Popping Champagne

Years ago a theologian 

from University of Chicago said this:

“Christians ought to be celebrating constantly. We ought to be preoccupied with parties, banquets, feasts, and merriment. We ought to give ourselves over to joy because we have been liberated from the fear of life and the fear of death. We ought to attract people to the church quite literally by the fun there is in being a Christian.”

Though Christians often

Don’t live up to this,

I agree with him.

Years ago, soon after

joining All Saints

as a parishioner, 

I said to Bonnie,

“I love how much 

joy there is here. 

You get that the news 

we Christians have is GOOD.”

That was evident in many ways, 

but perhaps one of the clearest

is the popping of champagne corks

on our days of celebration. 

Still, I confess the first time

I saw that even I 

got a little nervous:

Is that allowed?

At the altar!?!

But I got over my fears, 

delighting in the joy

expressed in the offering

of great wine for the Eucharist. 

Then, in 2016

after Tracey’s mother died, 

and we were long gone

from All Saints,

we knew that

we wanted to have

her funeral at All Saints. 

We met with Bonnie

to plan the service: 

we picked out readings, 

chose the hymns, 

talked about the sermon, 

and, then, at the end of our meeting,

Bonnie said, 

“Don’t forget to bring a bottle of champagne,

and get the good stuff!”

Dutifully, Tracey and I 

went to the liquor store

and sprang for the 

$50 bottle of Veuve Clicquot

We both adored Elizabeth; 

having champagne worthy of her

felt exactly right, 

and we sort of loved

thinking about friends and family—

most NOT Episcopalian—

having a delicious sip of Champagne

at Communion.

We arrived early 

for the viewing before the funeral, 

handed over the champagne, 

which Bonnie handed over

to a seminarian to keep cold; 

later, we learned, he did so

by plunging it into a snowbank

out back,

forgetting perhaps 

that we were in Chicago.

I suppose I shouldn’t 

have been surprised then, 

when, Bonnie sidled up to me

and whispered, “The champagne is missing.”

Well, shoot.

But what could we do?

We were greeting people one after another, 

Bonnie was doing all the work

of getting ready for the funeral. 

Regular wine would have to do. 

Still, it niggled at us. 

We’d bought that champagne

because Elizabeth loved bubbles; 

we bought it to share

our faith in the goodness of God, 

the Good News of Resurrection

in the face of death. 

The service began, 

readings read, 

hymns sung, 

I preached the sermon, 

and then, somewhere in the midst of the prayers, 

I saw Bonnie give a slight nod, 

and I turned and saw Eileen Krause 

walking softly down the side aisle, 

a bottle-shaped bag in her hand. 

At the Eucharist, 

Bonnie popped a new bottle of Veuve Clicquot

and consecrated a loaf of bread and sparkling wine, 

and we each had 

a taste of the best wine, 

a sign of joy in the resurrection, 

even in the midst of our sadness,

and that delicious, sparkling wine

at the funeral of my beloved mother-in-law

captured the joy we are meant to feel, 

the joy and celebration that we see and hear

At the wedding of Cana.


There is a LOT we could talk 

about in this story of the wedding from Cana,

but what I see so clearly 

is overflowing abundance,

radical grace,

the lavishness of,

the joy and laughter behind, 

Jesus’ actions. 

This is Jesus’ first act in ministry

In the Gospel of John.

At 30, he’s attending 

a small-town wedding 

With his mom and disciples.

In the midst of the festivities,

the wine runs out—

A disaster.

For in those days

The bride and groom and their families

Were expected to host a 

Seven-day party.

This was essential 

in a culture of hospitality:

It represented the goodness and blessing of God;

it represented the family’s role in the community.

To run out of wine 

wouldn’t just 

have been inconvenient or embarrassing:

It would have been shaming,

A catastrophe

The kind of thing 

you don’t live down

and is never forgotten

in a small town.

And, so, Mary steps in:

“They have no wine.”

Jesus, being a bit of a brat, responds:

“What concern is that 

To you and to me?

My hour has not yet come.”

And here I swear the Gospel writer

Is laughing as he wrote this,

Because Mary ignores Jesus—

You know, Savior, King of Kings—

And says to the servants,
“Do whatever he tells you,”

making clear that he WILL take care of it,

Despite what he says.


Jesus looks at the jars

used by guests 

to wash up before eating

and asks the servants

to fill them with water.

There are six jars, 

each able to hold up to 25 gallons.

He tells the servants 

to draw off some of the water

and take it to the chief steward, 

which they do. 

