Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
Even before we got engaged last November Annie and I had started planning our wedding. We were discussing venues, dreaming of what clergy we wanted to preside, even starting to pick out hymns. Yes, this is what happens when church nerds plan a wedding mass. As we contemplate the reception, there’s one thing I know I can count on. There’s a tradition in her family, as Annie and her father enjoy making wine as a hobby, that for all the children’s weddings, there is a special wedding wine that is made and bottled. Now of course this needs to be preplanned because wine has to sit in the bottle awhile and condition. Then of course it’ll need to be brought to the wedding location from Oregon, and hopefully enough has been made for the Midwestern Lutheran sized wedding set in an Episcopal sized church. It seems like perhaps what we should do instead is just invite Jesus and friends.
Now last week we observed the Baptism of Jesus, which alongside the visitation of the Magi, and the first miracle at the Wedding of Cana are how we mark our understanding of literally the epiphany that Jesus Christ is God incarnate. These events herald the incarnation of God into the world, and are part of the early understanding of Jesus’ legitimacy as the Christ. The interesting thing is that in the synoptic Gospels, immediately following Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit of God drives him into the desert for 40 days. Obviously, since we aren’t starting Lent for another 45 days, we need to talk about something else first. So we get the wedding feast at Cana. This is the first public miracle of Jesus’ ministry and there is a lot said by such an almost nonchalant telling of the event. This event is only recounted in the Gospel of John, and is one of the very few times that Jesus’ mother is mentioned in that gospel.
There we are at a wedding feast in Cana. A small town by any account, and it’s hard to imagine the wedding feast consisting of more than one or two hundred people at the very most. In the midst of the feasting and celebrations the wine runs out. Mary brings this to Jesus’ attention and his response is really curious. He says, “What does this have to do with me? My time hasn’t come yet.” Now this of course is very good foreshadowing to the institution narrative, to Jesus saying drink of the wine for it is his blood of the new covenant. But, this is also important about how the author of John writes and where the focus is at. I don’t know about you, but if I ever, even today, responded to my mother by first calling her ‘woman’…I’m going to guess that isn’t going to go well for me. But that phrasing connects directly with the moment during the Passion when Jesus tells his mother to regard the Apostle John as her son.
Now, at the wedding feast, Mary doesn’t argue with Jesus, they don’t discuss it, she simply instructs the servants to do as Jesus says. She leaves the decision on what he’s going to do in his hands. Jesus tells them to take the stone jars full of the water for the rite of purification and start serving from those. I think there is some importance in recognizing that Jesus doesn’t wave his hands over the barrels. He doesn’t swirl his finger in them seven times, he doesn’t do anything to indicate this is a magic trick or to draw attention to himself. He simply tells the servants to pour from the barrels. When they do, what is handed out is exclaimed as the best wine by the steward.
There are a few things I want you to notice. The first is that when this happens, the servants don’t go to the steward or even the host and say, “by the way, that amazing wine was actually changed from water by the guy sitting over there.” There’s no grand public demonstration, no big revelation, no one is thanking Jesus for this, it’s really a moment for him to show his disciples that the one they are following is more than just your average rabbi. The second thing I’d like to point out is based on a little math I did. Our translation of John says these six stone jars each held 20 to 30 gallons of water. So they fill them all to the brim, so let’s say they’re each 30 gallons…which means we’re talking about 180 gallons of wine. Just to be clear, in our modern standard system of 750mL per bottle that comes out to 908 bottles of wine, or seventy five and a half cases. Like I said, invite Jesus and his buddies to your next wedding. This isn’t a wedding in Jerusalem, or Rome, this is Cana. That is a lot of wine for a wedding in Cana. That, coupled with this being the best wine the steward has tasted together speaks to a very important change in the world.
John the Baptist has been in the wilderness eating locusts and honey, wearing hair shirts and proclaiming that the time of repentance is at hand. The messiah, the God incarnate shows up and overflows the wedding feast with more of the best wine than the party can reasonably consume. This is the change. Jesus Christ, the one foretold has come and now the Kingdom of God is at hand. That Kingdom is one of abundance, of grace, of joy, and of celebration. Isn’t that what the Psalmist says, “They feast upon the abundance of your house; you give them drink from the river of your delights.”
One of the most helpful lessons for me that I often reflect on in this story is how Mary interacts with Jesus around what the problem is. She doesn’t demand that he fix it, she just lets him know what’s going on. She tells the servants to do whatever he says. She trusts in Christ’s judgment and work in the moment when she has informed him of the situation. She has faith that Jesus will do what is best, and she basically is asking the servants to do the same. So I think for us, our takeaway is twofold. The first thing is that we need to have faith in God’s movement. We don’t always like or understand how things work, but that shouldn’t stop us from bringing our cares to God and laying them at Christ’s feet. God knows what we need even before we ask, but in the asking we ourselves might be opened to seeing better the hand of God at work. The second lesson is to trust in God’s abundance. God’s love and grace are overflowing to us, and this almost facetious act of water into wine is a reminder that the Kingdom of God is abundance. When we live with a fear of scarcity, we tend to hold on to the things we don’t need. We keep that extra coat in the closet while others are freezing. Living with faith in God’s abundance is a radical act of living into the values of the Kingdom, and a way in which we can work towards that existence.
Sometimes we have to hold faith that Jesus might just show up and bring ridiculous amounts of wine with him. We don’t get to know if the host of the wedding feast was stressed about running out of wine, hadn’t been able to bring enough, or had more people show up than expected. We don’t even get a reaction from the host after the steward compliments the better wine that has all of a sudden appeared. What we do see is the first sign, a declaration by God incarnate that the Kingdom is at hand and the abundance that is promised is very real. Let us all recall the generosity and abundance of Christ’s miracle at the wedding feast as we go out from this place today, back into a world sorely aching for that reminder of the Kingdom of God.