Most of us are familiar with the wedding feast at Cana and Jesus’ first miracle. It’s a sweet and fun sort of miracle—easy to understand and joyous. John starts us off with something relatable and simple. We aren’t jumping right in to exorcisms of demons, healing the sick, or raising the dead. Instead we hear the story of how one man, a bridegroom, is saved from social embarrassment and the talk of the town.
It isn’t a really big miracle after all—all Jesus did was have some servants pour some water into a few purification jugs and presto-chango! now its wine. Not a lot of people witnessed or even really knew about the miracle. Maybe the servants, they were the ones who poured the water and might well have heard the steward praise the wine. But the steward doesn’t seem to know where the wine came from much less that it had been water only moments before. Maybe Jesus’s mother knew—she at least trusted that he would do something as evidenced by her casual remark tossed to the servants to do whatever he told them to do. His disciples seem to know—because it revealed his glory, caught their attention, and now they believe in him. But nobody else at the party seems to have a clue that something this awesome just happened. Even Matthew, Mark, and Luke don’t seem to know about this miracle as only John’s Gospel has any record of it.
For all intents and purposes, this miracle seems to be something of a sidebar. There is a wedding, Jesus and friends are invited, the wine runs out, Jesus’s mother—like any good Jewish woman—berates her son into doing something about it, yaddi yaddi yaddi, we get wine. The story itself seems pretty straightforward and its motivating forces, accidental. The whole thing begs the question, “Would Jesus have come out as the Messiah had it not been for his mother, a wedding, and an inaccurate count by the caterer?”
And, maybe, if we knew what was good for us, we would just walk away right there, crack open a bottle of port, and toast the Messiah. But, it is the season after Epiphany, which hopes to inspire us to dig a little deeper and find the ah-ha! moments that captivate our attention and draw us deeper into our own beliefs about God so maybe this little story deserves a little more attention.
John’s Gospel records seven signs. They are signs that point to Jesus as the Messiah—God with us. The water into wine is the first sign. Though it seems on the lighter side of Jesus’s miracles, a closer look offers us an opportunity to delve into a deeper understanding of who this God with us really is. And it all starts on the third day.
When we think of the third day as a spiritual manifestation, we are immediately drawn to resurrection thinking. Jesus died and “on the third day he rose again.” So for John to begin this description with that particular language, “On the third day…” should trigger, in our minds, a connection to the death and resurrection story. When we think of resurrection, we might think primarily of Jesus’s resurrection, but other stories of resurrection come to mind as well. Maybe Lazarus, or Jairius’s daughter, or the widow’s son, but also stories of our own times; stories in which a phoenix rose from the ash to be born again; stories of baptism by fire and the new life that was reborn.
Since reading The Church of the Ascension: A Resurrection Story, I think of that fateful night when the Ascension was aflame and all seemed lost. Yet, instead of defeat, she rose from the ash with the help and effort of so many that loved her and loved one another. From Jane McConnell rescuing the silver to Hugh Alsabrook’s epiphany, “…when I saw that piece of wood carving [the reredos] which is so beautiful, I realized that some of this place could be preserved. And that we would go on and that this place would be rebuilt, and we would continue with the life of this parish.” (p. 107) The members of the parish quickly realized that, as Betty Vaughan put it, “The building has burned, but the Church is alive.” Five anonymous women started placing fresh flowers every week on the steps of the burned church, “symbolizing life out of death.”(p. 109) For Church of the Ascension, resurrection is the naming and claiming of new life and that is the context in which John describes Jesus’s first miracle—the third day, a wedding feast, saving the good wine for last, a revelation of glory.
On the third day, Jesus will begin his ministry with a miracle and he will reveal his glory. Maybe it is only his disciples who will witness and understand what has happened here. It will be those same disciples who witness and experience his resurrection. When they see him walking on the beach in John 21, they will suddenly fill their empty nets with an overabundance of fish—the bookend to this overabundance of wine. This wedding feast in Cana may be the start of Jesus’s ministry but it smacks with the themes of resurrection and newness of life.
Not only do we hear “the third day” language, we also hear that Jesus’s “hour has not yet come” – a clear allusion to his death and resurrection and to our own eschatological or end times way of thinking. We do not know the hour—so stay awake, keep watch for the bridegroom comes at an unexpected time. We cannot and do not know when Jesus’ second coming will be much less our own death. As we wrestle with our own understandings of resurrection and eternal life, this story may help us gain some perspective. Instead of fear and anxiety regarding the end times or our own mortality, might we wonder what it means to save the good wine until now? Until late in the party after the good wine should have been served?
I am reminded of the many people I have journeyed with to the end of life as a hospice social worker and now a priest. None of them started living a bad or wicked life after receiving a fatal diagnosis; much less did they go on a diet. No, instead they began to soak as much out of life as their final days would allow—surrounding themselves with friends and family, travelling if they could and doing those things they had always meant to do or see. The items on their bucket list aren’t “eat more broccoli.” They are “go to Paris” or “eat caviar”. They understand what it means to serve the good wine last. And when we are lying on our deathbed, surrounded by friends and family, we will serve the good wine last. We will enter into the resurrected life, the new life. Those we leave behind will remember us and having been shaped and transformed by us will carry our story as part of theirs into the world: the living live out the resurrection of the dead in this world, while the dead live out the resurrection of the living in the next.
That is what Jesus’s first miracle is all about. It is a sign pointing us to the Messiah who can only be the Messiah by his death and resurrection: A Messiah whose salvific act is to serve the good wine last. To understand this story in any other way is to lessen the hope and glory that is revealed in Cana that day. Jesus himself understands this—his hour had not yet come, his face had not yet been set to Jerusalem, his death was not yet imminent. Yet, in the face if this new thing he was doing, it is only by his resurrection that his glory can be revealed.
“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.” Amen.
Epiphany 2C: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; I Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
Church of the Ascension – Episcopal, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, January 20, 2019
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer