2 Epiphany Year C: Is 62:1-5; Ps 36:5-10; I Cor 12:1-11; Jn 2:1-11
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, January 17, 2016
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer
Weddings are a big deal. Just yesterday we celebrated a wedding here at St. John’s”the flowers were lovely, the dresses beautiful, the bride and groom were glowing”it was a grand occasion. We love weddings”the hope of new love sanctified in the church; the desire of two people who choose one another”finding themselves in another person; the joining of two into one. Weddings are a glorious event and the wedding at Cana is a spectacular venue for Jesus to perform his first miracle and kick start his ministry.
Though the wedding in Cana is a great setting for Jesus’ first miracle, it also tends to distract us and we miss the deeper theological sense that John is attempting to draw from this story. We like the idea of a joyous celebration capped off with a miracle of overflowing abundance; but there are a couple of details in this story that are worthy of our attention. This is not simply a miracle story or a Jesus coming-out party”this is the Gospel story encapsulated in a wedding feast; served in miniature from a stone jar and pointing us straight to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
First of all, we like to think of this as a miracle story, but notice in the text that John calls this, the first of his (Jesus’) signs. The word signs is John’s characteristic way of describing Jesus’ miracles. For John, signs describe an act that is a partial showing of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection. All the signs John tells us about are like little miniature Gospels. It is not the miracle that is the Gospel.
The sign that accompanies the miracle is how the Gospel is represented because the signs are always accompanied by some language of how someone was brought to faith in the full significance of Jesus Christ and his work. Notice that we are in the second chapter of John, right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and work, and this act of turning water into wine not only reveals Jesus’ glory but causes his disciples to believe in him. The signs are the way men are brought to faith; the Gospel is not the miracle in and of itself, it is the Good News that Jesus is the Christ and the signs are always pointing to that Good News.
So, we have signs that draw us into belief. But there is a second detail that John uses to draw an even deeper theological context from this story: the stone jars with which Jesus uses as his tool of transformation.
We get distracted by the water turning into wine (and not just any wine, but the good wine) but notice John’s description of these jars”they are not simply six stone water jars, they are six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification. The rites of purification are one of the most basic forms of legalism recognized by Jews. Later on there will even be conflict between good practicing Jews and Jesus’ disciples because Jesus’ disciples do not wash their hands, in other words, Jesus’ disciples are not even keeping the most basic of the laws found in the deuteronomic code. This disparity is more than a simple criticism; it is a judgment that will eventually lead to condemnation and ultimately death on a cross.
Jesus’ life and ministry are spent challenging the rules that the faithful guard so piously, and it will cost him the ultimate price. But it is in challenging the rules of legalism that Jesus demonstrates his transformative power. This first sign at a wedding feast in Cana is a partial showing of the whole meaning of his ministry, death, and resurrection; Jewish legalism is transformed into something different in the Gospel. By changing the water for purification into the wine that brings joy to the wedding feast, Jesus gives us a glimpse of how law is transformed into the Kingdom of God. Jesus moves us through the law into love, into the joy of relationship. Barney Fife may have said it best in describing why Andy was such a good sheriff, You know, if you’re a law man you go so much better if you go not by the book but by the people.
Jesus spent his ministry always choosing people over law”that’s what got him killed in the end. He seems to understand where that choice will led right here in the beginning. That is the third detail we often overlook, mostly because we get so caught up in whether or not Jesus is being rude to his mother, Woman, what concern is that to you and me? It is the second half of his response to her that John details for deeper theological significance, My hour has not yet come. To hear these words of Jesus without the context of a wedding feast in Cana is to hear Jesus’ crucifixion; to be placed right in the midst of the garden, in the midst of the passion.
Jesus knows right here at the beginning of his ministry that there will be an ending. Is he reluctant to enter in? Wouldn’t you be? Yet, more than relating to a reluctance to begin, John wants us to understand the gravity of the situation. What seems a trivial first miracle, Jesus trying out his training wheels, a celebratory and festive debut, is really the first step toward death and resurrection, the beginning of the biggest moment that will ever happen in the history of the world. This water into wine is no little thing, it is huge and it deserves our attention and humble reverence. Jesus gives up his life for us in this moment, the rest of the story is just the details of working out how that will happen.
This first sign at a wedding feast in Cana is not simply that water is turned into wine; it is the beginning of the end, it is death on a cross. It is the transformation of legalism, judgment, and condemnation into joy, feasting, and celebration.
That is what resurrection is, a joyful celebration, a feast. A wedding feast in Cana and an empty tomb, though different in every detail, are the same”a sign that points us to the Good News that Jesus Christ is Lord”the Gospel in miniature. To transform legalism into love is to value and hold up every person as worthy of Christ, worthy of salvation, regardless of what the law might command. This wedding feast at Cana is the hour that comes, it is the transformation of the water of legalism into the overflowing abundance of love in the Kingdom of God, and by this sign we too are transformed, we too throw off the shackles of law and step into the freedom of belief. It may well cost us something in this earthly life, but in the heavenly one it leads only to salvation.
To stand under sin is to be crushed by it. But to long for love is to long for Jesus Christ”the only one who can transform sin into love, who can transform law into righteousness. The only one who can take the stone jars of purification and, through them, pour out the abundance of salvation.