The wedding at Cana
2nd Sunday of Epiphany St James 16th January 2022
John 2: 1–11
To listen to the recording of the sermon as you read:
Anyone who has planned a wedding in their family will understand how difficult it can be to get the guest list right. My husband comes from a large family which means not only a lot of cousins to take into consideration, but their ‘plus ones’ as well. If you choose to invite all the family, then there is less room for friends but if you cut family out of the guest list it's likely to cloud relationships for years to come. It’s a dilemma faced by many.
My eldest daughter had planned to have a big wedding at the beginning of June 2020 with guests from all over the world. With Covid at its peak, that was not to be, despite the shenanigans which were going on in Downing Street at the time.(allegedly). But we did manage to get her married at the beginning of September 2020 with just 30 people in attendance. Far from being a disappointment, it focussed our attention on the heart of the matter as an intimate celebration of love and commitment and the bonding of families and community as the couple started their new life together.
Obviously there were no such constraints on invites for the bride and groom at the wedding in Cana, which we heard about today from John’s Gospel. As was the custom, this wedding was a week long affair and everyone from near and far was invited to join in the feasting and dancing.
Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his newly chosen disciples came along as well.
According to John’s Gospel, this miracle, or sign, at the wedding in Cana is Jesus’ first act of public ministry. In the prologue to his gospel, John promises us that in the Word made flesh—that is in the person of Jesus in whom God is revealed—we will see glory, we will experience grace upon grace. To his newly appointed disciples, Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathaniel, Jesus has just promised that they will see some amazing things. And so here they are, beginning their journey of faith with Jesus, not with a period of instruction or by witnessing a series of dramatic healing miracles but by joining him at a village wedding.
Last week we met Jesus standing alongside ordinary people as he came to be baptised. Now we see him again amongst ordinary people at a family event—laughing, singing, chatting, dancing and feasting with them, sharing their joy and the celebration of love and relationship which is at the heart of a wedding.
Until his mother comes to find him. She has spotted that a crisis is developing for their hosts: the wine has run out.
It’s hard to know exactly what to read into this somewhat grumpy-sounding exchange between Jesus and his mother, and various commentators seek to explain it in different ways. But today, as we think of Jesus coming alongside ordinary people, it seems to emphasise for me Jesus’ humanity. No young man particularly wants his mother prodding him into action, but Jesus has been nurtured and cared for by his mother in a very human family and she knows what he is capable of. I love the way she simply ignores his apparent reluctance and instructs the servants to do whatever he tells them. Her confidence and trust in him is absolute.
And so we have this extraordinary sequence of events as Jesus tells the servants to fill the jars used for ritual purification with water, and then draw some out for the steward, who tastes it not knowing what has happened, and attributes the bridegroom with having saved the finest wine for this point in the party.
John describes this miracle as a sign, but it seems that only a few people see it. The servants and Jesus’ mother and the disciples know that something has happened, but as for the rest of the guests and the bridegroom I imagine they were quite unaware that there had been a potential crisis and just got on with the feasting and merry-making with a superabundance of wine which wasn’t going to run out in a month of Sundays!
I wonder how often we receive God’s gracious gifts but fail to recognise their source?
So, if it’s a sign, can we see where it is pointing? John simply says that in this way Jesus revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him.
To reveal his glory is another way of saying that in Jesus, God is revealed. In this season of Epiphany we are given the opportunity to enter more deeply into—and to reflect on—the mystery of the incarnation: that in the person of Jesus, born and raised in the humblest of circumstances, God has revealed Godself; the Word has become flesh.
And here in this first act of Jesus’ public ministry, we see a fulfilment of the promise of grace upon grace, of which John spoke in the prologue. God comes to us in the ordinariness of our lives and not only shares and rejoices in our love, relationships and community but transforms them, strengthens them, enriches them with the lavishness of God’s generous love. This is what grace upon grace tastes like—an abundance of the finest wine, more than you can possibly want, when you least expect it. The gifts of God are for all to taste and see even when we fail to recognise the giver.
I guess that was the learning point for the disciples that day—they saw that the presence of Jesus has the potential to transform a situation beyond what they could ever have imagined. But of course, John’s gospel was written 60 years or so after Jesus’ death when the early church had had a chance to reflect on the significance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. And so this story is carefully constructed to point us towards deeper meanings as well.
You remember that when Jesus’ mother first comes to him with her concerns, he demurs and says ’My hour is not yet come.’ Nevertheless, her words propel him into public ministry, and this sets the clock ticking on the time when his hour will come: that is, the hour which is his passion and death.
When we break bread and share wine in the Eucharist, we recall that hour of his passion and death, as Jesus, in the fullness of his humanity, gives himself for us on the cross. Through the power of the Spirit, the joy of Jesus’ transforming presence with us in the midst of our daily lives is made present to us now. And we receive a foretaste of our future with God in eternity, where the best is yet to come.
The abundance experienced at the wedding at Cana was not just for then but is gifted to each one of us for all time. Jesus came to share out humanity that we might share in his divinity.
Epiphany at Cana Malcolm Guite
Here’s an epiphany to have and hold,
A truth that you can taste upon the tongue,
No distant shrines and canopies of gold
Or ladders to be clambered rung by rung,
But here and now, amidst your daily living,
Where you can taste and touch and feel and see,
The spring of love, the fount of all forgiving,
Flows when you need it, rich, abundant, free.
Better than waters of some outer weeping,
That leave you still with all your hidden sin,
Here is a vintage richer for the keeping
That works its transformation from within.
‘What price?’ you ask me, as we raise the glass,
‘It cost our Saviour everything he has.’