Sunday, 17 January 2010

Water into Wine

John 2:1-11
I don’t know about you, but I find it reassuring whenever we’re told of Jesus doing normal things like eating and drinking, as it reveals something to us about the human side of Jesus. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus affirms the joy of human celebration. And at the wedding in Cana, the situation has become critical for the bridegroom when the wine runs out.

In contrast to many weddings today, where we can probably expect to get a complimentary drink for the toast, but after that it’s buy your own at the bar – at the time John’s gospel was written, at a Jewish wedding the wine was expected to flow freely. And in that context, it wasn’t just family and friends – these weddings usually involved the whole village and lasted for a week with guests coming and going all the time. Can you imagine the cost of providing hospitality like this? And it was the bridegroom’s responsibility to ensure there was enough wine for the whole period. To run out of wine was not just a social embarrassment, it meant a serious loss of family honour.

So they had run out of wine at this wedding in Cana, and Mary takes it upon herself to let Jesus know, with a hint of expectancy in her voice. “They have no more wine”, she says to him. OK, as a mother myself, I admit we can be a little pushy at times with our children, but think of Mary - in her heart she has always known who Jesus was. His identity had been revealed to her even before his conception. She has watched him grow into maturity, now ready take up the role for which he had been born, the role for which, as we heard last Sunday, he had been commissioned into by his baptism.

“Woman, why do you involve me”, Jesus answers. "My time has not yet come". You might think Jesus’ words would’ve discouraged her, but Mary’s response comes as somewhat of a surprise as she says to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’. And for whatever reason, Jesus decides to act. Perhaps he realises the opportunity this situation provides to reveal to his disciples, in a way that would resonate deeply with them, who he is, and what he is about. This is the first miraculous sign Jesus performs in John’s gospel, and the whole event is positively soaked in symbolism.

With its great feast, a Jewish wedding is like a picture of the feast that awaits the people of God in heaven, and we can see a similar illustration in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet in Matthew 22. The symbolism continues with the figure of the bridegroom: the bridegroom in the wedding at Cana has been rescued from dishonour by Jesus who is the symbolic Bridegroom of his people.

And we can find this reference to Jesus as the bridegroom all over the New Testament. For example, earlier in John 3, John the Baptist refers to Christ as the bridegroom when he says, ‘The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.’

And in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, when Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees about the fact that his disciples weren’t fasting on the Sabbath, his reply is to tell them that the guests of the bridegroom cannot fast while they are with him, though the time will come when he will be taken from them, and then they will fast.

The bridegroom also features in the parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25, along with Ephesians 5 and Revelation 19 where Christ again is represented as a bridegroom awaiting his bride. So the setting of a wedding and the role of the bridegroom both include a good deal of symbolism on which we can reflect; but there is more. ‘They have no wine’ – Mary says to Jesus. The end of the wine is symbolic for the end of the old way of trying to please God, as he begins to reveal a new way of drawing us close to him through Christ. The old covenant under the Law of Moses has become obsolete, and the new covenant is being established by Jesus – a covenant of grace and forgiveness.

Wine symbolises life and joy – Psalm 104 speaks of the Lord providing plants for us to cultivate for food and wine, which 'gladdens human hearts'. The prophets foretold of an abundance of wine in the messianic days – as it says in Amos 9: ‘New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills.’ This paints a thriving picture of abundance, and at the wedding the jars are filled ‘to the brim’, continuing the theme of abundance, and signifying the abundant grace we receive from God through Jesus.

The water jars that Jesus uses to perform this sign are described as ‘the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing’. Few of us here today have a Jewish background, so we might not immediately attach significance to this, but by using these particular jars, Jesus was making a statement that God is doing a new thing from within the old Jewish system, bringing purification to Israel and to the world in a whole new way. And this would have been recognised by those who were watching what Jesus did. The jars also held a really large quantity – around 100 litres of water each. With six of them, that’s 600 litres! God’s desire is that we would recognise who Jesus is, so that we might receive the fullness of his abundant grace.

As a whole, the sign of water turned into wine points to Jesus as the one who has come to do a new thing; to provide the new blessing; to transform the old vision of what God wanted with his people from a system of laws that became corrupt and absurd, to where the whole point was being missed – to transform that into a new and simpler and freer rule of love, grace, faith and trust in what he has done, and what he is able to do for us when we let him.

It’s interesting that in John’s gospel none of the miracles are called miracles they are called ‘signs’. They’re called signs because they point people to Jesus and who he is. John’s hope is that in reading about the signs Jesus performed as part of his Gospel’s overall testimony, we would come to belief that Jesus is the Saviour, and the Way to the Father, who awaits us with love in abundance. We weren’t at the wedding in Cana. We didn’t actually see the miraculous sign of water transformed into wine. We didn’t see first-hand any of the signs in John’s gospel. But as Jesus says in John chapter 20, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’.

And yet, the thing is, when we come to trust in him, we should ourselves become signs– we should display signs of growth and a transformed life. Let’s not be like the road sign I’ve seen that says, ‘this sign is not in use’. Let’s be clear and bright signs that point to Jesus our Saviour, the one who meets our needs both at times of crisis and at times of joy; the one who offers to all the new wine of the kingdom. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, educational, awesome and inspiring words here, Karen! Love the line that the "whole event is positively soaked in symbolism." and then your going on to explain so much of it to us--really helpful in deepening the meaning of Christ's work then and now, not to mention some of Mary's part in it, too. Thank you.


These comments are moderated by Curate Karen and so there will be a delay between posting a comment and its appearance on the blog. You may need to click on 'Post Comment' twice.