2nd Sunday after the Epiphany
In the name of the one who brings us JOY – Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen!
The scene in today’s gospel is a village wedding festival. In the society of first century Palestine, a wedding was an exceptionally notable occasion. The ceremony itself was but the beginning of a week-long celebration. William Barclay in his Daily Study Bible commentary gives some background details of what a Jewish wedding was like…
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. By that time it was dark and they were conducted through the village streets by the light of flaming torches and with a canopy over their heads. 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 the newly married couple did not go away for a honeymoon. Instead, they stayed at home and for a week they kept open house for people to come in and share their joy. They wore crowns and dressed in their bridal robes. They were treated like a king and queen – they were actually addressed as “king” and “queen”, and their word was law. In a life where there was so much poverty and constant hard work, this week of festivity and joy was one of the supreme occasions in a Jewish village.
Jesus gladly participated in this kind of a celebration! As we heard in today’s gospel: “…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.” One of the obvious but noteworthy things to point out here is simply that Jesus was there. This is not the kind of image that many people today have about Jesus. When they think about him, it is always about him talking about religious matters. But not in today’s gospel! Here Jesus is shown as enjoying himself and feeling right at home at a secular party. And the people obviously felt quite comfortable about his being there. He and his disciples were INVITED! Jesus was not like a stuffy preacher whose presence always produces an awkward silence whenever he enters a room.
But there was a problem at this particular wedding celebration. For some reason (perhaps because of the last minute arrival of Jesus and his disciples), the wine gave out. It would have been embarrassing enough for the bride and groom if they had run out of any food item at their wedding open house (think of how we would feel if that were to happen at a party we were hosting), but for the wine to give out would have been absolutely devastating! Wine was the essential ingredient at any Jewish feast. “Without wine,” as a well-known rabbinical saying put it, “there is no joy.”
In other words, this was a crisis of major proportions! If there was no more wine, the wedding celebration would end early – and the failure of the bride and groom to have provided enough would be talked about throughout that village for years to come. They were facing total and absolute humiliation!
This reminds me of a situation that happened when I was the pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church - a small congregation in Dayton, Ohio. One Sunday we had an attendance that was considerably larger than usual – and about halfway through communion, we ran out of wine! I motioned for a member of our women’s group altar guild to come up, told her about our situation, and asked her to bring another bottle from the sacristy. And so I and my communion assistant waited – and after about two minutes she came back – ashen faced – and said that there wasn’t any wine in the sacristy (they obviously had forgotten to order more!), but that she had asked Norma – an elderly member of our congregation – to go to her house next door and see if she had a bottle of wine somewhere! And so we waited and waited and waited about five more minutes – the communion assistant and I just standing there in front of the altar as the organist was playing various communion music songs – with the whispers going around in the congregation that we had run out of wine, but that Norma was looking for some in her house next door! Finally Norma arrived with a bottle of a really interesting type of wine that must have been in her refrigerator (it was ice cold and tasted something like “Watermelon Ripple”) – and so we continued with the communion service.
Needless to say, the members of the altar guild were totally embarrassed! After the service, their chairperson came up to me to apologize and she swore that this would never, ever happen again! And as far as I know, it never has! Years later, people at St. Paul still remember the time that the wine ran out during the communion!
This was the kind of situation that the bridal hosts were facing at their wedding, and Jesus’ mother knew it. And somehow, she believed that he could help – so she came and said to him, “They have no wine.” In reply, Jesus said to her (and here I am using the RSV translation rather than the NRSV one we heard in today’s reading), “Woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Jesus’ reply sounds rather harsh, but actually it was not. The term “woman” in the culture of that day was one of solemn respect (like "lady" or "madam") – and the essence of what he was saying was simply that he was not yet ready to openly show his messiah-ship, but that he would take care of the situation in his own way. That is why Mary then said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
We know the rest of the story. There were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification standing there, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. If the average was twenty-five gallons, that would be a total of one hundred and fifty (150) gallons – the amount that can be held by these thirty (five gallon) water bottles that are in front of our altar today! Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” (This, as you can see, would be a lot!) And they filled them up to the brim.
And the water became wine. Not just cheap wine, not like the “Watermelon Ripple” kind that Norma had brought over from her house to help us out after our supply had run out during that service in my former congregation – but wine that was so good that the chief steward of the wedding festival told the bridegroom that it was some of very the best he had ever tasted! And so Jesus saved the situation. The wedding went on – the good times kept rolling – and the bridegroom and bride were saved from a major social embarrassment and humiliation.
But what does this mean for us? John in his gospel calls this a “sign” - that is, a message that has a deeper meaning than just its outward significance. To me, the major significance of this is not so much that water was turned into wine – but rather that Jesus gives us joy by transforming our lives from the inside out. Joy that changes us and our entire outlook on everything. And so much of it that we will never have to worry about it running dry!
There is a story about a man – a reprobate and a drunkard – who had become a Christian. His friends at work often made fun of him and his faith. “Surely you don’t believe,” they said, “that Jesus actually turned water into wine.” “Whether Jesus actually turned water into wine, I do not know”, he answered them. “But I do know that in my own house, he has turned beer into furniture.”
This was a man who had been transformed from the inside out. He knew the joy of Jesus, even if people around him did not understand it. His joy did not necessarily change the outward circumstances of his life – at least at first. But it changed HIM. It changed his understandings and priorities for living.
In the same way, Jesus transforms us. Jesus transforms us by giving us faith to know that God will give us what we need each day. Jesus transforms us by giving us the assurance that our sins are forgiven, and that therefore we do not ever have to be afraid or ashamed in our life with him. Jesus transforms us by filling us with joy and the knowledge of God’s love for us – love so great that it will never run out! And Jesus transforms us by giving us the strength we need for living each day as God’s beloved children.
As we heard in our gospel: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” So may it be for us. As we receive the gifts of Jesus each day, may God help us to believe in him so that our lives can experience his glory, his joy, and his love – now and forever.
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen!
George R. Karres,
Pella Lutheran Church
418 W. Main Street
Sidney, MT 59270