Epiphany 3 Year B
[Genesis 14:17-20]; Revelation 19:6-10; John 2:1-11
May the words I speak be to the glory of God. Amen
In Chapter 1 of his gospel, John wrote of Jesus meeting his very first followers, Andrew and his brother Simon. The next day Jesus called Phillip and Nathanial, and so on the third day we arrive at today’s passage. But the words “on the third day” have meaning for Christians far beyond describing time passing. We are reminded of the Cross, of Jesus death for us, and of his rising to new life three days later. For Andrew and Simon, the first day was the day they left everything and followed Jesus – the start of their carrying the cross, if you like. They sacrificed their old lives to follow him. Three days later they were at a wedding feast. From sacrifice to feast.
Cana was in the middle of Galilee, and there is a suggestion that it was the home of Jesus’ disciple Nathaniel – and his calling is described in John’s Gospel immediately before this passage.
We don’t know whose wedding it was – we never learn the name of the groom, the bride or the steward. We know that Jesus’ mother, Mary was there, although John doesn’t use her name. But in some ways Galilee was similar to our world here in Ludgershall. If the wedding was here, there might be people from Tidworth, The Chutes, The Collingbournes. And in Galilee at that time, weddings were big affairs – the whole village would show up. So Mary might be a relative, or part of the network of the families involved – a friend perhaps. It’s not clear whether Jesus was invited because he too was family or friend, or whether it was as Nathanial’s friend. Equally it is hard to tell whether he and his disciples were invited in advance, or whether because he was nearby, he was invited at the last minute.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about weddings this week. I’ve been doing a lot of the admin – printing the booklet of suggested Bible readings, lists of the possible hymn and music choices, fees tables, gift aid forms, and a personal letter for each couple with all the information they need. It’s meant contacting some, so some have taken the opportunity to move dates or times. And for most couples, what happens inside the church is a very small part of the day. Most of them will have given much more thought to guest lists, clothes and reception venues up until Friday than they have to the church service. But every single one of them would be horrified at the thought of running out of food or drink for their guests.
We can be sure that the couple at Cana would be just as horrified at the thought that their hospitality was insufficient as we would today. Running out of wine brings shame, it says we don’t care about you, it insults the guests by saying you’ve already drunk too much, it says we are too poor to buy more. Running out of wine may be accidental, it may even have been cause by a late invitation to an itinerant Rabbi and his growing number of followers. But however it has happened it is a disaster. Mary finds out – was she the one whose cup was only part refilled? Or was she watching for this to happen – had someone mentioned being worried about the wine? Was she in a position of some authority? Again, we don’t know, but we know what she did. She told Jesus. She saw a very real problem, with all sorts of implications, and she told Jesus about it. She didn’t tell him what to do, she didn’t ask him what he thought, she just told him about it. How often in our prayers do we use this pattern, of just giving our problems to God? Aren’t we rather tempted to nudge God in what we think is the right direction?
Jesus reply is at best disinterested, and at worst downright rude. He says “What’s that got to do with you and me, woman?” But for a moment, please remember another time when Jesus addresses to his mother as ‘Woman’. He says “Woman, here is your son.” And then to his disciple “Here is your mother”. Do you remember when he said that? It was as He was dying on the cross. So although referring to your mother as Woman may seem disrespectful in our culture, it wasn’t necessarily so for Jesus and Mary. John is again looking forward to the Cross, and looks back from the Cross to this wedding. The connection becomes even more obvious with Jesus’ next words “My hour has not yet come”. Those words are inexplicable in the context of the conversation of the wedding. They make no sense at all – until we set them within Jesus life, death and resurrection story.
Mary did not have our knowledge; she ignored the bit she didn’t understand, and spoke to the servants instead, saying “Do as he tells you”. This is good advice for us too – do we listen for the voice of God? Do we understand the hints we are given, the answers that we receive to our prayers? And do we act on them? It takes faith and courage to follow Jesus and do as he says.
But the servants followed their orders, and wine was produced. Not just any old wine, and not in stingy quantities, but ample, wonderful tasting wine, wine that meant the families would not suffer shame, but instead be remembered for providing the most ample wonderful wine ever drunk in Cana. So if we hear the voice of Jesus, if we follow him and do what He says, we should be prepared, as far as we can be, for our prayers to be answered with complete generosity.
Of course, the wine reminds us to look forward in the Gospels again, to Maundy Thursday, to the account of the Last Supper. Jesus said, “Drink this all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many.” The wine in Cana flowed in abundance – and Jesus’ sacrifice was made once for all on the Cross, not limited to a few, not stingy, not limited to those of us here this morning, or indeed those in any church, but available to all who confess that Jesus is Lord. John wrote that this is how Jesus first revealed his glory in the world. And we know that he did it in ways that point to the promise he makes for all of us, not that we’ll have a really great wedding party when we get married, but that His death and resurrection can be claimed by us all.
The second reading we heard also talks of a wedding, and of the glory of God. John is writing to seven churches, and encouraging them to follow the Lamb rather than the Whore of Babylon. In other words, follow Christ, not the Roman emperors. He uses his visions to warn and to encourage his readers. The section we heard is definitely one of the encouraging bits.
John describes the marriage of the Lamb and his bride. This is interpreted to be the marriage of Christ and the Church – not of Anglicans, Baptists, Pentecostals, Catholics, Orthodox, Methodists, URC and free Churches but all of them together as one Bride. All working together with Christ to live out the perfect marriage – love, support, trust. Quite how this happens, God only knows – but it befits us in this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity to remember that how ever many different ways we have of worshipping, reaching and teaching, we have one Christ in common.
The wedding of Christ and the Church is better planned than that of the wedding at Cana – but then again the wedding of Christ and Church is a match made in heaven. The bride has made herself ready and has fine wedding clothes – the Church is clothed in the wonderful deeds of the saints. And we are all saints of Christ’s church, we can all do those good deeds which will help clothe the Bride for marriage to the Lamb. Jesus himself gave us the two great commandments, to love God with all our hearts, our souls, our minds and our strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Every time we act by these commandments, we sew another stitch into the wedding clothes of Christ’s Church.
And of course, those who are invited to the Wedding Feast are blessed. And the invitation is no rushed affair, not hastily given to someone forgotten, but given graciously by Jesus to us all. And we are instructed to pass on that invitation – “Go and make disciples of all the nations”. This wedding banquet is open to all, and every single person there will be blessed. Two weddings – two very different weddings. One was saved by Jesus, the other is his own heavenly wedding to his beloved church.
Jesus changed the situation in Cana from disastrous shame for the couple to them being remembered for the best wine ever. He didn’t have to do it – but he saw it as a way of revealing God’s Glory. Jesus transforms our lives too, again, not so that we become “better” but so that God’s glory can be revealed in each of us.
So I offer you three questions to think abut over next week –
- Who will we invite to the heavenly Wedding Feast?
Have we already invited people? Are we sure they know they will be welcome?
- How will we help sew the clothes for the Bride?
What are the deeds we will do to the glory of God?
- How will we work together for the Unity of Christ’s Church?
There is one Bride in heaven, one church. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen