John 2:1-11/ Wedding at Cana / Transformed
Our lives are a whole long series of losing things we love. It is cruel and uncaring. So when you go to a wedding and the reception, the feast, where you are surrounded by so much love, and hope, you are reminded that a wedding feast is one of the rare spoils of life.
She came up to me, radiant in her new bridesmaid dress- which in itself was a miracle because bridesmaid dresses tend to be hideous. She said, “Isn’t this great! Everything is so romantic, the love that’s all around us…and Everyone is crying…” And I said, “That’s what it’s all about…the crying.
But most weddings with all the love that is around you is also equalled by the tension to have things come out RIGHT.
So I was standing there outside with one of my good friends at the Wedding reception. The newly married couple had walked down the aisle after saying I do. Their thoughts turned to an unwritten future. I was anxious for them, now husband and wife – for their relationship had been a troubled one. I turned to my friend and asked, “Do you think it’s going to last?” [with cigarette in his mouth] He replied, “No.”
The story of the magi and that of the remarkable wedding at Cana in Galilee, are both what we call in the trade “epiphany” stories. The meaning of epiphany means an appearance, a manifestation, a demonstration and from these 2 wonderfully vivid and familiar stories we are meant to learn of Jesus’ real PRESENCE in the world. They are signs that are designed to lead us to discover where Jesus is, who Jesus is, and what Jesus is. The star and the wine answer these questions.
So we turn to the Gospel of John to get a decent answer as to who he is. And it is no accident that St. John places Jesus – for his debut – if you will – in the context of a Jewish wedding. If any of you have ever been to a Jewish wedding, you know how important that occasion is, how full of expectation and excitement.
However, ask those of us who have to deal with weddings on a full-time and professional basis, such as the clergy and musicians, the church officers and you will learn from us that a wedding is a public occasion in which the worst is usually brought out in the largest number of people, and that whatever can go wrong usually does and will. It falls to us, by and large, for these combat hours, to try to sort it all out. When I was stationed at Luss church many years ago, which as you know is a very popular wedding venue, I found out what a GLASGOW KISS was when things kicked off with the wedding guests. I thought to myself, “what are these weegies like?”
Despite what it says in the text, there is a long-standing counter-tradition that Jesus and his disciples were neither invited nor expected at the wedding at Cana. I know John says that “Jesus was invited also” but there is a very large tradition to the contrary. Jesus, the wedding crasher. Consider how the Greek has been translated. Also. As if an afterthought. Jesus was invited also, as if he had been on the reserve list and someone more grand, more important had been called to Parliament at the last minute for an emergency vote on leaving the Roman Empire. Can you hear that? And Jesus was invited also…. Had Jesus been invited he would have been lumped together with all the other misfit guests farthest from the Main Table near the loo or the kitchen. Have you been at that table? Oh, I’ve been there making stiff and awkward conversation and trying to be a good CHAP about it all. “So how do you know Jane?” “I’m her ex-husband.” “Oh.” The waiter comes up to you and asks, “More wine?” “Yes, please.” “Red or white?” “It doesn’t matter.” Down in one gulp like a pelican. [*I am indebted to the late Rev. Peter Gomes for this observation]
That, HOWEVER, was the least of the trouble. The wine RAN OUT and it ran out possibly because there had not been an accurate count due to the failure then as now, of so many people to RSVP properly. A Jewish wedding feast lasted for 7 days. To run out of wine at any wedding is a disaster, because wine is the lubricant that makes that impossible SCENE bearable- have you been to a wedding where the divorced parents are present with their new spouses? I have – as a groomsman. QUESTION: Where do you seat them in the church. ANSWER: As far away from each other as possible. Awkward.
But no wine at a Jewish wedding is a catastrophe- for reputations are ruined, the host embarrassed, the bride’s family shamed, the caterer made to look incompetent, and general chaos soon sets in and people get snippy. This is so because a wedding, is in essence, is pure transaction.
