John 2: 1-11
Rev. Cheryl Collins
A couple of weeks ago I achieved a lifetime ambition and finally saw a kingfisher, not just flashing past in a blaze of turquoise, but actually sitting quite still on a branch. When a fellow dog walker pointed me in the right direction it took a while to actually see the bird. I had to look and look again before I finally saw him. Maybe Jesus is a bit like that Kingfisher? Or at least looking at Jesus is like looking for a kingfisher? We have to keep looking again, putting aside what we expect to see or what we think we know and just looking, until we see Jesus as he really is.
This looking and see is a theme that runs right through John’s gospel, making it perfect for the season of Epiphany when we look to see who Jesus really is. John keeps inviting his readers to look again and again. The people who meet Jesus in his gospel often come to Jesus thinking they have already seen him for who he is- think Nathaniel in last week’s gospel or Nicodemus in chapter 3, the woman at the well in chapter 4 right up to Pilate unable to see to see the truth of Jesus’s identity. John’s gospel is an invitation to us to look and look again until we can say, with John’s prologue ‘we have seen his glory, such glory as befits the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.’
So, let’s have a look at today’s story of a wedding in Cana of Galilee and see what it has to tell us. John tells us this story, which he describes as the first of Jesus’s revealing signs, took place three days after Nathaniel’s encounter with Jesus. Jesus told Nathaniel that he would see ‘even greater things’ and now here they are. Weddings also have a symbolic meaning in the Bible, they point us to God’s unwavering commitment to us and how it will all come together in a great marriage feast of joy as is recounted in our reading from Revelation. Cana was a small village about 9 miles north of Nazareth, home to no more
than 400 hundred people. It was traditional to ask as many people as possible to your wedding celebration, which was likely to continue for 7 days, with guests coming and going. This couple have clearly invited not just the whole village, but friends and relatives from further afield, like Jesus and Mary his mother and the other disciples.
In this story Mary does not play the role of Jesus’s mother, but rather of his very first disciple. She is everywoman, but her memory of all that had happened since she first met Gabriel, led her to instruct the servants at the feast ‘Do whatever he tells you’ an echo of her own ‘May it be to me according to your will.’ Her instruction demonstrates her absolute confidence in Jesus as the one who can do something about this embarrassing situation and bring abundance out of apparent scarcity. She shows us how to trust in Jesus? In this story Jesus speaks of his hour, a phrase that the Bible uses for the time of God’s fulfilment of God’s promises and a full revelation of God’s glory.
Although ‘my hour is not yet come’ is an allusion to the death and resurrection which would fully reveal Jesus’s identity and glory John wants us to know that this glory is a golden thread running through the whole of his life and teaching. In the past, people sometimes used the stone water jars, which we are told were for the Jewish rites of purification, as an indication that Jesus had come to replace Judaism. As we prepare to remember the holocaust later this week we would do well to remember where such ideas can lead and look again. In fact, the jars are not rejected but given new contents. Wine is also a link back to the prophets who saw wine as a sign of blessing and favour and the coming of God’s kingdom and forward to the marriage feast of the lamb in Revelation.
So Jesus revives the old traditions in a new way, inviting people to look again. The size of the jars, each holding up to 30 gallons are meant to remind us of the extravagance of God’s provision here as a sign of God’s infinite abundance. I did some quick maths here, and worked out that the water transformed into wine was the equivalent of over 1,000 modern bottles of wine, more than enough for even a 7 day party! The steward in the story tries to fit the appearance of the new wine into his own world view and conclude that the Canan groom must have held back this superior wine. The disciples, of whom we are invited to be part, have seen the truth, it is Jesus the true bridegroom who is the source of this abundance and it further proof of his identity.
So what kind of story is this?
It’s a story of transformation where the third day becomes the right day, where two people become one in marriage, where the hosts become the guest of Jesus as the wedding party becomes, to those who have eyes to see, really Jesus’s party and where a host of signs and symbols become the way to focus on Jesus. It’s a story of challenge to our ways of seeing and the presuppositions we bring with us. It challenges our assumptions of what is possible in more than 1000 bottles of wine. It challenges any idea we might have of our power and control of Jesus, who brushes off even his mother. It challenges any idea that God is
only encountered in important places through important things by inviting us to see God saving a humble couple from in embarrassment in a small village far from the centres of power. It challenges any assumption that God can only be known in certain ways by showing God present and active in an ordinary moment attending to basic human needs like enough to drink. It’s a story of revelation which reinforces all we have learnt so far about who Jesus is and therefore who God is, a God of abundance, extravagant love and steadfast loyalty. This story is an invitation to hold what we think we know lightly, and to look
for God in the fabric of our ordinary lives, moving in unexpected ways, through unexpected people in unexpected places- God comes to us disguised as our lives.
Jesus is still changing the water of our lives into wine, even here in the joyless desert of this pandemic. There is always a hand reaching toward you. There’s always grace available. There’s always a chance to begin again. One of the meanings of begin is to open up. When everything else is closed around us we are called to open our clenched hands and surrender what we are holding onto to Jesus. To surrender is to give back. To give back our anxieties and our fears, our longings and our hopes to God and let God transform them like water into wine.
‘Happy are those who are invited to the wedding banquet of the Lamb.’