Monday, 31 March 2014

Champagne Easter

Who is going to be using champagne in the chalice this Easter?

A few years ago I published an article in the Church Times reflecting on how much more embedded the Christian feast of Christmas is in our culture compared to Easter, and suggesting some ways in which we might make Easter more celebratory in ways that chime with our culture.

At the end I made four suggestions, saying

"I want us to make the Easter story just as ubiquitous, just as loved, just as owned by so many as the Christmas story.

1. Let’s make more of Shrove Tuesday. It comes at a cold, dark, miserable time of year. Lent is still a widely recognised and owned cultural phenomenon, but the Church looks depressingly pious unless we balance fast with feast. In the parish of St. Gabriel’s, Heaton, where I was a curate, we built on the expertise and contacts developed through a summer holiday club week by introducing a Mardi Gras weekend. On the Saturday before Lent we held a Mardi Gras children’s activity day, and on the Sunday morning a Carnival Eucharist. Pancake parties are better than nothing, but in this age of foodies they may need to become a bit more sophisticated in some social contexts.

2. I first came across Easter trees in the Netherlands over a decade ago. A few bare twisted branches are decorated with blown and painted eggs, small birds, or anything you like. Ideally the branches are of pussy willow so they already have their catkins, but the decorative twigs you can buy now would also work well. This would make a good family or Sunday school activity for Easter weekend. Decorations could be devised which reinforce the story and are cheerfully bright and attractive (perhaps Mexican crosses and butterflies).

3. I have heard of a cathedral letting off fireworks from its roof at its dawn liturgy. This is a great idea. Fireworks are ideal imagery for Easter. They literally lift your gaze and heart, exploding into dramatic and exultant life. Dawn could be problematic with noise in many locations. Also, the core audience attracted by fireworks, families with youngish children, are unlikely to attend at 5am. But fireworks on the Saturday evening could be a winner.

4. Finally, our Easter morning Eucharist should be seriously distinctive. A note of extraordinary celebration needs to be struck, preferably at the heart of the Eucharistic liturgy. My suggestion is that on Easter day we use champagne as our communion wine. Champagne is part of our cultural shorthand for celebration. Its use chimes perfectly with the Easter message of the reckless extravagance of God’s love, and with imagery of the wedding feast."

Since then, I have heard of quite a few churches doing number 4, and have done it myself. People LOVE it! And the celebratory 'pop' of a champagne cork at the preparation of the table is brilliant. I highly recommend you try it this Easter.

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