Sunday, January 14, 2007

Wedding Feast at Cana

Second Sunday After the Epiphany – Year C
Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 96 (96:1-10); 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
Sunday, January 14, 2007 – St. Alban’s, Westwood

I’ve always liked the story of the wedding feast at Cana. Perhaps it’s because I enjoy a really good wine, and that is one of the central images in this story. But I had never spent a lot of time considering what about the story delights me so much, other than the imagery. I had never really taken the time to figure out what the story of the wedding feast says about our relationship with God and with Jesus Christ.

As I prepared to preach on this lesson, I did as I usually do – I read through the lesson a number of times and just allowed the images to wash over me. Some of the usual images came to me. There was the image of Mary, the typical worrying mother, thinking she needs to do something when the wine runs out, or rather, to have her son do something. Frankly, that image always bothered me a little. What business was it of Mary’s? It wasn’t her party. Why was she so worried? Even after Jesus told her to basically mind her own business, she continued to push. She went to the servants and told them to do whatever Jesus told them. She essentially forced Jesus to take action, even though he had already told his mother that the matter was none of his or her concern.

When his mother started in on him to do something, he said his hour had not yet come. This says to me that he was not ready to reveal himself to the rest of the world. Yet, in what certainly appears to be the next moment, Jesus does act. Perhaps, after reflecting on the situation, Jesus decided there was no better time than the present for him to act – for him to begin his public ministry.

What better place to reveal himself than through the performance of a miracle at a very public event like a wedding? The choice of place is an important indicator. It says a lot about what is important to Jesus, and by extension, to God. It says a lot about who Jesus is. Weddings are cause for celebration – for public celebration. We know that Jesus did not shy away from celebratory occasions. The Gospels are full of stories of Jesus eating, drinking, and generally having a good time with all sorts of people. In fact, the Pharisees even accuse him of being a regular party animal – dining with tax collectors and sinners, of being a glutton and a drunkard. Personally, I think they were just jealous because Jesus got invited to all the cool parties and they didn’t. At any rate, Jesus’ predilection for attending dinners and other celebrations shows that he was not about being all ascetical and somber. He was about enjoying life in a very communal way, about sharing joyous times with family and friends.

This desire for joy and celebration is evidenced at the wedding feast at Cana. Perhaps it was this overriding desire that got the better of him and caused him to change his mind about revealing himself. After all, the party had run out of wine. How can you have a celebration without wine? There is not quicker way to kill a party, short of inviting the Pharisees, than to run out of wine. So to prevent this from happening, Jesus chose to act – he chose to provide what was needed for the party to continue. By changing the water into wine, Jesus revealed himself, and God, to be concerned with the happiness of humanity – with the joy of the party guests.

Jesus providing what is needed for the banquet to continue is an appropriate image for Jesus himself. Because of God’s love for us, because of God’s concern for our well-being, because of God’s desire to be in relationship with us, God provided what was needed for us to continue in joyous celebration of our life and relationship with God – Jesus Christ himself. The banquet that we call the human race was on its way to destruction and despair. To keep the banquet going, we needed something to enliven it, to enliven us. And God provided what we needed in the form of Jesus – a savior who would care for us and lead us in a new direction – not down a path of destruction and of despair, but down a path of new life and of hope. With Jesus, the banquet does not end, but promises to continue forever.

Yes, the occasion of a celebratory banquet is certainly fitting for Jesus’ revelation of himself to humanity. Throughout the New Testament, there are stories of other banquets and feasts, with the allusion to the fact that these are pale images of the eternal heavenly banquet that awaits us all – a banquet where God and Christ are the hosts and we are the honored guests. The manner in which Jesus begins his earthly ministry points out what we can expect not only in our lives here on Earth, but for eternity.

But this revelation of himself did not occur at just any banquet. The fact that Jesus’ first miracle took place at a wedding feast is also poignant. Weddings are about new life – the new life together of the bride and the groom. Jesus chose to reveal himself to humanity not just at any social event, but at an event celebrating love. This is a celebration of the beginning of a new life together for two people, of the formation of a new family, bound together in love. This reveals Jesus’ desire for us to live together in a community of love, as a family. Throughout the Old Testament, God is imaged as a bridegroom, and his people are imaged as the bride in whom God delights. Similarly, the New Testament uses imagery of Christ as a bridegroom. By revealing himself to humanity at the wedding banquet at Cana, Jesus invokes this imagery of God as bridegroom, foreshadows himself as bridegroom, invokes the image of us, his people as bride – bound together with Christ to form a family of faith, of which he is the head.