The steward is amazed and perplexed; 

here is wine, 

and not just any wine, 

but delicious wine, the best wine, 

and there are gallons and gallons and gallons of it, 

enough to supply the wedding feast

not just for a few more days,

but for weeks to come!

The steward is agog, delighted, confused, 

saying to the bridegroom,

“Everyone serves the good wine first, 

And then the inferior wine 

After the guests have become drunk.

But you have kept the good wine until now.”

This is like serving the 

Chateauneuf de Pape, the Dom Perignon,

AFTER having already served

folks the boxed wine or 

the two-buck Chuck from Traders Joe’s.

In other words,

It’s profligate, ridiculous, 

A reversal of how things 

Are supposed to be done!

The steward understands

That this is GOOD wine,

He can taste it, 

But he doesn’t know

Where it’s come from,

Or why. 

So, a pushy mom.

An exasperated Messiah.

A delightful miracle

to keep the party going.

A clueless steward.

All in the service 

Of Jesus’ first sign,

In the backwater of Cana,

Where Jesus first reveals his glory,

Leading his disciples to believe in him.


The point, here, of course,

Is not the miracle itself

But what it tells us about Jesus,

About God,

So that we might believe

As the disciples believed. 

And what do we learn?

We learn that God wants JOY for us,

God wants love and laughter.

God’s grace overflows,

Even when we don’t understand it

or know where it comes from.

God will reverse 

the way things are supposed to be 

In order to share the good.

And if we hope to be aware,

Hope to be open to this grace,

Rather than allowing 

All that is good and loveable,

Beautiful and holy

To pass us by, 

Then we might have to get comfortable

With being corrected,

Or with asking God 

a second time to do what’s right.

We might get used to

looking a little foolish,

being lavish with our love,

over the top with our laughter,

ridiculous in our generosity,

too enthusiastic with our hugs

Because that’s the kind of God we worship:

One who gives us good wine

When we’re too drunk or stupid to know any better,

One who gives us more wine

Than we can use or deserve,

One who can use whatever is at hand to bless us.


This might make us a little uncomfortable.

We humans like to follow the rules,

Worship in a particular way—

Is popping champagne at the altar ok!?!—

Give money to folks 

We think deserve it, 

Hang out with folks like ourselves,

Throw out the old when it’s not working.

Well, at least I know that’s how I am.

But I hold on to the memory of

a bottle generously appearing at a funeral,  

Champagne in the chalice. 

That was a sign to me 

off god’s grace and abundance, 

the lavish love God has for us.

When I get stingy

You know, 

Every few minutes or so—

It helps me to remember 

How the good wine

Has shown up in my life,

Over and over again,

Even when I didn’t know where it came from.

It helps to remember that 

the good wine in my life,

all the good in my life,

Is only and always of God. 

And I see, I feel, I know

the goodness,

The grace, the abundance,

The joy, the laughter, of God

Here at All Saints:

In outrageous, laugh-out-loud Christmas pageants

written anew each year, 

hours spent by volunteers and parents and children

to share the stunning news 

of Christmas—God loves us so much

that he had to join us.

I see God’s abundance 

in lavish parties and sparkling Sundays and disco balls

and the ways you care for one another.

I see God’s joy in our joy and openness 

to whoever walks through the door,

in your generosity 

in pledge campaigns and rectory campaigns

and Greenlining campaigns and bake auctions

where cakes go for $1000!


Beloved, we continue

to live in a time

when life feels harder than 

we think we can bear: 

a cold Chicago winter with

Omicron spreading so fast

that we’re once again

stuck at home most of the time,

our only joy each day

the new Wordle;

parents and healthcare workers,

teachers and students

facing an ugly sense 

of déjà vu as they keep doing

what they were hoping 

was, finally, coming to an end;

the weekend when we remember and honor

the Rev’d Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

and all who have fought

for social justice and equality

while living in a country 

hell bent on white supremacy.

Even now, even NOW,

even in the midst of this mess, 

God is acting. 

In the midst of a funeral, 

with its sorrow and grief

and weird family dynamics: 

Champagne. Corks popping. 

In the midst of 

all the sorrows of life, 

we are not meant merely

to “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

No, even now, 

when disaster looms, 

we know we have a God

who promises that we are heading

to a future where there is

good wine and lots of it, 

where crying and weeping are no more. 

Even now, as we do 

what we know God calls us to do—

the hard work of justice, 

the painful work of dismantling racist structures, 

The dailiness of doing our jobs with care

and loving family and friends,  

the vulnerable work of caring for the ill—

even now, we are to celebrate

because we’ve been liberated from fear

of life and fear of death

and we know our God

is One who delights in us. 

So we do not merely grit our teeth

and carry on. 

No, Beloved, we pop champagne.