are who God came to save, “and nothing can stop what's going to happen.”