Then there is the act of changing water into wine – a pretty cool trick. Frankly, I was hoping that after my ordination to the priesthood, I would be able to do that one. It could come in real handy at parties. But, apparently that is not one of the gifts conferred at ordination. But back to the wedding feast. We are told that Jesus turned the water into wine, and that it was obviously top shelf. He did not turn the water into the same old glug that was being served at the wedding. This was not Ripple or even Two Buck Chuck. This was the really old, really expensive stuff that you save for very special, intimate occasions with your family or closest friends – not what you would serve at a large party of relative strangers – and particularly not what you would serve after most of the guests were already tanked. I have always wondered why Jesus turned the water into the really good stuff. If he felt like he needed to do something (thanks, Mom), why not turn the water into the same old stuff that had been served all evening? No one would be the wiser. Why call attention to himself by producing wine of a better quality and vintage than what the guests had already been drinking?

Here again, just as the venue for Christ’s first miracle, for his revelation to humanity, reveals something about our relationship with God and with Christ, so, too, do the particulars of the miracle reveal something about that relationship. In this simple act (for him), “Jesus inaugurates his ministry with a vivid enactment of the gift he has to offer” (O’Day, 536). Let’s start with the water. Water is a common substance, found in everything in creation. We ourselves are about two-thirds water. Water is nothing special because it is so common – comprised of two very ordinary elements – hydrogen and oxygen. But at the same time, it is so necessary to life. Life as we know it could not exist without it. In his miracle, Jesus takes this common, ordinary, substance and makes it into something special – wine. While wine is a fairly ordinary drink in many cultures, we still associate it with festive occasions. If you want to turn an ordinary dinner into a special event, you pop the cork on a bottle of wine. If you want to celebrate something, you open a bottle of wine. As the psalmist tells us, God made wine “to gladden our hearts” (Ps. 104:15). This miracle reveals that in Jesus, the common, the ordinary, is made special, is made extraordinary. Through Jesus, we have a gift that is meant to gladden our hearts – to bring great joy to all who partake.

The amount of wine produced is also significant, in more ways than one. The Gospel tells us that the water was in six jars, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. That’s 180 gallons of water. That’s 180 gallons of wine! That’s certainly an extravagant amount of wine. That’s more wine than could possibly have been needed to end out the banquet. But it is “the extravagance (of the amount of wine produced) [that] is at the heart of the miracle.” In this miracle, we are “shown the superabundance of gifts available through Jesus” (O’Day, 538). He is able to provide us with more than we could possible want, need, or imagine. His grace is limitless.

But abundance is not the only issue. There is also the issue of quality. As we noted, Jesus did not just turn the water into any old wine. He turned it into a top quality vintage. It is apparent that God’s grace, bestowed through and manifest in Jesus Christ is not only about abundance – it is also about quality. Not only is there 180 gallons of wine, but there is 180 gallons of really, really good wine. Not only is God’s grace limitless, it is also comprised of the best of the best. God doesn’t just want us to have good things. God wants us to have the best possible things. And that’s what God provides in and through Jesus. The wine steward’s words to the bridegroom “‘you have kept the good wine until now’ have a double meaning. They work on the level of the story line, but the steward’s words also inadvertently witness to the deeper truth. He attributes the good wine to the beneficence of the bridegroom whose wedding is being celebrated, when in fact the wine derives from the beneficence of Jesus, the true bridegroom” (O’Day, 538).

The miracle at the wedding at Cana is one of abundance, of quality, of extravagance. It is one of transformation and of new possibilities. This miracle “is significant because, in showing forth the unprecedented grace of Jesus, it reveals the glory of Jesus and anticipates his ultimate moment of glorification, his death, resurrection, and ascension. The extravagance of Jesus’ act, the superabundance of the wine, suggests the unlimited gifts that Jesus makes available. Jesus’ ministry begins with an extraordinary act of grace, a first glimpse of the ‘greater things’ to come” (O’Day, 540).

We are all guests at the wedding feast. We have been invited to share in a celebration of love. We have been invited to share in a celebration of new life and of hope. We have been invited to celebrate a community of which we are a part, a family bonded together with one another and with Jesus Christ, the bridegroom. We are invited to partake of his unlimited grace, freely offered. In this gracious gift, Christ has taken what is ordinary and made it extraordinary. If Jesus can do something as fantastic as taking some plain old water and turning it into top-quality wine, imagine what he can do with something even more wonderful like a human life. Imagine what more he can do with a collection of human lives, like this community here gathered.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


O’Day, Gail R. “The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflection.” In Vol. IX of The New Interpreter’s Bible. Edited by Leander E. Keck, et al. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995.

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