Last week we read one of the stories of Jesus’ baptism and reflected on the meaning of baptism. According to Luke’s version of the story, we read that, during his baptism, Jesus heard a voice saying, “You are my Child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” As with Jesus, in our own baptism, we know we are blessed by God and affirmed as the beloved children of God. No matter who we are and regardless of our failures to live up to our commitment, baptism for us means the assurance that we are God’s beloved children through our relationship with Jesus Christ and realized through the indwelling presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
After being baptised, says Luke, Jesus begins his public ministry, but through John’s gospel we are told that Jesus started his ministry at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. The other gospels have Jesus starting his ministry differently. This place, Cana, is mentioned only once in the whole Bible. So we may imagine that it was a very small and not well-known place. According to John’s record, 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.
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 did not accept his excuse that his time had not yet come. What is amazing in this story is the abundance of wine that becomes available to the wedding party – imagine about 500 litres or 150 gallons of wine, and of the highest quality!
This 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. This act shocked the wine steward. Wedding etiquette back then in ancient Palestine and also now advocates serving the best wine first, then the inferior wine later in the evening or at night when the intoxicated guests are less likely to distinguish the quality of the wine, but here, the order was reversed. The wine steward is also confused about the origin of the wine, though, we are told in an aside by the editor, the servants who had drawn the water, knew.
Two thousand years later, today, if we, like the stewards then are amazed only by the miracle and if we focus on the event’s “happening,” we may easily become distracted and miss the point. We then may wonder if such a thing could really happen; and if we think it could and did, we then marvel about what Jesus did on a particular day in the past. What then does this story mean to us today, not only in the past? How do we read and understand this story?
In our life journey, we face many situations like the wine giving out, the feeling of having empty water jars. The image of social conflicts such as that of nationalism – such as America first or England’s Brexit, Trans Mount pipeline conflict and of personal or family crises evoke within us strong, primal human emotions of anxiety, shame or indifference. This leads us to ask what can be done to alleviate this painful situation of human need. In a world where many suffer from poverty, disease, injustice, and hunger, how do we understand this story of extravagant abundance?
When the wine steward recognizes the abundance both in the outstanding quality and the astonishing quantity of the wine when it is brought to him, he does not know its source in Jesus, or its meaning as a sign pointing to 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 have too much. When we have too much wine, we may not be able to recognize good wine.
In the Bible wedding was commonly used as a metaphor for the relationship between God and Israel. It occurs frequently in the Hebrew Bible as in the reading from Isaiah this morning. In John’s Gospel, written several decades after Jesus’ execution and on into the next century or more, 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 further symbolize the mystical imagery of God as lover and us as the beloved of God.
On these festive occasions of marriage between heaven and earth, like Christmas Eve for us, Jesus is pictured as providing the best wine at the end of the feast. What is this story saying? What is the good news of Jesus about? The writer of the gospel of John says that it is about a wedding banquet at which the wine never runs out, so that our celebration and joy last forever.
Through the waters of baptism, we are blessed with the assurance, “You are my child, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.” The image of water transformed into wine reminds us of the abundance of joy everlastingly with and in us. In today’s story joy is found in the marginalized place such as Cana. Joy can be found in very part of our lives even in painful situations when we remember that we are God’s beloved children.
The season of Epiphany is a meaningful time for us as we envision our ministry and mission together based on Jesus’ ministry. As Jesus begins his ministry with the wedding at Cana, we are invited to reflect on our own ministry and mission here at West Point Grey United. I have been with you now just over four months and feel at home in our faith community. I hope we feel joy in our ministry together and appreciate each other’s presence in our faith community.
We are all different but we have one thing in common - that we are all God’s beloved children. This is one of our fundamental beliefs. With this identity, we are called to do God’s ministry together. Our ministry is to spread our joy in all our relationships so that they are all joy filled. In our ministry and mission God invites us to the image of the wedding banquet, the most joyous occasion of the year and provides us wine in abundance, wine that never runs out and the promise that the best is yet to come.
Let us celebrate our mission and ministry together each week as we gather together as a community of faith and dream of the future which lies ahead of us. In our ministry and mission, we are assured of God’s blessing and our deep joy overflows forever. Joy is our banquet. Amen.