January 17th 2016
John 2: 1 – 11
Maggie Cogan – Reader
May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer
One of the loveliest things about teaching RE in school was that I was able to teach not only Christianity but other religions as well. Of all the religions, the one the children found most fascinating was Judaism, especially understanding a Jewish wedding – so different from a Christian one.
A traditional Jewish marriage is actually called kiddushin, which translates as “sanctification” or “dedication.” “Sanctification,” indicates that what is happening is not just a social arrangement or contractual agreement but a spiritual bonding and the fulfilment of a mitzvah a Divine precept. “Dedication,” indicates that the couple now have an exclusive relationship, that involves total dedication of the bride and groom to each other to the extent of them becoming, “one soul in two bodies.”
The thing that impresses me most about our Gospel story is that the events took place in rather ordinary circumstances. Many of the great truths Jesus taught and the miracles He worked took place sort of “on the way.” This event was not planned by the wedding party to be a stage for His activity. Jesus was simply engaged in life and met a need.
Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee. Cana is about four miles northeast of Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth and a two day walk from the site of Jesus’ baptism on the Jordan River.
The gospel of John often speaks about signs and about faith.
Signs as we all know point to something – for those with eyes to see – they testify to something that is greater than they are – and it is that greater thing we are meant to grasp – and not simply the sign itself.
This first sign that Jesus did — points to many things about himself and what he was about.
Firstly, Jesus’ turning water into wine is itself a picture of what he came to do. Jesus takes what is and shows us that it has the possibility to become something else. Something that is tired, worn out, devoid of joy, empty, and lacking purpose – can be transformed. It can be turned into something rich, fragrant, and ripe with the fullness of joy through his presence through his care.
There is a lot of learning and experience in that for all of us. Jesus can bring new life.
He can fill the emptiness in our lives – he can take whatever it is that we bring to him – no matter how little – or how much – and remake it – giving to it a savour – a taste – that is beyond the best that we ourselves are capable of providing.
Secondly – John notes that the wine came from the huge thirty-gallon jugs that stood full of water at the front of the house, vessels that were used by observant Jews to fulfil the rules on ceremonial washing. Even a wedding feast had to honour the rituals of cleansing. Jesus transformed those six jugs, ponderous symbols of the old way, into wineskins, harbingers of the new. From the purified water of the Pharisees came the choice– new wine of a whole new era. The time for ritual cleansing had passed———- the time for celebration had begun.
Thirdly – the Gospel story emphasizes the abundance of Jesus’ provision of wine. The wedding guests went from having no wine at all to having almost enough to swim in. Now, the age of the Messiah was long expected to be one of abundance – one in which the wine of joy – the cup of salvation would always be full and overflowing. So this miracle is a sign for those who have eyes to see of Jesus’ Messiah-ship. He is the long-awaited deliverer of Israel. He is the one who will purify Israel and all people. He provides more than is needed.
Fourthly – the miracle takes place at a wedding feast. Marriage has long been a symbol of the relationship between God and the people of God. We can notice that in this morning’s Old Testament reading from the Book of Isaiah, where the prophet tells us that at the time of Israel’s restoration and vindication God will take delight in them ——-and their land will be married. As a young man marries a young woman, so will your builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
The fact that the first sign that Jesus did – was at a wedding would not be lost on people. It was their belief that at the time of salvation that God would provide a table for feasting for his servants and a cup that would never run dry. That imagery is present in the much loved twenty- third Psalm of David whose final verses say
You prepare a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.
And finally— in this— his first sign, Jesus also stresses the place of his mother, Mary, in the work of redemption. It is Mary who triggers Jesus’ first act of public ministry by saying to him: “They have no wine.” It was a simple request showing that she trusted that her son would immediately respond and help. Jesus’ response to her seemed slightly brusque. He said, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me; my hour has not yet come.”
The only other place where Jesus calls his mother “woman” is at his passion as she stood beneath the cross. Then he handed her over to the care of John.
The miracle at Cana is, among other things—– a preview of the last Supper, the hour when Jesus transforms not water into wine—– but wine into blood, his blood shed for all humanity.
By telling Mary “my hour has not yet come” Jesus links what she is asking him to do with his sacrifice on the cross.
The best wine is saved for the last – the wine of salvation – a salvation won for us completely by Christ Jesus when he gave up his life for us, – a salvation that is not just for one day, or the one week during which a wedding is celebrated, – but forever.
Mary tells the servants in today’s reading to “Do whatever he tells you.”
That is what faith is all about responding to the words of Jesus, trusting that his word will be fulfilled, trusting that as he transformed the water of purification into the wine of joy, so he will transform us and lead us into the kingdom where the best is not only saved for the last—- but where the best lasts.
In his very helpful book Miracles, C. S. Lewis has pointed out that every miracle of Jesus is simply a kind of short-circuiting of a natural process; a doing instantly something which in general—– takes a longer period of time. Lewis says, “Each miracle writes for us in small letters something that God has already written, or will write, in letters almost too large to be noticed, across the whole canvas of nature.” That is what Jesus is doing: he is overleaping the elements of time, of growth, gathering, crushing and fermenting. He takes water — an inorganic, non-living, commonplace substance — and without a word, without a gesture, without any laying on of hands, in utter simplicity, the water becomes wine, an organic liquid, a product of fermentation, belonging to the realm of life. Thus he demonstrated his marvelous ability to master the processes of nature.”
Notice the simplicity of this account, how easily, how quietly, with such dignity this was done. He says simply, “‘Fill the jars with water.'” And they filled them to the brim with 120 to 180 gallons of plain, pure water. Then Jesus said, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward of the feast.” There was no prayer, no word of command, no hysterical shouting, no pleading with screwed-up face, no laying on of hands, no binding of Satan — nothing. He did not even touch the water. He did not even taste it afterward to see if it had happened. He simply said, “Take it to the chief steward of the feast.” What a beautiful, simple dignity! The water simply became wine.
As we receive Communion today, may we open our lives anew to God’s gifts- The best is yet to come! The glory of God is at hand.