January 9, 2022 – The Wedding at Cana
Acknowledging the Territory
As we begin This new year, let us take a moment to acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is, by law, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. Let us also seek to improve our understanding of what this means and to commit ourselves to live out this knowledge throughout the coming year.
Lighting the Christ Candle
Today we continue with the celebrate of Epiphany, which we began last week. As we light our Christ Candle this morning, we remember the revelation of who Jesus was and is, and we commit ourselves to live in that light and share his light with everyone we meet.
Call to Worship
Opening Prayer (in unison)
Lord, we need a miracle today. Like Jesus changing water into wine
at the wedding feast in Cana, we need a miracle. We are tired, Lord, of the restrictions we face because of the pandemic. We are tired of all the pain and hurt of this world. We get discouraged in the face of injustice, war, poverty, and indifference. Lord, we need a miracle today. Yet we know that your steadfast love for us, your generous gifts, to many to be counted, and your gentle and loving touch on our lives, are indeed miracles of love and grace. Help us to appreciate all the small daily miracles you place before us and help us to remember the greatest miracle of all, your love for us. Amen.
Gift of Music
All three of our hymns today are Epiphany hymns that celebrate the revelation of Christ in our world.
We begin with
Hymn O Radiant Christ, Incarnate Word VU#84
Scripture Readings John 2:1-11
Last week we read the story of John’s account of the call of the first disciples. For John, this was the private revelation of who Jesus was to those he first called to follow him. Today we read the story of the wedding at Cana, a story only recorded by John and a story that, for John, represented the first public demonstration of Jesus divinity … the public Epiphany of Jesus.
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.
Epiphany in a Glass of Wine
In the traditional Revised Common Lectionary, this week we would mark the Baptism of Jesus. However, as I mentioned last week, in the Gospel According to John, the Gospel we will be following this year, there is no birth narrative and there is no baptism story. So, this year, we look at the Epiphany or the revelation of who Jesus was, not through his birth and baptism, but through the beginning of his ministry. Last week we looked at Jesus Epiphany through John the Baptist and the call of the first disciples, who were originally disciples of John, and this week we look at the first of Jesus public signs, the Wedding at Cana.
Now John never actually talks about miracles. He talks about signs. Although some translations of the Bible substitute the word miracle, that is not actually accurate. And the reason that this is important is because, for John, what matters is not what happened or how it happened but rather what the particular sign reveals about Jesus.
So, what does this first sign reveal? For John, first and foremost, the wedding feast at Cana reveals the abundance and extravagance of God’s love, a love that goes far beyond what is needed.
When the wine ran out at the wedding feast this was a major disaster. Cana was a small town and a wedding would have been a community event. Everyone would have been there. And the community would have certain expectations of the host. And one of those expectations was that there would be sufficient wine.
No one would dare hold a feast without careful planning and preparation. The host needed to be prepared for the entire village to show up. It was essential to make sure there was enough food and wine for everyone. This was an unspoken expectation that was very clearly understood. But in this particular case, the wine had run out.
Now we all know what it is like in a small community. This was not something that would soon be forgotten. The host would not be able to laugh it off or downplay the significance of such a breach or public etiquette and expectation. From that point on, no matter what else he might do, that host would forever be known throughout the entire village as the one who ran out of wine. The bride and groom would have to deal with constantly being reminded that it was at their wedding that the wine ran out.
And so, according to John, Jesus’ mother turned to him and basically said, do something! Although at first, he does not respond, eventually Jesus saves the feast and the reputations of those involved. But the thing is, that there would have already been a great deal of wine consumed and the amount needed to last for the rest of the feast would likely have not been a great deal. It would have been enough for Jesus to provide a few extra bottles or maybe cases of wine.
But that is not what happened. Instead, what was provided was six stone jars each holding twenty or thirty gallons of the very best wine that the wine steward had ever tasted. Can you even imagine that? Somewhere around one hundred and fifty gallons of the best wine ever. That is almost 570 one-liter bottles and I’m not even going to do the calculations for the standard 750 ml bottles!
This was not simply providing the bare minimum of what was needed. This was extravagance above and beyond anything imaginable. And for John, this is what this story is all about. It is about the God that Jesus embodies, being a God of extravagance.
This is perhaps why the Gospel According to John is often considered the most mystical of the Gospels. For John, it is seldom about the actual events recorded and much more about what those events reveal about God and about Jesus as the human embodiment of God, fully God and fully human at the same time.
And there are several other things within this story that give us an insight into John’s understanding of who Jesus was.
First, the jars that sudden became filled with wine, were the stone jars of water used in Jewish rituals of purification. Most of the Hebrew laws around purity dealt with physical cleanliness. You became ritually unclean by touching blood or other bodily fluids, by touching a dead body, including the body of an animal, by developing any sort of a skin irritation or rash or by any of a number of other physical exposures. And heaven forbid if someone coughed or sneezed on you! If that happened you would be expected to avoid contact with all other people until you had been cleansed by ritually washing yourself to remove all possible contamination. And here we were thinking that excessive hand washing and social distancing was something new!
