Reading(s): John 2:1-11. This sermon was given by Warwick Heathcote at All Saints.
A visiting Aunt asked her young nephew if he attended Sunday school. When he said he did she asked "What are you learning?" "Last week" said the boy "our lesson was about when Jesus went to wedding and made water into wine." "And what did you learn from that story?" His aunt enquired. After thinking for a moment the boy answered. "If you're having a wedding - make sure Jesus is there!"
Profound advice! It is indeed a good thing to have Jesus at our wedding ceremonies, and in our lives!
Our gospel reading tells of a wedding in Cana which was attended by both Jesus and his mother at which the wine runs out, no doubt to the host’s great embarrassment! Mary asks Jesus to do something about it , and he does. The reading ends with the words: - ‘This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. - He thus revealed his glory - and his disciples put their faith in him’.
John’s gospel often speaks about signs and about faith. Signs as we know point to something and in this context, those with eyes to see realize that this is something greater than they are. And it is that greater thing we are meant to grasp - and not simply the sign itself.
This first sign that Jesus did points to many things about him - and what he was about. Turning water into wine is in itself a picture of all that he came to do. Jesus takes what is and shows us that it has the possibility to become something else. That which is tired worn out - devoid of joy empty or lacking purpose, can be transformed. It can be turned into something rich, fragrant and ripe with the fullness of joy through his presence and through his care.
This is good news for us. Jesus can bring new life. He can fill the emptiness in our lives, he can take whatever it is that we bring to him no matter how little or how much - and utterly remake it - giving to it savour - a taste - that is beyond the best that we ourselves are capable of providing.
Note too that the wine came from the huge thirty-gallon jugs that stood full of water at the front of the house vessels that were used by observant Jews to fulfil the rules on ceremonial washing. Jesus transformed those six jugs ponderous symbols of the old way into harbingers of the new. From the purified water of the Pharisees, came the choice new wine of a whole new era. The time for ritual cleansing had passed the time for celebration had begun.
The story also emphasizes the abundance of Jesus' provision of wine. - The wedding guests went from having no wine - to having almost enough to swim in. - This miracle is thus a sign - of the Messiahship of Jesus - an age long expected to be one of abundance - one in which the wine of joy - the cup of salvation – would always be full and overflowing. - He provides
The miracle taking place at a wedding feast is significant in that marriage had long been a symbol of the relationship between God and his people. The fact that the first sign that Jesus did was at a wedding would not be lost on the people. It was their belief that at the time of salvation God would provide a table for feasting for his servants and a cup that would never run dry. This imagery is in fact present in that much-loved twenty-third Psalm of David whose final verses say - ‘You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies: You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long’.
Jesus also seems to stress here the place of his mother Mary in the work of redemption. It is Mary who triggers Jesus' first act of public ministry saying to him: "They have no wine." It is a simple statement that shows her trust in her son and his ability to help. Notably the only other place where Jesus calls his mother "woman" is at his passion as she stood beneath the cross. When he handed her over to the care of John and made her the mother of us all.
I believe that the first sign that Jesus did among other things is a preview of the last Supper the hour when Jesus transforms not water into wine but wine into blood, his blood shed for all. The wine of salvation, a salvation won for us completely by Jesus when he gave up his life for us, a salvation that is not just for a day or the week during which a wedding was celebrated but forever.
Mary tells the servants in today's reading to "Do whatever he tells you." That is what faith is about responding to the words of Jesus, trusting that his word will be fulfilled, trusting that as he transformed the water of purification in the wine of joy so he will transform us and lead us into the kingdom where the best is not only saved for the last, but where the best lasts.
As we receive Communion this morning let us open our lives anew to God's gifts of grace. The best is yet to come! The glory of God is at hand. Amen