Easter 2014: Celebrate Easter in style with Champagne communion
A vicar in Durham has begun a new tradition in her church; champagne at Eucharist on Easter Sunday.
Miranda Threllfall-Holmes believes that we need to inject celebration into our gatherings, which she argues is at the heart of the Easter story.
"I first started thinking about the idea when I was working as the university chaplain in Durham," she explains.
"I had a student come to me and say how everyone loves Christmas – with all the lights, window displays and festivities – and it's a big exciting thing in a way that Easter just isn't.
"There isn't that same sense of cultural excitement; it's just chocolate eggs for a lot of people. At Christmas shops will have displays that at least include things that remind people of the basic nativity story, but at Easter there's nothing like that.
"So I began to think – how can we make Easter more exciting? I don't want to sound trivial, but how can we make a link between Easter and the things that our culture thinks of as celebratory? While Christmas has taken on a wider cultural significance, Easter has remained a 'churchy' festival, and the things that we do in church on Easter Sunday are pretty much the same that we usually do. How can we make it more culturally interesting?"
It was out of discussions such as these that Miranda began exploring some new ideas. She wrote an article for the Church Times a few years ago in which she suggested that churches begin celebrating the festival with champagne during communion, and the idea has taken off.
"I've heard of loads of churches doing it. At my church we usually have baptisms on Easter Sunday so there are lots of people there who wouldn't normally come, and the look on their faces when you pop the cork on a bottle of champagne in the middle of the service! You get lots more people coming forward for communion than would otherwise," she laughs.
"It's totally in keeping with the Canon law – champagne is wine. And it's fantastic to have something so celebratory at the heart of the Eucharist. Champagne is the cultural shorthand for celebration in our society, so it's great to make this particular communion special."
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In the past, Miranda has also organised celebratory services before the beginning of Lent. "It made this brilliant contrast between the fast and the feast," she says. "If we just focus on Lent, we miss out on that."
She is also passionate about bringing fun and joy back into the Church; believing that they are integral to an active and living faith and speak of God's boundless love.
"Champagne reminds us of weddings and celebration. In the Gospels, so many of the parables and so much of the imagery is about the ridiculous and extravagant nature of God's love," she explains.
"For example when the woman pours a precious bottle of perfume over Jesus' feet, and the disciples all chime in with 'what a waste of money'. Having that extravagance at the heart of communion on Easter day might make some people a bit funny, but God's love is over the top, and that's what Easter's about.
"When you think about what is really going on: God incarnate, dying and rising to life, it's totally extravagant in terms of what he's prepared to do for us! The pomposity of the church can drive me mad, and there's something about saying let's just get a bottle out and celebrate."
Her suggestion is that we as Christians learn to just enjoy ourselves and "not take ourselves too seriously".
"We take the Easter story seriously, but when Jesus says we should be like children I think he means we should be playing a lot more rather than working all the time; playing and celebrating with the joy of simply being alive that children have," she says.
"It's often hard to remember, with pressure to keep the church going with funding and members and things, but I do wonder if we just enjoyed God and ourselves more, would we be more attractive?"