Anyway, the point for John was that these jars were part of the Jewish rituals and were unique to the Jewish faith. For John, this reinforced his belief that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, sent by, and one with the Jewish God. For John it was important that the promise made in scripture be fulfilled, that salvation would come to all people through the Jews.
The second thing about this passage that reveals John’s understanding of Jesus, is how Jesus addresses his mother when she tells him to do something. He calls her “woman”. This is the same word he uses to address other women including the Samaritan woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery and Mary Magdalene. Jesus does not change the water into wine to please his mother. He does it, not for her, but for the sake of those who would be harmed by the situation. Jesus does not give preferential treatment to anyone. Everyone is equally important and those in the greatest need are the ones who must be helped.
On a side note, it is also interesting that Jesus’ mother only appears twice in the Gospel According to John, once here at the wedding feast in Cana at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and then at the cross as his earthy ministry came to an end. She is never named, but simply referred to as the mother of Jesus.
And John’s point about all being equal, is reinforced in this story when he makes it clear that the wine steward, the one who is in charge of the entire situation, has no idea where the extraordinary wine came from. The only ones who know the truth are the servants who followed Jesus’ instructions and filled the jars with water. The least important become the only ones who truly understand, but that happens only when they are willing to do what Jesus tells them.
This story, along with the story we heard last week, are John’s way of introducing Jesus to the public and explaining who he is, at least according to John. Jesus is the Lamb of God, the one who John the Baptist came to prepare for. Jesus is greater than John the Baptist and he is the one that calls people to follow him and to discover for themselves who he is.
Jesus is also, the full embodiment of God, fully God and fully human, and because of this he can reveal to us the essence of God. Through Jesus we learn of an extravagant God who treats all people equally and not only provides what we need but goes far beyond that. Even the lowliest servant can become the most important person of all if they listen to and follow God, by following Jesus, God made flesh.
This is the God that John reveals to us and it is John’s image of who Jesus is that has shaped and molded the traditional understanding of Jesus, perhaps more than any other gospel. It is through John that the mystical, divine Christ is made real for so many people.
And so, as we continue to explore the Gospel According to John in the coming weeks and months, we take with us today this extraordinary promise. Our God loves us with such extravagance, that it goes far beyond what we need. God’s love is so extravagant that we can never even begin to imagine the extent of that love. For me, this is the amazing promise offered to each one of us through John and through the story of the wedding at Cana. Amen.
Gift of Music Songs of Thankfulness and Praise #101
We Offer Our Gifts
At this time in our worship, we are again reminded that our commitment to God also includes the gifts we offer. As we gather online, I ask you to think about what it is that you have to offer to God and to others this day. And so, whatever it is we offer, our financial gifts, the gifts of our time, our talents, our abilities, our commitments or our prayers, we take a moment now to ask God to bless them.
Let us pray;
Loving God, as we think about all the gifts and blessings we have received over this past year, we ask that your spirit will continue to bless us and, through the gifts we give today, reach out to touch and bless others. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
As has been our tradition in the past, let us take a moment of silence now, to offer our own personal prayers for the people and the situations that are in our hearts and on our minds this morning.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
God of wedding parties and new wine, of love and laughter, dancing and singing, we long to sing, dance and celebrate, but all too often we get caught up in the worries and concerns of life and we forget your invitation to feast and enjoy. We worry about our families; about those we see every day and those who live far from us many of whom we may not have seen since the COVID pandemic began. We worry about our personal finances. We worry about our health especially in the face of the current situation. We worry about how well we will perform the tasks and duties we have taken on.
We worry about those in our own community that are struggling in ways far beyond anything we must deal with … those struggling to provide food and shelter for themselves and their families … those living in situation of fear and abuse … those who feel isolated and alone … those suffering illness physical or mental … those forced to work long hours because others are sick.
We worry about those around the world dealing with oppression and war, abuse and discrimination, starvation and homelessness, natural disasters and so many other situations that, for us, are only images and stories reported on the evening news.
We worry about our planet, about the devastating effects of pollution, global warming, habitat destruction, and overpopulation.
Sometimes we even worry that we are not worrying about the right things.
Yet in the midst of all our worries and concerns, you still invite us to celebrate and enjoy the abundance that you offer us. Forgive us when we focus so much on the negative that we forget to appreciate all the wonderful blessings we have been given.
Remind us, each new day, that even when our life seems to be flooded with the waters of anxiety and concern, like turning water into wine, you can take all our worries, concerns and anxieties and transform them into the fine wines of gratitude and thankfulness, if we will only turn to you, trusting in the extravagant love you freely offer each one of us. And so, we offer you this and all our prayer in name of the one who can change water into wine, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Closing Hymn In the Darkness Shines the Splendour #92