We always enjoy visiting M. Baranger. As a vigneron, he produces the most exquisite of wines, especially the regional Cabernet d’Anjou. As one wine buff commented (and here, as you would expect, I paste) “Very faint to begin with and suddenly flourishes with raspberry. Peach follows with a succulent cream and an almost tropical finish. Excellent.”
That, of course, is totally lost on me. For me its main quality is that it is very cheap. (Incidentally, did you realise that there is no French word for ‘cheap’. Just ‘pas cher’, i.e. not dear.)
So when we are within striking distance of his vineyard in Concourson-sur-Lyon, some 30 miles south of Angers, we pay him a visit. In fact, when we first came across his vineyard some 33 years ago, it was his parents who were running the place. He was then “le fils” of Baranger et fils.
Each time we visit, I ask “Do you remember me?” Each time he looks puzzled, either because he has no idea who I am or more probably, because he cannot make head or tail of my French. Still, we persevere.
Wine has an important place in the Bible. So the Psalmist can praise God for his wonderful goodness in blessing humankind; in particular “wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine.” (Psalm 104:15}. However, even though a good gift, wine can cause problems, especially if you are English.
Some years back while staying in Lille in northern France, we were welcomed by a French family we knew for a meal. I asked Phillipe where the locals went for lunch and he suggested the Brasserie de la Paix in the city centre. He also explained that technically a brasserie is the eating place attached to a brewery.
So the next day, there we were with our laden trays in the self-service queue and at the end we were invited to take either a wine glass or a glass tumbler which was added to the addition. Incredibly, like sodas at Costa or IKEA, once you bought your glass, you could have unlimited refills. And remarkably it seemed that nearly everyone made just one visit to the wine or to the beer taps. Just one glass! Quelle retenue !
I thought at the time: just imagine this in Liverpool, if you were allowed to refill your glass with wine or beer as much and as often as you liked. It doesn’t take much imagination to anticipate the inevitable drunken melee. The establishment would be closed within hours, minutes even. It would make News at Ten.
For some reason my fellow countrymen and women cannot handle alcohol and it is for such people as ourselves that the apostle Paul writes: “Don’t drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge drafts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18f, the Message translation).
And as Christians we need to be careful as to how we may influence others, especially those who are vulnerable to alcohol abuse. Again Paul writes “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.” (Romans 14:21). That is a hugely important principle.
That being said, Jesus loved wine. At least that is what his accusers said about him, even as Jesus himself tells us. “The Son of Man came, and he ate and drank, and you said, ‘Look at this man! He is a glutton and wine drinker, a friend of tax collectors and other outcasts!’” (Luke 7:24). Of course, it was not that Jesus loved food and wine as such but that he loved being with people, enjoying their company, celebrating their friendship, even those at the edges of society.
So as Jesus celebrates his final Passover meal with his disciples, taking the bread and the wine to himself as signifying his sacrificial death, he tells them: “For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ (Luke 22:18). It is not so much that Jesus is looking forward to drinking the wine of heaven as drinking the wine of heaven with his followers in renewed fellowship.
And of course, Jesus is the man to have around should you ever run out of wine at your wedding. He must have performed hundreds, thousands even, of miracles during his three year ministry, but John in writing his Gospel chooses just seven as being particularly significant. And the very first is Jesus changing the water into wine at Cana, at the wedding of one of his friends.
Quite a story as Jesus’ mother, undismayed by his initial response, offers her son’s services to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5). So Jesus organises them to carry six large stone jars filed with water to the master of the banquet. His response? This is wine of the highest quality, très cher indeed – only the best is good enough for the Kingdom of God (although it would be wasted on me!).
Above all the quantity! Somewhere between 600 and 900 75cl bottles! Just imagine driving that through UK Border inspection. As ever, Jesus is over-the-top, no carefully calculating how much is needed. Our cup runneth over, literally. A wonderful insight into the heart of God, who – as Jacqui’s Bible reading on Wednesday made clear – as our Heavenly Father, really does want us to enjoy life!
Certainly wine is an important metaphor for the Kingdom of God, his creation renewed in Christ. When Jesus was challenged about his disciples' apparently lax lifestyle, that they didn’t fast like the Pharisees, or even like the disciples of John the Baptist, he contested: “Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out, and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:16f).
Cause where there is new wine
There is new power
There is new freedom
And the Kingdom is here
I lay down my old flames
To carry Your new fire today
And how does this new wine come into being? Jesus makes it very clear: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser (or in French translations, le vigneron). Like M Baranger, God himself is fully committed to producing the very best wine. So as we abide in Christ we bear much fruit, fruit that becomes the wine of incontestable quality. His work, not ours. And his glory!
À votre santé!