The Third Sunday after Epiphany

24 January 2021

Collect

Almighty God,

whose Son revealed in signs and miracles

the wonder of your saving presence:

renew your people with your heavenly grace,

and in all our weakness

sustain us by your mighty power;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.

(or)

God of all mercy,

your Son proclaimed good news to the poor,

release to the captives,

and freedom to the oppressed:

anoint us with your Holy Spirit

and set all your people free

to praise you in Christ our Lord.

Readings

The Second Sunday in Advent

6 December 2020

Revelation 19: 6-10

 

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunder-peals, crying out,
‘Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
  the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
  and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
  and his bride has made herself ready;
to her it has been granted to be clothed
  with fine linen, bright and pure’—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are true words of God.’ Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow-servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’

John 2: 1-11

 

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

The wedding at Cana

an analogy[1].

The story of the wedding in Cana is unique to John's Gospel, and is the first miracle of his book.  There are key phrases that link it to the final miracle of Jesus' story, the resurrection.  For example "on the third day"[2] and "my hour".   This beginning and end frame the narrative of the gospel.

Weddings and faithfulness in marriage are regular ways of expressing the faithfulness of God towards his people, and the bond that holds them together[3].  This gospel writer uses similar language in chapter 3 when John the Baptist describes  himself as a friend of the bridegroom,  building on the idea that the messiah comes like a bride groom.  Weddings signified a new identity for the bride and groom.  Less obvious to us in a liberal modern world, marriages were often arranged to strengthen family bonds or even dynasties or kingdoms.  This way they might avoid war and promote peace, trust, trade and prosperity.  We are not given the identity of the couple getting married.  We can sense that it is a big party and locally perhaps there is a lot invested in this match.

However, the family of one of them faces embarrassment and ostracism. The wine is running out.  Bad planning, or is one of the partners responsible for providing the wine in some way impoverished, one wonders?  Wine at a wedding feast symbolises joy, hospitality and good will.  Terrible if these attributes are about to run out too.

In saving the occasion, Jesus asks for the water jars to be refilled "to the brim".  These are the jars of water that had been used by the guests to wash according to religious as well as hygienic convention before engaging in the celebrations.  In a way this acknowledges the Jewish acts of purification that was both a standard part of communal life, and the baptism led by John in the run up to the story.  This implies that the old message of repentance still stands, encoded in the water for purification.  But now something new and totally unexpected happens as the steward draws off the best wine.  Gallons of it. 

The gospel writer is prefiguring the unexpected, undeserved, exuberant joy that the reader will finally encounter in the resurrection of the Lord at the end of the gospel.   The fundamental desire of a holy people is to be presented as pure before God.  Our desire to be pure is fully acknowledged  and not down-graded. The old ritual still stands as the jars are "filled to the brim".  However we all too aware that human desire and intention are fragile and on their own will fail.  Again and again we will stop, wash and wonder at our inadequacy. Shame and correction might seem inevitable.

The miracle, or "sign" as the gospel has it,  ends very differently.   Flowing from those ancient concerns with ritual and a desire for purity an unexpected joyous revelation bursts out.  We are "free to worship him without fear"  as we recite in Morning Prayer each day. Enabled by none other than the Messiah himself.

 

[1] Analogy does not prevent a story from being historically factual, but opens levels of interpretation that take us nearer to the mind of the author.

[2] Bethany and the lower Jordan are about 100 miles from Cana in the north of Galilee.  Realistically not a journey of three days!

[3] See Jeremiah 33:10-11, 31-32, Isaiah 61: 10-11, Hosea 2: 16-19 and more.

Reflection

We might like to put ourselves into the story, or see in it others we know. 

The un-named mother of Jesus clearly has a 6th sense for people who are vulnerable to ostracism. Why might that be?  She is the first to spot the impending catastrophe. Has nobody else noticed!  Are we attuned to the potential embarrassment or denigration of others?  Individually or as a community or a church would you say we are sensitive to the disquiet of others or insensitive? 

The party goers and certainly the chief steward seems blissfully unaware of the source of the unexpected best wine.  Only the servants are in on the miracle.  Are we able to witness to the source of the exuberant joy of life because we too are servants? 

To whom do we turn when we become aware of life's inclusion, abundance and joy?

Mark Taylor.  Reader, Calehill and Westwell