A Sober Intoxication

For these people are not drunk, as you suppose,
since it is only the third hour of the day (that is, 9 am).Acts 2:15

I spent some time during my off day, watching some of the celebrations that occurred after Liverpool won the Champions League final in Madrid last weekend. There were some touching heartfelt tears accompanied by much joy from having won the most important trophy available in club football. But there were also some funny scenes that surfaced of people who were enjoying themselves, especially after having imbibed a few too many intoxicating beverages. Many of those made their way into social media, and I reckon that they will resurface in the not too distant future as new memes and GIFs in days to come.

It’s not too hard to imagine that this might have been what happened in the streets of Jerusalem on that day of Pentecost. The mockers accused the disciples of being “filled with new wine.” (Acts 2:13) In other words, drunk on what was essentially unfermented wine (what is essentially grape juice). In my mind’s eye, the scene may have been something like what the streets of Liverpool and Madrid after the final whistle of the game last Saturday. There would have been a joyous buzz, dancing, singing, and even some chaos that is inevitable when people overindulge in intoxicants. And this must be why Peter’s first words when he stood up to address the crowd were, “these people are not drunk, as you suppose.” (Acts 2:15)

Being filled with the Spirit, however, has some very important differences from a person filled with spirits (of the alcoholic kind), even though there are many apparent similarities. Paul made this connection when he said, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit…“ (Ephesians 5:18)

When a person is drunk, they lose their inhibitions. A drunk person does things that they would never do if they were sober. They have lost their mind. In some ways, this is why revivals often seem chaotic. They can be scary to those who haven’t imbibed, and at times may seem off-putting. Raniero Cantalamessa, a Roman Catholic preacher and teacher in the Roman Catholic Charismatic movement says, “When spiritually intoxicated, a person is out of his mind not because he is bereft of reason, as is the case with wine or drugs, but because he passes beyond reason into the light of God.” (Sober Intoxication of the Spirit: Filled with the Fullness of God, 2005)

Yet this is the type of intoxication we are called to drink in deeply. St Augustine in his address to some newly-baptized Christians on Easter said:

The Holy Spirit has come to abide in you; do not make him withdraw; do not exclude him from your heart in any way. He is a good guest; He found you empty and He filled you; He found you hungry and He satisfied you; He found you thirsty and He has intoxicated you. May He truly intoxicate you! The Apostle said, “Do not be drunk with wine which leads to debauchery.” Then, as if to clarify what we should be intoxicated with, he adds, “But be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart” (see Ephesians 5:18ff). Doesn’t a person who rejoices in the Lord and sings to Him exuberantly seem like a person who is drunk? I like this kind of intoxication. The Spirit of God is both drink and light.

This intoxication is “sober” in that it leads us to become more and more like Jesus. It fills us with the fruit of the Holy Spirit and allows us to exercise the gifts of the Spirit. Cantalamessa describes it like this.

It is a state in which a person feels possessed by and led by God, a state that, rather than driving us away from participation in the community, leads us precisely to commitment, requires it of us and often even makes it easier and more joyful. To describe sobriety in more traditional terms, it is an enthusiasm (from entheos, meaning “filled with God”) but an enthusiasm based on the cross.

And for him, the cross means a movement towards humility, charity and purity — in other words, towards a greater Christlikeness. Yet this is not in the human sense, an achievement to attain. Rather it is a gift to be received. It is a surrender and acceptance toward spiritual defeat. As Cantalamessa says, “The gift of God, which is the Holy Spirit, requires free acceptance—precisely because He is a gift—just as the marital gift of the bridegroom requires a free ‘yes’ from the bride. But our ‘yes’ is not genuine or profound unless it has been declared by way of the cross.” This is why Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

So, as we remember and reflect on Pentecost, let us also take the time to wait on the Lord, asking for a fresh outpouring of His Spirit upon us. Let us abandon our control, dignity and self-protection mechanisms which prevent us from embracing Him. Allow God to do a deep work of renewal in us, and to fill us to overflowing with the unbridled, perfect joy in Christ. Let us drink deeply from “the wine of the cross [which] is the only wine that produces the intoxication of the Spirit.” (Cantalamessa)

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