Water into Wine Each Day – Epip. 2C – Jn. 2:1-11
St. Mark’s – 1/17/16 – Lorraine Ljunggren
Oh my! What are we to do with the story of a wedding which takes place way back in the first century, on the other side of the world in a place called Cana of Galilee, and, on top of it, describes a most amazing – some might say ‘outlandish’ — event?! Gallons and gallons of water becoming wine. What a story! If only we could turn water into wine!
There seem to be a lot of guests at this wedding. Jesus’ mother is there. Jesus and his disciples are invited and it appears they do accept the invitation. It’s interesting to note that if we follow the chronology of John’s Gospel, the disciples decide in just the past couple of days to follow Jesus. So, these are new relationships. But then, starting to build meaningful friendships with a party sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it?
Some of us may be accustomed to hosting or attending large parties which means we know what it’s like when things don’t go according to plan. In this particular wedding there is a grand faux pas on the part of the host – not having enough wine on hand to cover what might well be a week-long celebration.
We don’t know if Jesus’ mother has noticed the wine is gone or if the host told her or if the chief steward confided in her. The text just says, “When the wine [gives] out…” Jesus’ mother approaches him to let him know.
This conversation between a mother and an adult son may cause us to recall our own family interactions. “They have no wine,” she says. We can’t tell if her tone of voice is matter-of-fact, or anxious on behalf of the host, or has a testing edge to it. Jesus’ response probably mirrors what most people would say: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” We might put it, ‘what are we supposed to do about it?’
Oh, and by the way, it is okay for Jesus to address his mother as ‘woman.’ It isn’t out of the ordinary in the first century. From all accounts Jesus loves and respects his mother. Theologically speaking, having Jesus address his mother in this way highlights a revelation from God to a woman – a most important part of the story.
Now, there is one thing that is different about Jesus’ response from how we might respond to being told there’s no wine. We might not add what Jesus adds: “My hour has not yet come.”
Since John’s Gospel is intent on making sure we follow the whole story of Jesus’ ministry, it could be a teaser, stirring up our curiosity. What does he mean his hour hasn’t yet come? Or perhaps it’s to put us on notice that something important is going to happen at a particularly appointed time, so we need hang in there and go the distance to find out. Or, because there may be an assumption that those hearing the story might have heard it before, we are expected to know what Jesus ‘hour’ is all about.
All the Gospels are written with the advantage of hindsight, and the writer of John is certainly committed to our believing that Jesus is the Word made flesh – the very Incarnation of God. And if what we learn from scripture is true – that with God all things are possible – then whether this is Jesus’ own perceived ‘hour,’ we need to stick with it here.
We might wonder if Jesus’ mother walks away after she says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” There certainly seems to be an assumption on her part that Jesus is going to take some action – she comes off as very confident in whatever that action might be. It’s a strange sort of interaction between mother and son.
Now we find ourselves on the edge of what makes this Gospel story such a famous one – whether one attends church regularly or not. There are probably lots of people who’ve heard about Jesus ‘changing water into wine.’
The wedding host must have readily available access to a water source for the servants to do what Jesus instructs: fill up with water six stone jars the water from which is normally used for purification rites. That is, water reserved for ritual washing prior to preparing food or eating; prior to prayer and worship; prior to becoming a convert to Judaism; after childbirth; prior to burying a body for burial; and prior to marriage. Evidently the six jars are empty.
The servants follow Jesus’ instructions to the point of taking a sample of the jars’ newly filled contents to the chief steward. Upon tasting the sample, the steward talks to the bridegroom, expressing astonishment at the quality of the wine. The steward is surprised, and perhaps impressed, that the bridegroom is about to serve this great wine when most serve inferior wine at this point in the celebration.
Amazing? Outlandish? Surprising? Impossible? We moderns might be tempted to dismiss this story as something the writer of John’s Gospel makes up to proof-text Jesus’ identity. Ho-hum.
But! But the story merits our attention, even in the 21st century. There is theology here. There is meaning here. There is an invitation to our hearts, minds, and spirits to pick up on what might be underlying meanings – plural – meanings for us.
Aside from any among us who participate in vinification or winemaking, particularly from concentrated grape juice, it’s likely we’ve not participated in setting up water and juice fermenting into wine. We’ve probably not been asked to change gallons and gallons of water into wine without the fermentation process.
When Jesus is credited with changing water into wine, the Gospel text says, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.” If we’d been there, we would believe, too.
Even if we’re not long-time students of scripture, we know what it means to look for events in life to be signs of something larger or greater than the event itself. That’s a take-away for us. We look for signs in life – whether it’s a sign that we might get that job for which we’re hoping or a sign that someone about whom we care a great deal cares about us in return.
What about the possibility of us changing water into wine? Not literally! Literalism can be the death of the journey of faith. What if we think about changing water into wine each day? What if that’s our call?
Ah, the preacher has lost it, hasn’t she? No, not really.
We change water into wine each and every day when we prioritize love in our lives. Especially when it’s the first thing we think about in the morning and the last thing we think about at night. We change water into wine each day when we look in the mirror and see someone’s reflection who is loved by God in Christ Jesus – someone who is called to share that love in the mundane, in the difficult, in the challenging, and in the exciting moments in life.
One aspect of this Gospel story’s theology is that Jesus serves – yes, in a different way than we might – but serves nonetheless. And when we stick with hearing or reading Jesus’ life stories, we have to be in big-time denial to miss Jesus’ motivation – love for God and love for God’s people.
Sometimes we might hear those words but they don’t sink in. The ‘why’ of their not sinking is something the preacher can’t answer.
But, we’re to hear the words and let them sink in. Jesus’ motivation is love for God and love for God’s people. Theologically speaking, as followers of Jesus we are to do likewise keeping in mind that we begin with believing we are beloved, too.
At the same time, Jesus is always a realist – recognizing and taking to heart the difficulties we humans face in life. We know all too well the realities of life in our time and in our lives. It isn’t easy being human in any age. But when we allow love to be our motivation in living, we can endure much and discover renewal is possible.
So, water into wine – what does it look like? It looks like saying our prayers – wordless or wordy. It looks like sharing life in community around a holy table from which we share together holy food and drink.
Water into wine looks like listening to a friend whose heart is heavy with grief or whose health or that of a loved one is fragile. It looks like reaching out to help the poor and needy, the sick and the friendless.
Water into wine happens when we let go of grudges or resentments in life, allowing love’s healing power to come in. Water into wine happens when we let go of our anxiety and fear so that there is room for love to do its amazing and outlandish work in us!
Water into wine happens when we keep our commitments to work for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being. Water into wine happens when we, as part of the Episcopal Church, stay the course we believe the Spirit has set before us whomever it is we happen to fall in love.
We know how to change water into wine. We know what a difference it can make in life. We are called always and everywhere to be attuned to the opportunities and the possibilities of changing water into wine. We are called, like Jesus, to allow love to motivate us from first thing in the morning until the last thing at night. Water into wine means being part of the Jesus Movement and the change happens whenever and wherever we keep the faith. Amen.