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When we think of wedding stories we generally think of the bride and groom. It seems normal yes? There’s a show called “A Wedding Story” on TLC and the bride and the groom are figured quite prominently as you might imagine.
A wedding, while a time of great celebration and all the things that weddings are, is a fairly normal part of life. We get the idea that things might not be so normal when we read the first couple of sentences of the story. On the third day, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. A fairly normal affair. Cana was located about 8 miles north of Nazareth. Everyone is invited to the wedding.
When Jesus is involved, of course, things change. This is one of those stories which I think is still fairly well known in our culture today. Water into wine. It’s been used by people to defend or decry drinking. It’s been used by interpreters of the Bible to talk about how it is a good thing to have Jesus involved in marriages. Nothing wrong with that. There’s something much more significant going on here when we look at this particular wedding story. “Do you believe because I saw you under a fig tree?” is what Jesus had asked Nathaniel a little earlier. “You will see greater things than these. Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Heaven and earth coming together in this new age that has been inaugurated in Christ. This is the first of seven stories of signs told by John. They’re told by John as part of the whole purpose of John’s Gospel – so that you might come to believe, and that through believing you may have life in his name. So that you might come to step out in faith and trust and follow this Jesus of Nazareth. This is the first sign. It’s followed by healings; by a group of over 5,000 people being fed; of Jesus walking on water; of a man who had died being given life.
New life. New life in Christ. We’re not just talking about a wedding. This happens quite a bit in John. Jesus speaks of being born from above and the question comes back to him “How can someone be born again?” and we realize that Jesus is not talking about returning to our mother’s womb (come on!). Jesus speaks with a Samaritan woman of living water at a well and all of a sudden we realize he’s not just talking about being thirsty. There’s a whole other level going on. Someone has said of these sign stories “heaven is opened when the transformational power of God’s love breaks into the present world.” We’re going to be talking about how this happens throughout these weeks of Lent right up to the point where heaven and earth come together at the cross. There’s a whole other level going on here. And speaking of the cross, one of the women who is mentioned there is only mentioned one other time in John’s Gospel and that is right here. The mother of Jesus. Never named and somehow standing as a representative of something. There is a problem here in the story (and what’s a story without some sort of problem?). When the wine gave out. Someone has said that the way this is written it’s almost inevitable – like the tide going out or the sun setting. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”
Shameful! If you’re from certain cultures you know that running out of food or drink at a party is just not acceptable. Mary informs Jesus. Does she expect him to do something about it? It would seem so. Is she requesting something miraculous? Possibly. We don’t know for sure. There were caterers who could handle that sort of thing – replenishment of wine stocks at a multi-day wedding (because these weddings were multi-day affairs). We do know this. Jesus is about taking shame away. Jesus is about acting in every every-day. There is something working on a whole other level here.
You see it in Jesus’ response. There is an ambiguity in the translation of Jesus’ answer to his mother. Our NRSV Bible says “What concern is that to you and me?” It can be translated “What do you have to do with me?” which speaks to the relationship between them. This is not simply a mother talking to her son. It’s a mother talking to the Son. “My hour is not yet come,” can mean his hour is not yet come if we’re thinking of the cross. It might also be seen as a question. “Has not my hour to go out into the world come?”
In one way Jesus’ hour has come. The time for the first sign. It’s time for the first clue that John gives as to who Jesus is in terms of the Word having become flesh.
He’s the bringer of a new age. New life. Before the sign though we have these wonderful words of Mary. We have Mary representing a faithful/faith-filled response to the reality of the living Word of God. In much the same way she told the angel Gabriel “Here am I the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word” she says to the servants “Do whatever he tells you.” Because we’re not just talking about a wedding. We’re not just talking about water and wine. The mother of Jesus represents the response of faith. The response that the Gospel of John is inviting us to. What is Jesus telling us to do in the Gospel of John? “Believe in the father, believe also in me.”
“Abide in me.”
“Love one another as I have loved you.”
“Woman, here is your son,” to his mother from the cross. To the disciple whom he loved “Here is your mother.” Here is the new family of faith into which you’re adopted through me.
Jesus is the bringer of a new age. Six stones jars of water which was used for purification rituals under the first covenant. The good is being replaced by the better. Each one holding 20 to 30 gallons. The new age has begun and God’s grace will be known in a whole new way and new life is here and that’s a lot of grace!
“I came that they might have life,” Jesus said, meaning his sheep, “and have it abundantly.” Abundant grace. The prophets had spoken of it. The lavishness of God’s grace in the age to come.
Joel 3:18 – “In that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, the hills shall flow with milk, and all the stream beds of Judah shall flow with water; a fountain shall come forth from the house of the LORD…”
Jeremiah 31:13 – “Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry, I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.”
John doesn’t spend any time on when or how it happened any more than he spends time explaining how exactly the Word became flesh. The point is that spiritual meaning is found in the realities of life. The chief steward tastes the water that has become wine and says “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” God saves the best for last. The usual order of life is reversed in the Kingdom of God. In the new age inaugurated in Christ, the order of life is reversed. Mourning is turned to dancing. Sorrow is turned to joy. The rich go away empty. The self-sufficient go away empty. Those who are in need are filled with good things. Those who know their need for God, their need for grace are filled with good things.
This man, this God, this Jesus is the source of life. Eternal life. What is eternal life? Jesus will say in a prayer to his Father which we’ll look at in a few weeks. “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (17:3)
That we may know God. We are no longer talking about just a wine or even just a miracle for that matter. The thing is we can discount miracles. A miracle is no guarantee of faith. Even someone coming back from the dead is no guarantee of faith. Anything can be explained away, after all. The one who says “If only it could be proven in some way” is not in a position to take the walk of faith and no proof will suffice – not even someone coming back from the dead (as we know). The invitation to faith is ever before us, and it remains in the answer to the question that someone once asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” The invitation to faith is still “Come and see.” “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” as a woman who meets Jesus at a well will put it. He couldn’t be the Messiah, could he? He knows everything about me and loves me anyway…
There’s an interesting postscript to this story. His disciples believed in him, we read. “After this, he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples, and they remained there a few days.” Life returns to normal. We will get up tomorrow morning and make breakfast and make the lunches and walk the dog and do some laundry and go to work and go to school and do all the things that we do as we wait. We wait for Jesus’ hour to come too, don’t we? In the meantime, we trust that we too will find spiritual meaning in our every-day. Instances of heaven opened and the transforming power of God’s love being poured into our lives, and into us. God speaking to us in God’s word. God speaking to us in song. The wonder of a March sunset. Buds blooming. Robins singing. Praying together. Let us pray that God gives us eyes of faith to see and hearts full of the hope that is ours. May this be true for us all.