So, St. John knew precisely what he was doing when he placed Jesus in that chaos of that context, with its fear and loathing, but as we all know, Jesus saves the day. Who is Jesus? Jesus is Lord.
You notice too, for example, St. John’s account of where Jesus and his mother have a great little tiff. She comes up to him, and she says, essentially, “My boy WHERE have you been? they’ve run out of wine!” and he says, essentially, “I know that Mother, but my time has not yet come.” She, in exasperation, turns and says in an aside to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you. My son, he is the Lord. He can do everything.”
Now, I wish to make sure that you leave the service this morning knowing clearly what is and what is NOT the miracle in John 2. Please listen carefully. The miracle is NOT in the change from water into wine, remarkable as that is. And nor is the miracle in the fact that the later wine is better than the earlier wine, remarkable as that is. It is important to remember that we are not talking here about metaphorical wine or metaphysical wine or symbolic wine or spiritual wine. And we are most certainly NOT talking about grape juice. This is vintage stuff, and plenty of it for everybody. It’s like serving Barefoot brand of merlot, perfectly respectable table wine AND THEN breaking our cases upon cases of Chateau Lafite…2006…1986 even.
But even that is NOT the miracle. WHAT THEN IS THE MIRACLE? The miracle is found in the transformation NOT of the wine but of the FUTURE. Notice the words with which the miracle is defined: You have saved the best for now.” or in other words, “The best is yet to come.” The future is better than the past. Your best days are ahead of you.” That is the MIRACLE- of better things to come- of which Jesus is the first and most important sign. Where is Jesus? Yes, he is in the manger. Yes, he is at the wedding. But- and this is the big point that John wants us to fully comprehend- Jesus is AHEAD of us. He paves the way before us, he claims the future for us, he hallows, makes holy, what is to come, just when we are either tired of the present or resentful of the past, or fearful and anxious about the future.
Be Not Afraid
But as a footnote I ask you, “What is Jesus’ most important work in the world?” What is the thing that he is called upon chiefly to do and does?” I suggest to you this morning that is not healing the sick, or punishing the wicked, or performing miracles, or giving ethical guidance. Important as all of those things are. His most important work in the world is to rid us of our fear, both of this world and of the world to come.
That is his work for believers, and how often do we hear from his own lips another set of 3 words? BE NOT AFRAID. These are the worlds that describe his passage through the Gospels. He comes into the world, he inhabits places like mangers and weddings, crosses and tombs, in order to tell us, “Be not afraid.” He tells us that where he is where he goes we need not fear to follow.
Jesus goes before us, as he said, “Fear not, I am with thee, even unto the end of the age.” Emmanuel God with us. That is why, at the beginning of a new week, a new year, you and I, fearful and anxiety ridden as we are, must hear this good news for the Epiphany.
Emerson once wrote, “the name of Jesus has not so much been written on, as “ploughed into” the history of the world. His life split history in two: BC and AD, anno domini, the Latin phrase meaning: the year of our Lord. The time had not yet come for the Lord but it would and DID on the Cross.
I have learned in these difficult years for the Kirk that nobody is cut out to be a Kirk minister it has to be cut into you. The title of “Reverend” is NOT something you earn it’s something you live up to. In these difficult days for the Church of Scotland, my time with the Lord has felt sweet. Sweet. What a thing to say. Perhaps I am a minister after all. Destiny is a hard thing to run from. The Scots understand this.
DL Moody once said, “It is great deal better to live a holy life than to talk about it…Light houses do not ring bells or fire cannon to call attention to their shining. They just shine.”
Our time has come to just shine. To be transformed.
The Epiphany miracle, which lasts well beyond the season of its name, is that Jesus’ LIGHT is our reality.
Did you hear that story about an alcoholic who became a believer? He was asked how he could possibly believe all the nonsense in the Bible about miracles. “You don’t believe that Jesus changed the water into wine, do you?” “I sure do, because in our house Jesus changed the whiskey into furniture.”
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God.
16 January 2022