Sharing God's Love
Today’s passage from John, tells of a joyful occasion, a wedding in Cana in Galilee, where Jesus, his mother and his disciples are guests. It’s a far cry from this cold morning in Marden during lockdown! As in all good storytelling John sets the scene, and then describes the issue to be resolved: the hosts have run out of wine! Disaster! The matter is resolved by Jesus through miraculous means, and this is verified independently by the steward! That’s the plot!
The characters are Mary, Jesus and the steward. Mary is the one who alerts Jesus to the problem. John tells us she simply says, ‘they have no wine.’ I can’t help wondering whether she followed this up by saying, ‘can’t you do something about it?’ or whether that question is implicit, because he clearly feels he is being called upon to act and responds, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?’, before remedying the situation, as Mary knows he can and will do. If his words sound rather curt to our ears, she isn’t fazed. She has total faith in his ability to redeem the situation.
Mary won’t feature again in John’s gospel until the end when we see her kneeling at the cross. When he will say, with tender compassion, seeing her standing near the cross with the disciple whom he loved, ‘Woman, here is your Son.’ And here, even at the start of his ministry there are hints of what will happen. The passage opens with the words, ‘On the third day,’ and Jesus says, ‘My hour has not yet come.’ His death, ascension and resurrection are already in sight. This miracle concerning wine and hospitality brings to mind the wine shared at the eucharist in remembrance of these things, and hints at the great heavenly feast.
This, the opening event of Jesus’ ministry, tells us about Jesus: who he is, what he will do, what the emphases of his ministry will be. He begins it with this extraordinary act of grace, the miraculous transformation of water into wine. New wine is put in old jars, huge jars, over 100 gallons of top-quality wine! It’s an extravagant, generous gesture. John explains that these stone water jars are for the Jewish rites of purification. Old forms are taking on new uses with Jesus! Things are going to be transformed, and not just water into wine.
On a human level the story reveals Jesus as one of us, a wedding guest, one who gets mildly irritated with his mum, who joins with his community to celebrate life and love. He acts out of kindness and friendship, recognising the needs of his neighbours and meeting that need. We can see already that compassion and lifting people out of need and shame will be trademarks of his ministry. Running out of wine could have brought disgrace and embarrassment to the family, who were expected to host several days’ festivities, and ruined the special celebration of this young couple, who may not have had much money. Thanks to Jesus, their party can go on!
It is tactful of Jesus to perform this big gesture so quietly and discreetly behind the scenes. Only his disciples and the servants know what Jesus has done. The steward thinks it is the bridegroom who has provided this excellent wine and commends him for his generosity! And it is part of Jesus’ gift that he lets the bridegroom take the credit.
You may have a view on miracles. But however you regard it, the real purpose and emphasis of the story comes at the end, after the miraculous event.
‘Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.’
Those are the significant things: the revelation of God’s glory through Jesus and the faith of the disciples; those moment when Jesus’ actions, his words or presence, call them signs or miracles, when they allow ordinary people in the bible, ordinary people like us, to catch a glimpse of heaven.
Perhaps this passage is also about prayer. Mary takes the problem to Jesus: ‘they have no wine,’ she says, and waits for Jesus’ response. We too can take our predicaments and fears, our needs and worries, our hurts and our longings to him and wait for his response, knowing that he cares, even for the small things, like running out of drinks at a wedding party.
The jars are standing empty at the wedding in Cana, and Jesus fills them with wine. The story is about transformation, of water into wine, of empty jars into full jars, of a moment of embarrassment changed into a continuation of joy. Jesus promises new life, abundant new life, abundant and full. He offers new possibilities, new ways of looking at things, a greater good, a resourcefulness when it comes to promoting the good of others. New wine for drinking and sharing in the old jars for water and ritual cleansing. His message is as radical now as it was 2,000 years ago, that things can be changed.
And our rituals have certainly changed in the last months. The rituals of commuting to work, attending school and church services, going to the shops. Our daily routines are all changed. We have sought new ways to replace the former ways, new wine if you like, and sought to be resourceful to maintain what is good and necessary in life for the welfare of others and for our own equilibrium.
Life has changed, and the old jars have been reused, reinvented, even if only temporarily. The Millenium Stadium, the Welsh Rugby Ground, has been turned into a hospital; cathedrals have become vaccination centres, with organists playing music to calm, cheer and reflect the sense of apprehension or gladness of each person coming for their jab. Here in Marden, the Vestry Hall, no longer in use for meetings, clubs and activities, has become home to the Food Bank. New wine has been poured into these empty jars.
Our jars, metaphorically speaking are standing empty at the moment. Many of us are tired, low in spirits, anxious, isolated. We might be grieving the deep personal loss of someone we love, or mourning the loss of life as we knew it. We are ready and waiting for signs in our lives that the wonderful will happen, and we shall be restored to the abundant fullness of life. All of us are desperate for a return to a normal that is good and life-enhancing, but it will, inevitably, be different to what we knew. We wait in hope for the time when, through God’s grace, whatever is good in our present circumstances, and whatever was good in our lives before, can be combined and blended so that, like the steward, we can say then that the best wine has been kept until now.