Wedding at Cana
Jesus first week of ministry, as set out in the Gospel of St John which we are reading each week, was a pretty busy one. He had been baptised by John the Baptist and the Spirit had descended on him. He had recruited his disciples, the last two (which we heard about last week) being Philip and Nathanial. This was on the the north shore of Galilee and after this all of them moved about 30 miles down the hills in the west, to a small village North of Nazareth called Cana where they were invited to a wedding – we don’t know whose wedding, or why Jesus and his disciples and his mother had been invited. We do know that Nathanial was from Cana, and perhaps they were invited as a result of his decision to follow Jesus. We know that Cana is not very far from Nazareth, which might make it less surprising for members of Jesus’ family to be there as well. And it is certainly refreshing to read that those who had made the decision to follow Jesus were still able to enjoy a good party!
Now, weddings were a big deal in the Jewish tradition. Unlike today (and as someone whose daughter is getting married later this year, I have to say thank heavens for that) Jewish weddings went on for days. They were important events concerning the whole village, not just those invited by the bride and groom. They were inclusive celebrations, and times of great joy and excitement, so much so that when Jews reflected on what the arrival of the Messiah would be like, the Old Testament tells us that they thought it would be just like a wedding banquet. They were the big event of the year.
In addition to the party celebrations, gifts were given, not just as a ‘thank you for inviting us’, or a goodwill gesture, but as a means of bestowing honour on the couple and their families. Moreover, not to follow this custom was to imply public shame on the couple.
This perhaps helps us understand the crisis that met Jesus and his disciples when he arrived, and why the servants were so concerned: this was not just embarrassing (and I am pretty sure it would have been that), it was a dishonouring crisis of the highest order for the hosts.
And so we get to Jesus first miracle – or sign, as John calls it, the first of Jesus’ seven signs of which St John writes.
Jesus’ mother Mary turns to Jesus and tells him the wine has run out. Jesus directs that six stone jars be filled with water. That they were stone jars is significant, and highly symbolic. Stone jars were for Jewish purification washing – you might remember in Mark’s gospel where the Pharisees notice that the disciples were eating with defiled hands which was against the Jewish law. Wine and drinking water would normally be stored in the cheaper clay jars, but these could not be used for purification because they would become contaminated. Stone jars held the special water of purification. So Jesus chose to use potent symbols of the old Jewish law for his first miracle.
And these were big! Most estimates suggest that the six jars, filled to the brim, would hold over 120 gallons of water. The servants do what Jesus asks, and when the contents are taken to the chief steward, who was probably a trusted family friend, he makes the telling pronouncement. The groom is serving as much excellent wine as the guests need.
It is interesting that there is no reference as to how Jesus worked this miracle: what he did to make it happen. It just happened. Most people at the wedding might not have known anything about it, and just carried on celebrating long into the night. But the new disciples, who must have been feeling a fair bit of uncertainly at this early stage of following Jesus, saw and, as St John says, “believed in him”.
So, what are we to make of this miracle? It is not at all like some of the others; it was a private affair, almost played down by Jesus. However, its significance is that it marks the first sign from Jesus that God is at work in him, and that he is not merely a man, but is also the presence of God in the world.
The miracle at Cana is a sign that illustrated a new beginning in mans relationship with God, marked by Jesus coming amongst us. The water in the Jewish purification jars represented the old way, a symbol of adherence to the law which was failing. Jesus was offering something new. The new wine, the best wine, and as much of it as anyone could want: and this symbolises the salvation that is to follow at Easter to those who believe.
The fact that the first miracle involved wine is also significant. On one level it points forward to the events of the last supper and the Eucharist which we will celebrate together shortly. On another level, we know that wine is a natural produce from natural ingredients (although sadly not part of your five a day, as my wife sometimes reminds me) As C S Lewis says: “Every year as part of the Natural Order, God makes wine. He does so by creating a vegetable organism that can turn water, soil and sunlight into a juice which will, under proper conditions become wine… what we witness at Cana is God, now incarnate, short-circuiting the process”. I like that idea: what Jesus did was not wholly unnatural like making wine come from a rock, but he took ordinary ingredients and showed what could be done with them.
At Cana, the wine did not just appear from thin air. It started as water. The same can be said of Jesus – he did not appear out of nowhere, but as a baby born in a stable. It was this baby that was divine.
And did you note that the real significance of this was hidden to those who had not accepted Christ? - the head-steward was pleasantly surprised to find his wine cellar full of good wine, as any of us would be, but it was the disciples alone who saw a revelation of the glory of Jesus in what had happened. And we see this all the time today, don’t we? All around us, God’s glory is constantly being revealed, in so many ways. But how many times do we fail to recognise it? How many times do we think things just happen by chance, or good luck, or because of someone else’s efforts? John is saying to us “Unless we accept and turn to Jesus, how can we begin to see the greatness, the magnificence, of his hand at work in our lives?
This is how God wants us to be. We should take the water of life as we find it (or the ‘cards we are dealt’, as my Dad used to say) and turn it into new wine.
You and I might look at ourselves, and where we are in our lives, and think to ourselves that we are incapable of any divine purpose. We have so many troubles of our own in these difficult times, sometimes it is pretty hard just keeping our heads above water, let alone performing any miracles.
But the point is that it is because of who we are, and because of our circumstances, that we are called to make these transformations, to turn the water of our present lives into the best wine. It isn’t good enough to wait for another life to come along – this is the one we live in, and this is the one in which God wants to work, right here, right now.
As the writer Cosmo Land said: ”the artist, whatever his dreams and ideals of beauty may be, does not quarrel with this world and wait for another. He sets to work with the lines and the colours that he finds, and realises his ideal through them. The Christian is the true artist of life. It is not too much to say that the true purpose of the Christian life is to go through the world turning water into wine”.
You can read lots into the wedding at Cana, where Jesus first revealed his glory to those who were looking. It is certainly a signpost in the Gospels to what lay ahead, and marked the watershed between the old and the new. But equally importantly, I would suggest, it shows is that miracles don’t just come out of thin air. They come from God, using everyday things and ordinary people, like you and me, often in pretty difficult situations, to reveal his glory.
Perhaps it is a bit like a pair of curtains, tightly drawn. Behind the curtains is something really special, shining brightly, but most of the world can’t see it because the curtains drawn tightly. This is the Kingdom of God, here on earth, but invisible to so many. What we are required to do is to open up those curtains just a bit, to allow a bit of God’s light to be revealed.
And how do we do it? How do we work to reveal the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth? The answer is really quite simple: we do it by letting God work in us in our everyday lives, making those trasnformations. Perhaps it might just be offering to help an elderly neighbour with their shopping, or a young Mum with her young baby. Perhaps it is just a smile to someone depressed and lonely, or a word of encouragement to a young person. Something simple, but God working in you, where you are, to crack those curtains open, just a small bit, to reveal the Glory of God. To you it might be almost nothing: but to the old person struggling back from the co-op with their shopping, or the young mum at her wits end coping with a young crying baby, your act could be a miracle.
We are God’s ordinary people in everyday Bunbury, and with God’s help he can use us to work miracles, to turn the water of old life into the flowing wine of a life revealing his glory.
Let us pray:
Father, as we hear of the first miracle in Cana when your Son revealed his glory to those who recognised him,
Work in us as we go about our everyday lives
Send us out to work with what we have, rather than what we would like to have
Use us to turn the dirty water of everyday life into the flowing new wine of your kingdom and so reveal your glory to this world. Send us out to work miracles in your name!