I was watching a film on Film 4 on the television on Friday night, a romantic comedy. Russell Crowe inherits his uncle’s vineyard in Provence and is trying to sell it. His uncle’s cellar has lots of ordinary wine, the kind you and I might drink. But there are also a few dusty bottles of the really good stuff, the type that connoisseurs understand and value. And we see a flashback of Uncle giving a lecture on how a glass of wine contains truth. Along comes the uncle’s illegitimate American daughter, and Tom Hollander (Rev), Russell Crowe’s friend and estate agent, falls in love with her, while Russell Crowe falls for a feisty French girl. There are difficulties and misunderstanding, but it all comes good in the end. A nice, undemanding, feel good movie.
But it was the wine that interested me. It would be, wouldn’t it. The ordinary wine and the really good wine.
When we were on holiday in Italy last year, we stayed on an estate at the top of a mountain where they grew grapes and olives. And we could buy wine and olive oil from the guy who owned the apartment. He had different grades and categories of wine. But even the cheapest, most ordinary wine, was really nice. It was cheap because it hadn’t been through the process of classification.
I don’t have an educated palate when it comes to wine. I tend to spend around £5-£6 a bottle, maybe £8 for special occasions. But when my son comes home for Christmas, he buys the wine for Christmas day and he will spend £20 a bottle, because he likes nice wine, and he understands what he is buying.
Not everybody likes wine. Some people much prefer beer or spirits. And some people won’t take alcohol at all, which could be because they don’t like it, or because they have made a choice to refrain, or because in their case, alcohol causes problems. A friend of my husband’s, a Catholic priest, an Irishman, decided on his ordination retreat to become tee-total, because alcohol caused so many problems for the Irish people. It was an act of witness. And he remains tee-total, 20 or 30 years later.
But in church, wine acquires a whole new meaning. In fact, it comes with layers and layers of meaning.
Jesus tells lots of stories in which he describes the kingdom of heaven as a feast, a banquet, to which ordinary people are invited, and all share in exquisite food and wonderful wines. Wine is part of the celebration, a characteristic of the kingdom where God is in charge. Though you always have to trust that no-one becomes too drunk, and certainly nobody ever becomes dependent on alcohol. And Jesus is trying to show that the kingdom of heaven is for everybody and it is a huge celebration.
The Gospel reading we heard just now is like one of Jesus’ stories, but acted out, a parable for real. The wedding feast is a symbol of the kingdom, and Jesus has come to bring in the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven means living with God in charge. And when we choose to be citizens of God’s kingdom, then it’s like going to a party where the wine is a whole lot better than we have ever tasted anywhere else. And there is so much of it, more than we can imagine drinking. But its not about the citizens of heaven as consumers, but the citizens of heaven opening up the doors to everyone else and sharing the abundant wine that is available for all. There is more than enough for everyone.
In a few minutes, I will give thanks to God for the bread and the wine God gives us, and ask the Holy Spirit to enable the bread and wine to be for us the body and blood of Christ. The wine of the wedding feast is offered to you here. This is the feast of the kingdom, and we are part of it. God in his generosity pours out upon us an unlimited supply of grace, of love, of forgiveness.
And another layer of meaning has settled into place. The wine of the kingdom is also the blood that was shed by Jesus when he died upon the cross, the blood. Jesus died because of the sins of the world, because he was passionate about the kingdom, and his kingdom clashed with the kingdoms of the world. The kingdom is not a pretty peaceful place, all in pastel shades. It is a huge challenge to the way the world is set up in terms of power and money. And the world reacted violently and killed the Son of God.
So the wine of the kingdom becomes the blood of Christ. And he invites us to share in it, to be part of it. We are the beneficiaries. We do it to remember him.
We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven and we share in the abundance that God pours out upon us; we are part of the celebration. We also receive the wine that Jesus asks us to share, and we remember. And we are changed, drop by precious drop.
Even Russell Crowe is changed by the good wine of the vineyard. When all the problems have been resolved, Russell Crowe gives up trading in shares, gives up the lies and deceit, the focus completely on money, and instead takes the chateau off the market, marries the beautiful French girl and settles for being a vintner, a maker of good wine. He has found the truth his uncle promised.
We are invited to enter the kingdom and discover the truth about wine. In real life, each one of us has a different relationship with wine, love it or hate it, but it is a symbol of what life in Christ is like, the wine of the kingdom and the wine of the Mass. We are invited to a wedding feast, a great party. Rejoice. Rejoice.