The Wedding at Cana: God’s glory revealed
Sermon preached at St Mary’s Calstone 21 January 2018: Epiphany 2 John 2:1-11
This morning we hear about Jesus’ first miracle: turning water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. It is the first of seven miraculous signs told by John, and the only one unique to his Gospel account. That fact made can make us wonder: why would one have changing water into wine as a first miracle? Why use this specific story to start the revelation God’s glory made known in the person of Jesus?
One reason may be that it was historically the first miracle Jesus did. But why is it then not recorded in the other Gospels? I think more important than the historical question if it really was the first miracle Jesus performed, are the many theological undertones of the story. And maybe the first thing we need to do is to see where it fits in to John’s Gospel.
John starts with those famous words, which we hear every year at Christmas: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the reading on Christmas Eve traditionally ends with the verse: And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
For John, Jesus is God’s glory revealed. God chose to dwell among us, full of grace and truth. So, two of the important questions is how and why God’s glory is revealed at the wedding in Cana. We will start with the question ‘how?’. Although there are of course many different answers to this question, I’d like to highlight two aspects: the particularity of this story and how it shows that God’s relationship with us is one of abundance.
Both these aspects are maybe best introduced by asking ourselves the question: couldn’t Jesus have done a more useful miracle than turning water into wine at a party? Of course, this is a slightly flippant comment, but yet, wouldn’t it have been more telling of who Jesus was, if he had healed someone, or turned stones into bread to feed the hungry?
Well, probably he could have, but the fact that Jesus finds himself at a wedding feast where they have run out of wine, shows that Jesus’s ministry is done amongst real people, in a particular place at a particular time. As a scientist myself, I often find myself wondering what would be the best rational approach to a certain question or problem: out of all possible scenarios, how can I find the best one?
However, today’s story shows that life, that God, is not like that. The God who revealed himself through Jesus, is a God of relationships, and these are always particular to a certain place and time. The situation we find ourselves in, is somehow God-given, and even more importantly, God is part of it with us. That is not to say that God wants everything in the world to happen, but it does mean that no matter what happens, God is there too.
That then brings us to the abundance of God shown in his relationship with us. We all know examples of how things we have prayed for have not happened. We see unjustifiable suffering in the world, and more often than not, no miraculous solutions.
But equally, I think, we also know moments of unjustifiable abundance in our lives. Moments when we receive far more than we have deserved. Just like the guests at the wedding feast: they ran out of wine, maybe because they already had too much. And yet, Jesus turns water into more wine. Not because they had earned it, or because they deserved it, but because our God is a God of abundance.
So, God reveals his glory by showing his abundance in particular, real, situations. With that, we come to the question ‘why?’. Why would God want to reveal himself to us in this particular way? Well, I think looking at the world around us, we could wonder why God would want to reveal himself at all. Going back to John’s words, why would God want to dwell among us?
I just finished reading a book which through a family story reveals the fate of a Jewish-Polish family, and recalls the crimes that were tried at the Nuremberg tribunal. Reading that, one can certainly wonder, why would anyone want to live among us?
But also on a more mundane level, not only looking at current politics overseas, but also in our own lives, we realise how often we fall short. How often we let others down. How often we are not really much fun to live with.
Yet, despite all that, we are loveable, and indeed loved. That is why there are marriages that last for over sixty years. Not because the spouses are always nice to each other, but because the thing that matters is their love for one another. So, maybe, a wedding feast is not that strange a choice for a first miracle, because it is there and then that we celebrate human love and commitment.
As the Church of England marriage service says ‘as husband and wife give themselves to each other in love throughout their lives, they shall be united in that love as Christ is united with his Church.’ In their love and commitment, the bride and groom show something of Christ’s relationship with the Church, and indeed, God’s relationship with us.
So, this morning’s Gospel passage is one of Good News. It is a demonstration of God’s love and abundance, a revelation of his glory and the embodiment of the words that God dwelt among us.
It also leaves us with a challenge: how do we respond? Do we take for granted what we have been given? And if not, what do we do? I think our best response is one of gratitude: gratitude for what we are given ourselves. Of course, for all of us at times it will be hard to see the good things, but I guess for most of us, there are plenty of times when we do get more than we deserve or expected. When we thought that the wine had run out and it was time to go home, so to say, but there was more and better to come. It is up to us to recognise and celebrate those moments. Not necessarily to reciprocate, because we can’t always do so, but to enjoy with thankfulness what we’ve been given.
And the greatest gift we’ve been given is that God gave his only Son, to live with us, to die for us. We have been given the knowledge that nothing is too much for God to show his love for us. So then, maybe the main question we are left with this morning for us to ponder is ‘how can we show our love for him?’