New Wineskins

A few years ago, my husband and I visited one of the oldest wine cellars in Germany.  The tour included an underground maze of Roman cellars.  At one point we stopped to look down at ancient cellars that had been dug out seven floors below us, deep into the earth, frightening, winding staircases lost in the dark, now roped off across a not-so-sturdy looking metal railing.  The damp, moldy stench stuck to our clothing as we meandered back to daylight. The guide gave us free time to browse the cellar’s museum that included vats and glasses from several centuries.  As I gazed through the protective glass at Roman goblets and wine sacks, I could not help but feel the rush of time’s wind.  Who had put their lips to these goblets?  Who had carried the vats?  And then I thought of new wineskins, the home of fresh wine.

As I was talking and praying with a dear friend Monday morning, she spoke passionately about a book she is reading at her church and how she is being called to new wine.  Now, I can’t imagine this merciful and godly woman being any more merciful than she already is but God is doing a new work in her life.

He is doing a new work in my life.  And I couldn’t get the imagery she shared with me out of my mind. New wine.  And new wine cannot be put into old wineskins.  So.  Then.  New. Fresh wineskins.

In ancient Israel,  grapes were pressed in the winepress and then left in the collection vats for a few days. Fermentation started immediately on pressing, which allowed the first “tumultuous” (gassy) phase to pass. Then the must (fermenting juice) was put in clay jars to be stored or into wineskins if it was to be transported some distance.  It was these clay jars and old hardened wine skins that the museum so carefully displayed.

The wineskins were made of partially tanned goat skins, sewn at the holes where the leg and tail had been. The skins were filled with must (partially fermented wine) in the opening at the neck and then tied it off.

If the workers poured freshly pressed must directly into the skin and closed it off, the tumultuous stage of fermentation would burst the wineskins. After this stage, however, the skins stretched enough to handle the rest of the fermentation process. Skins that had already been used and stretched out (“old wineskins”) could not be used again since they could not stretch again. If they were used again for holding wine that was still in the process of fermenting (“new wine”), they would burst.

New wine needs time to become the perfect end result.  A true vintner (winemaker) schools himself in the art of winemaking.

But a vigneron cultivates the vineyard for winemaking.  A vigneron’s care and placement and tender care of the vines and fruit ensure grapes that produce the best wine.

And so God is The Vigneron, the Vinedresser.  Jesus, the Vine that produces good fruit.  (John 15:1)

Is God calling you to new wine?  It could be a new ministry, a reshaping of who you are.

For me, it is a deepening of this realization that Jesus died on that cross for the ugly in life.  He resurrected to defeat the ugly and replace it with grace.  All around us are people with messy lives, even those who seem to have it all together – and yes, maybe, especially those who seem to have it all together.

I don’t yet know what the new wineskin will be made of or what the new wine will taste like.  But God knows.  And so I trust the One who loves and wait expectantly for His tender shaping.

 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

Matthew 9:17