John 2:1-12; 1 Cor 12:1-12
2nd Sunday after Epiphany
St Barbara’s Church; 17.1.16
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Have you ever been to a party and the food ran out, or the CD player stopped working, the band failed to show up, or the venue had been double-booked? Its all a bit embarrassing and socially awkward.
I once experienced it in an excruciating way as a teenager. I had been at my friend’s house for the day, and my parents had invited his parents back for a meal that evening. My dad had invited them for “supper”.
Being from the south, my friend’s parents had understood this to mean a lavish banquet. Being from the north, my father meant soup and a bread roll. My friend’s parents avoided eating anything all day in preparation. When the soup came out, they declined a second helping, thinking of the delights to come. But that was it. My parents were mortified when I told them the next day the misunderstanding that had occurred.
Weddings can be even higher stress, as anyone who has ever been involved in organising one can attest. The 101 things that have to be organised, the differing expectations that have to be met, the emotions involved. I’m sure many of you have stories. Our one is fairly mild. The refurbishment of the kitchens in the school we were using for our reception had overrun. They rang a couple of days beforehand to say that we couldn’t use any ovens, only a few hobs. Our caterers came from the local Korean church – who cooked fantastic food, but whose English was limited. They said there was no problem with hobs, so we breathed a sigh of relief. 12 hours before the reception they then rang to ask: “What are hobs?” In the end, it all turned out brilliantly, but it did cause a few stressful moments.
This is nothing compared to the social and cultural disaster that was on the point of occurring at the wedding of Cana. To run out of wine was not only embarrassing; it would have caused upset and shame for a long time to come. Guests would have been disappointed, family members would have felt ashamed, and most people would have seen it as an ominous sign for the marriage ahead.
But Jesus’ response to the crisis tells us much about Jesus and our own lives.
When reading and thinking about Jesus’ miracles, I find it helpful to think about the layers of an onion. There are numerous layers to each story, each layer with a meaning and message. So let’s begin to unpeel the layers of this story.
In comparison to some other of Jesus’ miracle – calming the storms of nature, healing people with incurable illnesses, walking on water, raising people from the dead – this is a remarkably domestic and indeed low-key occasion. It doesn’t take much to imagine a similar type scenario happening in our own family or in our own community.
Jesus is at the wedding, participating in normal life. God’s son shares in our humanity. He isn’t just to be found in the Temple teaching, important though that was. He isn’t just found amongst the sick and needy, important though that was. He is to be found here at a wedding, enjoying the company of friends and celebrating with others.
Its a picture of Jesus we don’t often see. Despite the efforts of the church at some points over the last few centuries to paint him as such, Jesus was no kill-joy. He loved life. He delighted in friendship. He celebrated good things. His response to the crisis of the running-out of wine was to create an abundance – 700-800 bottles of it. The crisis was resolved, and the party could go on.
Are we known too as people who celebrate life? People who enjoy and are thankful for the good things in life? People who are life-givers, not life-drainers? Our faith should certainly lead us to be people that embrace all that is positive in life.
Peel away another layer of the onion, and we see something more. Jesus is there when our own resources fail. There was nothing for the embarrassed wedding family to do – they wouldn’t have been able to get more wine in time, even if they could afford it. Jesus quietly steps in and meets their need.
Jesus is there for us when our resources fail too. Whether through physical frailty or wavering faith, through mental tiredness or low confidence, we may feel there are things beyond us. In those moments, Jesus assures us of his presence, he comes alongside and renews our strength and our hope.
But it needs us to co-operate with him. It needs us to persevere. Look at Mary. Initially her request to Jesus seems to be rebuffed – “my hour has not yet come”, Jesus says – but she perseveres, telling the servants to be ready for his instructions. And it needs our obedience and faith – it needed the servants to fill the jars and offer what for all intents and purposes was still water to their master – for the wine to reach the guests.
Christ cares about us and the needs of others, even when they may seem trivial and small. But he wants us to play our part – to persevere and to trust in him.
A third layer of the onion that the story reveals, and reveals for the first time in John’s gospel, is that Jesus can do the miraculous, he can bring about transformation. One can imagine the open-mouthed amazement of the disciples as they realise what has transpired. Jesus has turned ordinary water into the most delicious wine.
It is the mark of God’s work all around us – turning ordinary things into things that are amazing and bursting with life. Transforming people, relationships, situations. Not everyone may notice – indeed, one suspects most of the wedding guests were totally unaware of the extraordinary events happening behind the scenes – but as followers of Jesus, we get to see his touch upon life. Christ is as work transforming life, bringing hope in difficult situations, bringing forth beauty, inspiring courage and perseverance in the face of hardship, changing lives through the work of His Spirit. It s a good challenge to us too: to look out and allow our own faith to be transformed as we see him at work.
A fourth layer of the onion: something that may have only gradually dawned on those who observed his miracle that day was this. The Old Testament prophets spoke of a day when “new wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills” (Amos 9:13), a day when “the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples; a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.” (Is 25:6) Jesus is giving us a taste of what is to come, the kingdom that he is bringing in, the kingdom that is infinitely better than anything that has gone before. It is the feast that communion is a foretaste of too: the great banquet of heaven where we all gather to meet God face-to-face to worship him and celebrate with him.
The wedding of Cana points us beyond this life, to eternal life beyond. For all of us who have lost loved ones, and for all of us as we face the reality of our own lives coming to an end at some point in the future, the wedding of Cana offers us a wonderful picture of God’s abundance and joy that he offers us beyond death.
There are many more layers I’m sure we could unpeel, but one final one. John talks of the miracle as the first of Jesus’ signs. The importance of signposts to us, whether we are on foot, bike or in the car, is where they are pointing us to. Their construction and their design may be of passing interest, but of most importance is the place where they are pointing. So with Jesus’ miracles. Ultimately, for John, as for us, the content of the miracle is less important than who it points us too – Jesus. The same is true of the spiritual gifts we heard about in our epistle reading: the gifts are far less important than who they point to. The miracles in the gospels, the miracles of God’s gifts within us, the miracles of life being transformed around us today, all point us to one person: Jesus.
So let us celebrate the goodness of life that he gives, let us trust in Him for our needs, let us look out for his work of transformation in our world, let us with hope and confidence look to the life he offers us beyond death, and, as John said of the disciples, let us come and “put our faith in him.”