2 Epiphany (17 January 2010)
Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
Why does John’s gospel begin with the story of the wedding at Cana? That question has always fascinated me. Is it to show that Jesus was a relaxed guy and enjoy a good glass of wine? To show that he respected his mother? We often consider this a miracle- water that becomes wine, but the gospel writer considers this a sign- something that points to who and what Jesus is.
So, just to summarize, Jesus has gathered his disciples and they’ve traveled to a wedding. Perhaps that of a mutual friend. Perhaps a relative of Jesus’. It’s a big enough event that Jesus’ mother is also there. And the wine has run out. A wedding was likely a three-day event and this celebration may be occurring even before the marriage has taken place, but as the bride and bridegroom are being prepared. Men and women were mostly separated at events like these. Jesus’ mother is concerned enough about wine running out before things have even really gotten started to cross from where the women are, preparing the bride, to where the men are preparing the groom.
She probably had to hunt through the jostling men, laughing and then stepping back in surprise to see her among them. Finally she gets to Jesus and she pulls him aside. You can almost hear his friends, howling, “Oh, Jesus. What did you do? You’re in trouble now.”
Jesus’ mother pulls him aside and says, “Jesus, the family is out of wine.” I can only imagine him blinking at her and saying, “What does this have to do with me?” Why would his mother come to him in the first place? Surely she, of all people, would know if his “hour had not yet come”, if he was not yet fully exhibiting his power as the Son of God, as well as the Son of Man.
But His mother knew who he was. She knew whence he came. It wasn’t just that Jesus was her oldest boy, with the sense of responsibility that comes with that position. She knew he had power. She believed in him. And you can imagine her looking at him. The mother stare. You are the Son of God, but I am your mother. And then she smiles, turns to the servants, says, “Do whatever he tells you”, turns and walks back to the women’s area.
And Jesus is left standing there, her appeal ringing in his ears, several servants waiting and wondering what he will tell them to do. It’s likely that His mother might have expected that Jesus would move among the friends of the groom, take up a collection and get some more wine purchased. However, that’s not what God had in mind. Jesus orders the large clay purification jars filled with water and someway, somehow that water is transformed into wine. Abundant, wonderful, quality wine. This is the first of Jesus’ signs and his disciples witness it and have faith in him.
Why is this the first sign? Probably because it comes out of a need, but not a crucial need. It’s not a healing or a casting out of demons or a resurrection. It’s a simple sign that could have gone unnoticed by many, many people there. Yet it pointed to God’s abundant grace in Jesus Christ. It revealed God’s power in Jesus and fulfilled the statement in John 1 that through Christ, “we have all received grace upon grace”.
The abundance of this story, it’s graciousness, stands, for me, in stark contrast to the images of Haiti we have seen in the past week. Destruction, devastation and death. People who had very, very little have now lost everything. And many are crying out, “How could this happen? How could God do this to us? What can we do now?” And there are some people who have rushed to answer the question, “How could God let this happen?” That question is often well asked, but less often well answered.
When we read about 120 gallons or more of excellent wine provided at a wedding, I wonder where the relief is for the Haitians? Where is their grace upon grace? The sign they need is not only the outpouring of compassion now, but for this not to have happened in the first place.
It is the major struggle of faith, the questions of good and evil, the question of why do bad things, terrible things, happen to good people, to faithful people. When we hear of new cancer diagnoses, tragic deaths, natural disasters, manmade disasters… we wonder how can this happen? Where are the signs of Christ now?
What can we do when we have those questions? Where do we take our fear and our grief? To whom shall we go? When you have those questions, when I have those fears and frustrations, it is time to consider Jesus’ mother. Not to ponder these things in our heart. We must be like in her in taking what we know about Jesus and showing it to him. We must grab onto the power we believe he has and demand that it be used. We must dare to leave comfort and fear and stretch out our hand and grasp his robe, claiming his healing.
First Corinthians says that within the Body of Christ there are many gifts, but it is God who grants those gifts and who uses them. No matter what our individual gifts are, together we are the Body of Christ and we know that other parts of the body are hurting, are wounded, are in need of healing.
When we are given the Lord’s Prayer, we aren’t granted the permission to prayer with timidness and nervousness, to mumble “Thy will be done” and hope it happens. We are given words through the Spirit and called into action by those words, through those words, with the Spirit. If we believe in Jesus, like his mother did, we are called to go to him, to implore him to do something, to bring the needs before him. We both say to him, “Something must be done” and “I will do whatever you ask of me.”
Faithful living doesn’t just keep a pew occupied or dutifully sing hymns. Faithful living means bellowing questions, like Job, stepping out of the boat like Peter, going to a strange land like Ruth, being like Jesus’ mother and saying, “I believe that you can do more.” It’s messy, frightening, breathtaking, sweaty and miraculous.
We do not believe that we have to act first. God always, always acts first. But we’re not waiting for that action. God has sent the Spirit so that we are able to say, “Jesus is Lord.” God turned the cross into a statement about truth and life. God feeds us, in the midst of fears and doubts, at His table.
And we’re called to respond to that movement with energy, with strength and with all our heart and soul and mind. Isaiah says, “For Zion’s sake, I will not be silent and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest.” So his voice challenges us to take up our call. For Haiti’s sake I will not be silent. For the sake of those with cancer, I will not rest.
Wrestle, wrestle, like Jacob wrestled. Say to your Savior, children of God, say to your Savior. They are out of wine. There is fear. There is pain. Fix it. I will do whatever you tell me. I will not let go until you bless me.
And do not expect anything less than grace upon grace.
For that is what has been promised.