John 2:1-11 (Epiphany 2C)
St. John’s, Galveston (1/16/2022)
Rev. Alan Taylor
+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The message this morning is based on the Gospel reading from John 2. It’s about a wedding feast that Jesus attended where He worked the first of His miracles, the changing of water into wine. It turns out that many modern commentators are perplexed, if not embarrassed by this incident. They have suggested that Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine is somewhat beneath His dignity as the Son of the Living God. It seems odd to them, I suppose, that Jesus should choose to work the first of His miracles at a wedding celebration and that that miracle should be something as indulgent, and perhaps even unnecessary, as turning gallons and gallons of water into wine so that the guests at the wedding feast could drink their fill.
On one level, it does seem a bit odd that Jesus chose this event, a wedding in the little town of Cana, as the setting to work the first of His miracles. And, in all honesty, it also seems a bit odd that He chose to turn water into wine as His first recorded miracle. I mean, it’s hard to imagine God, in the heavenly council, deciding on a miracle to introduce the Savior to the world, saying, I know, He’ll attend a wedding and when the wine runs out and the people are panicked, He’ll turn some water into wine. Yes, that’s it! That’s what I’ll do! Certainly, with this miracle, as with all of the miracles that Jesus worked, His power to change the forces, even the laws of nature, is on display which provides testimony to the fact that He is God in the flesh.
So, at first glance, the setting and the miracle are a bit unusual, or perhaps a better way to say it, is they are unexpected. But, a careful study of the Scriptures, and of the details that John gives us of the event, suggests that there is more to the miracle than may first appear. To delve into it a little deeper, it would be good for us to consider first the setting itself. Again, it was a wedding feast that Jesus and His mother Mary were invited to attend. Jesus went to the wedding because it’s what He came into the world to do, namely, to be part of people’s lives. His attendance there settles the mistaken notion that He came into the world simply to give us a set of principles, or even to offer us purpose and hope, without getting His hands dirty, so to speak, or without living the life that we live. Jesus was and still is, even as we are called to be, “in the world but not of the world.”
Beyond that though, marriage, as an estate, and the wedding feast, as a celebration, had a rich history in the life of the people of Israel. Isaiah wrote about it. He said, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
The prophet Ezekiel too tells us that marriage is symbolic of the union between God and His people. “When I passed by you and saw you (God says), behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine.”
That image of the union between God and His people is further emphasized in the New Testament when Jesus is described as the Bride Groom and the Church as His bride. In fact, the fulfillment of all things in God’s plan is described in the Book of Revelation as the Bridegroom coming to claim His bride, the Church. “I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem (says John), coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people.”
People in the early church even frequently interpreted Christian Baptism as a nuptial in which Christ weds an unworthy bride. Chrysostom, an early church father, once preached to his congregation, saying, “Come, then, let me talk to you as I would speak to a bride about to be led into the holy nuptial chamber. Let me give you, too, a glimpse of the bridegroom’s exceeding wealth and of the ineffable kindness which He shows to His bride. Let me point out to her the sordid past from which she is escaping and the glorious future she is about to enjoy.… He does not have her come to Him as His bride because He has longed for her beauty, or the bloom of her body. On the contrary, the bride He has brought into the nuptial chamber is deformed and ugly, thoroughly and shamefully sordid, and, practically, wallowing in the very mire of her sins.”
The setting then of the wedding feast for Jesus’ first miracle is significant. It reveals that through the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the marriage of God and the new Israel, that is, of Christ and of those cleansed in his blood, has commenced. That being the case, the words of Mary, that “they have no wine” do not merely refer to the lack of a required beverage for the celebration. Rather, they are a statement that this wedding feast is not yet the completion of the marriage between God and His people. Something, namely, Jesus Himself, His body and His blood will yet be given for His bride.
John tells us there were some “water jars” at the gathering. That description of the jars as simply being filled with water is certainly sufficient to the narrative, after all, it was that water that Jesus turned to wine. But John goes on to tell us something about those jars and why they were even there. They were, he says, “for the purification of the Jews.” In other words, the jars were there to hold the water that would be used in the Jewish rite of purification, a ceremonial cleansing, not just of hands, but of utensils, and cups and bowls and anything that was to be used in the feast for a sacred purpose.
And Jesus turned the water that was set aside for the rite of purification, into wine. And not just any wine, either. The steward of the wedding feast said to the bridegroom, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” That doesn’t simply mean that Jesus makes better wine than anyone else! It means He gives the good wine, the wine that purifies more than the water that filled those jars.
This passage about the wedding feast in Cana isn’t specifically about the Lord’s Supper and the bread and wine that are given to us there to eat and to drink. But the association between what happened at this wedding feast and the Lord’s Supper is striking. As the children of Israel purified through ritual all that was sacred and holy to them, so Jesus would gave the good wine, the best wine, to cleanse His bride, the Church, from every sin that she might be, not just ritually clean, but holy and spotless, clothed, as it were in His own righteousness and purity.
As He was about to be arrested and crucified, Jesus sat down with His disciples and celebrated the Passover. And, within that sacred meal, He took the cup and said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Many years later, the Apostle John was blessed to see a vision of what was yet to come for the people of God. “I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem (John says), coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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