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Signs of Glory

Kathy Escandell

January 20, 2013
John 2:1-11

01-20-2013 Sermon John 2: 1-11 – The Wedding at Cana
2On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’4And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’5His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’6Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.7Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim.8He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it.9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom10and said to him, ‘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.’11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

The Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.

What a story!  Weddings, of course, are the most effective way ever found to turn a joyous occasion into a time of stress, anxiety and conflict. Will the bride’s bitterly divorced parents agree to be cordial? Will the tiny flower girl collapse in frightened tears in the middle of the aisle? Will the wine run out half-way through the festivities, bringing shame on the bridal couple and their parents?

We could, I suspect, all tell stories of memorable weddings we’ve attended or heard about, and so when we come to this account of a wedding in Cana of Galilee, we’re ready to believe that John has a memorable story to tell.

And we already know that he is an excellent storyteller.

In his Prologue, John grabs our attention by painting sweeping panoramas of the vast timelessness of creation and the deep mystery of divinity. Here, though, he piles on mundane, specific details:   of time – on the third day; of event – there was a wedding; of place – in Cana of Galilee; and of participants – the mother of Jesus, Jesus himself and the disciples he has just gathered around him have all arrived to join in the celebration.

We might wonder why John chooses to tell us about this event; the village wedding of people who aren’t named or identified in the text just doesn’t hold the same level of significance as deity, creation, Incarnation, baptism, discipleship – the weighty, important matters which are the focus of the first chapter of this Gospel.  But as the story unfolds, we realize that it does indeed belong here for it is central to John’s fundamental question – “Who is Jesus?”

Every aspect of this story, every detail, every exchange contributes to John’s layered response to this essential question.

One layer of identity is that Jesus is the Word made flesh and come to dwell among us as a real human being. He has a mother, as all humans have mothers. It is interesting that John never names Mary, but consistently identifies her as “the mother of Jesus”, perhaps to emphasize that the divine Son of God is also the human son of a human mother.

The human Jesus attends a wedding with his mother and his companions. And had all gone according to plan at this wedding, we would never have known anything about it, for John isn’t recording Jesus’ social calendar; he’s testifying to Jesus as Messiah.

It is when a problem arises at the wedding festivities that this event gains its place in John’s witness.

The wine runs out. Mary somehow becomes aware of the problem, and she informs Jesus. Their exchange is interesting and informative and problematic and confusing, but the outcome is that Jesus issues instructions to the servants and they comply. Six stone jars are filled with water – 20 to 30 gallons each for a total of as much as 180 gallons of water. Remembering that there were no kitchen faucets or garden hoses available for this process, we realize that carrying so much water from the source to these jars would take considerable effort and considerable time.

But the servants accomplish it and now there are six jars filled to the brim with water. The wedding is still out of wine.

There’s an old cartoon of a white-coated, wild-haired scientist standing at a huge chalk board where a great many complicated mathematical formulas proceed across the board to the point where the scientist writes: “Then a miracle occurs”. The cartoonist was perhaps familiar with this Scripture passage because that’s exactly what John does. He sets up the transformation with careful detail and then jumps from before the miracle to the revelation of the completed miracle – the steward is given a cup of liquid from the stone jars which is – somehow – now wine. Wine of noticeably better quality than that which has been served before.

John isn’t interested in the “how” of this transformation because his whole purpose is to point to “who”, to bring to light another layer of the identity which John is establishing – this Jesus is the Word through whom all things were made, the one who was with God during creation and who, having come to dwell among us, continues to have mastery over all the elements of the world he has created. Jesus could have supplied the wine by creating it out of nothing, but he chooses instead to take an ordinary substance of ordinary life and transform it.

We might, around this point in the story, want to ask – Why so much? Six stone jars filled to the brim? Surely the wedding guests couldn’t have needed an additional 180 gallons of wine at this point in the celebration. But this isn’t about refilling people’s wine glasses. This is about the Messiah who has come to usher in the kingdom of God. This is about our welcome into a kingdom characterized by fulfillment of both spiritual and physical needs; a kingdom of abundance, extravagance, joy. In Old Testament scriptures, the wedding banquet is a symbol of the Messiah’s arrival.  Keith read one such passage from Isaiah – as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride / so shall your God rejoice over you (Isaiah 62:5). And an abundance of good wine is a sign of the joyous arrival of God’s new age. The prophet Amos writes: The time is surely coming, says the Lord …. when the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. (Amos 9:13)

So this story rich in the symbolism of Jewish hope and expectation is included in John’s Gospel to support his claim that Jesus is the promised Messiah of the Old Testament scriptures, and the divine Son of God. This is the identity toward which John always points. “All of the events narrated in his Gospel have this one purpose: to persuade [us] to believe and confess … that Jesus is God’s Son, the Christ, sent by God out of love for the world, to give enduring life to those who believe in him.” (Okure, p. 1439)

John states explicitly, in concluding this passage that Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him (v. 11). Jesus transforms water into wine to show his disciples who he is, and John tells us about the event to show us who Jesus is.  At the wedding, only the disciples and the servants know what has happened; everyone else, including the chief steward, simply think the groom has opened up the good wine he’d been holding in reserve. And they are allowed to remain unaware of the miracle – perhaps because, as Jesus says to Mary, the hour has not yet come for revealing his identity to the world. But that identity is revealed to those who are close to Jesus; to the servants because they participate in the preparations, and to the disciples because they have come into fellowship with Jesus, they have turned their lives over to him and so they look on his actions with eyes of faith, and thereby see great signs. And we, too, are invited to stand with the disciples and to see the creative, transformative, extravagant love of Jesus reaching out to bless humanity.

William Barclay translates that final verse this way: Jesus gave this first demonstration of the power of God in action in Cana in Galilee, and so displayed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.

“The power of God in action” is made manifest at a village wedding where the host miscalculates the amount of wine needed to entertain his guests. We might be tempted to suggest that running out of wine isn’t really a circumstance that justifies God’s glory and creative power being brought to bear in the person of Jesus; that this situation doesn’t really deserve to be the setting for the first sign of Jesus’ glory. But if we eliminate this opportunity for Jesus to bless human life, how do we decide where to allow such blessing? When we begin to calculate which aspects of our lives are dignified and important enough to merit Christ’s miraculous presence and which are not, we forget that Christ is Lord of all of life, and we are to share with him our celebrations, our sorrows, our daily routines and every moment and movement in between. Jesus was invited to a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and accepted that invitation.  So will he also accept our invitations to be in and among us, hearing our needs, responding to our calls, and transforming our emptiness into abundance. For, as John knows and wants us to know, this Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Promised One, the Son of God whose glory has come to dwell with us.

Amen.