Text I: Isaiah 62:1-5
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. 2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. 3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. 5 For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
Text II: John 2:1-11
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 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 10 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.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Last week, after reflecting on one of the biblical stories of Jesus’ baptism, we delved more deeply into the meaning of baptism. Luke’s gospel records that Jesus began his public ministry after his baptism. The story told in John’s gospel says that Jesus started his public ministry, both reluctantly and unwillingly at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. Other gospels have Jesus starting his ministry differently. Since this place, Cana, is mentioned only this once in the Bible, we may imagine that it was a very small and unknown place. According to John’s record, for example, Jesus began his ministry neither in a big or well-known place nor in the presence of the powerful or those who had authority, but with his family, friends and disciples in a small place named Cana. Some interpreters suggest that Jesus begins his ministry here to show that the abundant life-giving power of God is at work even in the intimate daily places of our lives.
The story itself begins simply enough, and there is no hint in the first few verses that a miracle is about to occur. Suddenly, we hear, “The wine gave out,” an embarrassing predicament for the hosts. Mary draws Jesus’ attention to this. Why, we can only guess. But obviously she does not accept his excuse that his “time has not yet come.” What is amazing in this story is the abundance of wine that becomes available to the wedding and it is of the highest quality! The host is able to provide the best wine at the end of the feast. This would have been unheard of in that time – a reversal of expectations.
It was a shock for the wine steward in two ways – both the quantity and quality of the wine provided when the wine gave out. It was beyond his common sense; the custom in ancient Palestine and elsewhere was to serve the best wine first at the beginning to the guests at the wedding, then the inferior wine later in the evening when the intoxicated guests are less likely to distinguish the quality of the wine. For the wine steward this was the orderly way to serve the guests, but he and everybody at the wedding banquet experienced an unexpected grace when the best quality of wine was served later.
On our life journeys, we may face many awkward situations like this one – the wine running out, the experience of having empty water jars. About twenty years ago, I had high hopes to be chosen as the minister of the Toronto Korean United Church, but I heard the church had not decided on me as their next minister. At that time several questions leaped into my mind. How can we survive in this new land? How can we put dinner on the table and keep the wolf from the door? I hear these questions of food insecurity and the emptiness in Mary’s voice, and Jesus answers, as he always does, with abundance. I wonder what was in her mind when she said to him, “They have no wine.” At a wedding banquet in the Jewish context of the time, there must be wine – not just a few bottles but many – enough wine for the seven days of celebration. I hear the concern in Mary’s voice as she points out to her son that the host – the groom and his family and the wine steward – had run out of wine. I recall the worry I carried deep within myself so long ago at my church.
When it is brought to him the wine steward recognizes the abundance both in the outstanding quality and the astonishing quantity of the wine, he is not aware of Jesus having anything to do with it, nor of it as sign of God’s grace. We are often like that too – recognizing good gifts without recognizing their source in the Creator’s love. Sometimes we are not sensitive to the fact that we may have too much. When we have too much wine, we may not be able to recognize good wine.
If you have an opportunity to have Sushi, there are usually slices of ginger served with it. When you are served a variety of Sushi, you are invited to cleanse your mouth with ginger between tasting each different piece, then you will be sensitive to the many varied tastes of the Sushi. When eating it, we need to pause between the different pieces in anticipation of the newness and goodness of each one. We need to sharpen our taste by refreshing our mouth and mind for the good stuff, or the grace, if you will, of what we are taking in; it was made by many people’s hands with the help of heaven and earth. So, the different pieces of Sushi are a collection of God’s help and of the Creator’s love. If we look at other things this way, everything is good stuff; everything is God’s grace.
In the Bible wedding and marriage images were often used as metaphors for the relationship between God and Israel. As in the reading from Isaiah this morning, they occur frequently in the Hebrew Bible. In the Gospels, written several decades after Jesus’ execution and on into the next century, Jesus is sometimes spoken of as the bridegroom and the community of his followers as the bride. A wedding could thus symbolize the intimacy of the divine-human relationship and the marriage between heaven and earth. A wedding could symbolize the mystical imagery of God as lover and us as the beloved of God. In the Bible the abundance of good wine is a symbol of the arrival of God’s Kingdom and the sign of the joyous arrival of God’s new age. At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, he reveals this vision with the “sign” or “miracle” of the abundance of excellent wine. Jesus envisions in the sign of the new wine that the best is yet to come.
In the image of a wedding, we are invited to a relationship with God. There can be no relationship without a partner. Thus, long ago St. Augustine said, “Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not.” As partners in God’s mission, we do God’s work with God. So, let the wedding party continue in anticipation of the best that is yet to come. In anticipation of the abundance of good wine and God’s new age, let us fill the empty jars. Let us fill the jars in the hope that when this pandemic is behind us, we will enjoy each other’s presence. Let us fill the jars in the hope of celebrating our ministry together for the common good. Let us fill the jars; the best is yet to come! Amen.