Sermon for 2 Epiphany Year C, 18/01/2004 Based on Jn 2:1-11 By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church & chaplain of the Good Samaritan Societyís South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
On occasion, teachers have the great privilege of learning something profound from their children. Once a teacher asked her students: "What is your favourite Bible story?"
Well, as you might guess, many of them liked the old classics--you know, David and Goliath, Jonah and the whale, and Jesus walking on water. However, one girl answered: "The wedding at Cana."
The teacher was curious about her answer, even though she has a hunch that maybe the girl liked this story because of turning all of that water into wine. But alas, the teacher didnít really want to go there for fear that she might be promoting drunkenness. Yet, in the end, her curiosity won the day, so she decided to take a chance and ask the girl why she liked the wedding of Cana.
The girlís answer pleasantly surprised her teacher, and was most theologically profound: "I like it because I want to have Jesus at my wedding too."
The girlís answer is correct, since it emphasises that Jesus is not removed from the living of our lives--rather, he is most accessible and wants to be present as we live and celebrate every stage and event of life.
Those of you who have read and studied the Gospel of John may know that there is always a deeper--often symbolical or mystical--meaning in this Gospel. Todayís gospel is certainly no exception, since there are many deeper, symbolical meanings in this story of our Lordís first sign at the marriage feast at Cana in Galilee. Today I invite you to explore with me three deeper, symbolical meanings in this passage, which speak to the truth of our lives.
First of all, we see Jesus is able to celebrate the joys of life with other people. Even though he was true God, he didnít cut himself off from all the different aspects of human experiences. Here Jesus was, along with his disciples, sharing in the joys of this festive occasion at the wedding of this unnamed couple in Cana. Could the couple have been John himself and his wife? Perhaps, but we donít really know for sure. Regardless of the couplesí identity, we know that Jesus was there and celebrating with the people.
In Palestine, a wedding was really a special occasion. The wedding festivities lasted for a whole week. The wedding ceremony itself took place late in the evening, after a feast. After the ceremony the young couple was conducted to their new home. They were taken by as long a route as possible so that as many people as possible would have the opportunity to wish them well. But a newly married couple didnít go away on a honeymoon. They stayed at home and for a week they kept open house. In a life where there was much poverty and constant hard work, this week of festivity and joy was one of the supreme occasions. It was in a joyful time like this that Jesus gladly shared, and made provisions for it to continue. 1
Sometimes people have the wrong idea about Jesus and about Christianity. Some people are offended by the notion that Jesus could actually be joyful, smile, laugh or even have a sense of humour. But John is telling us in our gospel today that Jesus could be joyful and celebrate the life and the joys of other people. John is reminding us once again that Jesus was a human being like us, sharing our experiences. Therefore, if Jesus could celebrate like this, so can we, his followers. Our Christianity cannot be put into a straight-jacket, whereby we cannot be joyful, or smile, laugh, or have a sense of humour. Christianity is not a killjoy thatís so austere and gloomy that we have to wear a sour look on our face all of the time. Our Lord was joyful and gives us joy too. Do we see and experience his joy in our lives? If we do, then we will have a deeper, more meaningful experience of life and of our faith journey.
Second, this sign takes place at a wedding feast. For the Jewish people to eat and drink with other people epitomized their hospitality, and was an expression of their love and acceptance of others.
And, for the Jew to drink wine was to be joyful and to be alive because wine is the symbol of life. However, in the East, wine was not drank to get drunk. In fact, drunkenness was a disgrace. They drank their wine in a mixture composed of two parts of wine to three parts of water. 2
Therefore, for John, this sign of turning the water into wine would point ahead to the water and blood of our Lord on the cross. In addition to this, it may also symbolize the two sacraments of the church, baptism and holy communion. In addition to this, John very skillfully hints that it may point even further ahead to the messianic banquet when Jesus will eat with all members of the kingdom in the age to come. This is hinted at when John tells us that Jesus did this sign on the third day; which refers to the day of his resurrection that opened up the age to come. This makes even more sense when we consider the fact that numerous early Christian paintings and sculptures associate the Cana sign with the feasting of Godís redeemed in the age to come.
Just as our Lord manifested his glory by showing his love and hospitality in the sign at Cana; so, in our eating, drinking and feasting, we need to express our love and hospitality to others. In the earthly, human act of eating and drinking, people were drawn closer to our Lord and his love. We too can share the love and hospitality of our Lord with others in this same earthly, human act of eating and drinking with others--as we do every time we celebrate Holy Communion and as we do after worship at our fellowship hour.
Third, we see that this sign is an expression of Godís abundant grace. The riches of our Lordís grace are limitless and cannot be exhausted. Godís grace is full and overflowing. John tells us that there were six stone jars each containing twenty or thirty gallons. He also says that Jesus commanded the servants to fill them all to the brim with water. John mentions this point to make it clear that nothing else but water was put into them. When the grace of Jesus comes to us there is more than enough for everyone and still much more left over. At that point in the wedding festivities, the people surely could never drink one hundred and eighty gallons of wine. no need on earth can exhaust the grace of Christ. Godís grace is more than sufficient for the people at the wedding feast at Cana and for you and me.
Not only is this grace full and overflowing, but its quality is always first class, always the best. When our lives have become boring and mundane, Jesus enters in to make our lives new, exciting, and worthwhile. Life with Jesus is like the water turning into wine at Cana. Just as wine brought joy to the people at Cana; Jesus brings joy to us and we can give this joy to others. And, as the best wine was served last; so our lives of serving our Lord will be rewarded at the last--at the close of the age. Furthermore, as this wine is the symbol of life; our lives have been made new; we have been given life in Christ by eating the bread and drinking the wine of Holy Communion; in return, we are freed to go out into the world and share this abundant life in Christ with others. Amen.
1 See Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of John, Volume 1 Chapters 1-7 (Burlington, ON: G.R. Welch Co. Ltd., 1975), pp. 96-97. †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††††2 See, Ibid., p. 97.