A sermon given January 16, 2022 at New Creation (Anglican) in Hagerstown, MD. A parish of the community of Hagerstown, MD and the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic.
The First Sign (vs. 1, 11)
The Wedding at Cana. John calls it the “first” of Jesus’ signs. What he means there is that is the primary sign. It’s the one you can’t miss. Get this, and you get Jesus. Miss this, and you miss Jesus. Jesus first miracle wasn’t a healing or a deliverance, it was a lavish, luxurious, and yet humble provision for a wedding feasts. And yet, it was a sign that revealed his glory. And we aren’t talking about a little bit of wine either. Jesus didn’t “top off” the festivities – no, he provided an overwhelming supply of the best wine to a wineless, and therefore about to be joyless,feast. We’re talking about something like a 1000 bottles of wine or 150 gallons of “the good stuff,” as we might say. Now if that sets you off kilter, if it makes your brain explode, if you think have you to explain that away, maybe you need to take a step back, and reevaluate who you think Jesus is and what the Gospel is all about. And that’s not just for non-Christians, that word is for Christians who have the forgotten the joy of their salvation. Perhaps some of us think, in the words of Charlie Skrine, that if Jesus showed up at our party, he would rather turn our wine back into water. Perhaps you, even you, have lost sight of the lavish heart of Christ and the kingdom he brings displayed in this passage. That’s what we want to explore today.
Mary, The Problem & Jesus’ Answer (vs. 3-5)
Mary approaches Jesus because the wine has run out. Watch what happens. Mary knows that Jesus cane provide for the need. Jesus’ answer to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come,” may seem surprising. Commentators try to “make up” for Jesus here a little bit, ensuring that he doesn’t sound disrespectful. But the address does contain some distance in it. Even Mary, as we will see, is Jesus’ disciple. The next time she will be addressed as “woman” in the Gospel of John will be at the foot of the Cross, at Jesus’ hour of glorification. That’s what our Lord is thinking about as Mary approaches him. How does Mary respond to this? Look carefully. Every time Mary says something in the Gospels, she is our example of faith. Her reply is one of total obedience. Her words can be translated “Whatever at all he tells you to do, do it!” Mary believes that Jesus is good and whatever he chooses to give or to withhold will be good, too.
Side note here: try bringing that with you into your prayer life and relationship to God. That will change a dying life of prayer into one of adoration and praise and thanksgiving. Sometimes our prayers lives suffer because we don’t really believe that God loves us, or will truly give what is best. Mary didn’t believe that – she knew the heart of Christ.
The Solution: The Wine (vs. 6-9)
But Jesus does provide the wine. The best wine. Consider this: here is Jesus, the true bridegroom, hidden at the wedding of another. Here is the one who has come to fulfill the words of Isaiah 62 we heard read this morning: “you shall no more be termed Forsaken…as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” Here is true husband of the church, hidden and yet manifested.
I hope you have been following along with The Chosen, the episodic, imaginative retelling of the life of Jesus. This passage was in season one, episode five, and it is one of the best episodes in the series. They really did a great job of capturing the power of this passage, especially the incognito way this miracle takes place. The bridegroom ends up getting the credit for this generous gift of the “good wine” given out freely. Even so, says John Chrysostom, “Jesus did not consider his dignity, but our benefit.” Hidden under the wedding of one couple, is the rapturous love that God has for his people. This is how Jesus manifests his glory.
So, the wedding is one level and Jesus is thinking on another. Jesus seems to be caught up thinking of his own wedding – the great feast of the Lamb, the great feast of the kingdom of God. How does this feast come? Through his death, his blood, his own sorrow. As Tim Keller puts it, “Jesus knows that the only way the joy of God’s kingdom can be sipped is through the bitter cup of the cross.” That explains the jars for ritual purification in verse six. This is exactly what Jesus has come for. The forgiveness of sins sealed in the new covenant with his own blood. The entire event, while it’s absolutely historical, is also one great metaphor for why Jesus came.
The most moving scene from the Chosen episode is the one where the miracle occurs. We Jesus’ reflection in the jars of water. The hand that is to be pierced, descends into the water…and comes out covered in red wine. Jesus turns water into wine, the passion of his cross into salvation, and death for us into life eternal. Jesus chooses the joy of a wedding to say – the joy of my kingdom will surpass even this. This wedding feast is but a preview of things to come.
Which leads us to the question: who do you believe has the best wine? Nothing can be “The Wine,” the joy, in our lives except God and the feast he gives in Christ. Are you convinced of that today? Where are you holding God, the giver of true joys, at arm’s length, settling for tepid false joys instead? There’s a point I want to draw out here that I think connects with this passage. We have been telling people for years, decades even, that they ought to “let Jesus into their heart,” language I can’t find anywhere in the Scriptures. I suggest we should reverse that, actually. Christian faith, initiated in baptism, is an immersion into Jesus’ life & heart, yes? We are, as Paul says, “in Christ.” We are, in the words of Augustine, “restless until our hearts rest in him.” Perhaps inviting him into our heart seems safer – can we invite him into 10% of our heart? 30%? 60%? But if we are invited into him – the Lord of the Feast, the Lord of the Wine, the Lord of Joy? That’s something different.
As, I’ve already said, the water turned into wine connects to the grace we receive in our baptism into Christ. C. S. Lewis beautifully captures this dynamic in that famous “undragoning of Eustace” in the Dawn Treader. Reading it again after looking at John 2, it seems he almost certainly had this passage in mind. Through greed and a dragon’s bracelet, Eustace is turned into a dragon. Lewis writes, “Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.” Eustace tries to rip at the scales, but every time he does, they come right back. He cannot “undragon” himself. Aslan leads him to a well – a “round bath with marble steps going down into it.”
“Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”…
“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off … And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again…”
“After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me – [Edmund said]“Dressed you. With his paws?” “Well, I don’t exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes.”
I feel the need to add Lewis’s tagline here: “It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that “from that time forth Eustace was a different boy.” To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.” (C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, pgs. 97, 114-117, 119-120)
The cure had begun. Here’s what we have at the Wedding at Cana: the beginning of a new creation and a new kingdom, even better than a wedding feast, one in which we can each personally enter into through Christ Jesus himself. Amen.