The Second Sunday after Epiphany (sermon)
Romans 12:6-16a St John 2:1-11
And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; …. And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.
The readings in Epiphany season are a mediation on Christmas. What does it mean that God takes flesh and dwells among us? What does it mean about God? What difference does it make for our human nature and the possibilities for us?
This morning Jesus manifests or shows or reveals himself at the celebration of a marriage with his first miracle – turning water into wine. Of all the things that Jesus could have done to begin to reveal his power, why start this way?
There are many things that could be spoken about in this Gospel reading – of the timing, it was “on the third day”, about Mary’s words, her intercession, to Jesus – “They have no wine” and his response “My hour has not yet come”, or why six jars of water? or what is significant about saving the best wine until now?
But I want us to think this morning about two things: Why begin at a marriage feast? And, why the miracle of changing water into wine?
Why did Jesus choose to begin to reveal Himself at a marriage feast?
I’ve spoken about this briefly before last Autumn, when we looked at the parable of the wedding feast that a king had for his son. The Messianic Age was believed to be the time of fulfillment, when God would enter into a marriage union with his people. John the Baptist declares (in the next chapter of John’s Gospel) that Jesus is the Bridegroom, whose bride is God’s people (3:29). And Jesus calls himself the Bridegroom, when explaining why his disciples didn’t fast so long as he was with them (Mt 9:15), and he spoke parables about the Bridegroom who is coming at an unexpected hour, speaking of his second coming. (Mt 25:1-13)
If you’ve been following the daily lessons, this week we’ve been reading the Prophet Hosea – in that prophet there is lots of imagery of Israel as God’s bride – but she was adulterous, since she went after other gods. But Hosea was called by God to take a prostitute as a wife, to show how God would show mercy on Israel and love her despite her infidelity. Other prophets have also spoken of God marrying his people. (e.g. Isa 54:4-8; Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 16)
Paul writes in 2 Cor (11:2) about our relation to Christ in this way: To the Corinthians he writes, “I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband.” (see also Paul's interpretation of Gen 2:22-25 in Ephesians 5:30-32)
And of course in Revelation, the culmination of history is described as the descending of the new Jerusalem as a bride adorned for her husband – the risen Lord Jesus Christ. (Rev 21:2f)
The new Covenant that God has brought about with Christ is not just a mental knowing of things about God, but a deep relationship of marriage between God and the soul, or Christ and the Church. They shall know me from the least to the greatest.” [Jer 31:34] That relationship is entered into by faith and by baptism and is sustained by prayer and Holy Communion.
One commentator says: In “no (other) human relation is the type of so deep a spiritual mystery, so worthy therefore of the highest honour.” [Trench Miracles, p. 77]
Given that many of Jesus’ miracles are prophetic signs pointing to our new creation through our union with Him, it is highly fitting that he should reveal himself for the first time at a marriage feast. This first miracle at a wedding is the Epiphany, the showing forth, of Jesus as the Messiah, come to bring in a new age.
Why water into wine?
Pope Benedict, in his book, Jesus of Nazareth, writes of three basic earthly elements or materials that God gives us and makes use of for spiritual purposes. They are spoken of in Psalm 104 – bread that strengthens man’s heart, wine that gladdens his heart and oil that makes his face shine. Benedict notes that these three gifts from the earth, along with water, become the basic elements of the Church’s sacraments.
While bread is a basic food for all in Mediterranean culture, Benedict writes...
“...wine represents feasting. It gives man a taste of the glory of creation. In this sense it forms part of the (Jewish) rituals of the Sabbath (prayer over glass of wine to open the meal), of Passover (they drink four cups celebrating redemption from slavery), and of marriage feasts (the couple newly married share a cup of wine over which a prayer has been recited).
“It allow us to glimpse something of the definitive feast God will celebrate with man, the goal of all Israel’s expectations: “On this mountain the Lord will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined.” [Is 25:6]”
("wine on the lees" - you don’t filter the grape juice immediately, but let it sit on the skins so they take up the full flavour, a process continued to this day)
So in these religious celebrations the use of wine relates to a taste of the joy we will have in the kingdom of heaven.
This first miracle is the Epiphany of God in Christ. In manifesting or showing his power and glory, by changing water into wine, Jesus is revealing that he has come to inaugurate something of that future joy now in the present through his coming to us. As Benedict puts it, “The promise of the last days enters into the Now.”
This is the Good News of Jesus Christ to us this day – the joy of feasting in the kingdom of heaven can begin. Jesus has entered into the world not to condemn it, but to save it and, in so doing, to bring us joy!
Holy Communion, which Jesus instituted, is a fulfillment of the Passover feast, it is a true foretaste of the heavenly banquet, not just wine, but the best wine. By it we are delivered from bondage to sin and deepen our communion with Christ and our communion with one another.
And from that marriage union with Christ, we ourselves are transformed from water into the best wine.
And this is what St Paul speaks about in the Epistle today.
When we have joy, there is a release of energy. Think about how children who are happy can’t contain themselves, but jump for joy – right now Eva moves all her limbs when she happy, people dance for joy at a wedding feast.
And this characteristic of joy becomes a part of our Christian walk. It is not that our lives no longer have sadness and suffering, but there is a kind of underlying joy that sustains us or permeates our lives. Not a joy that is put on falsely, something fake, pretend happiness, but truly known to us and returned to more easily as we strengthen our union with Christ. We are given a kind of effervescent spirit.
You can sense it in what St Paul says.
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.
And we are to use our gifts “in proportion to our faith”, that is, in so far as we believe we are Spirit led.
You may wonder if you have any gifts, be assured you do, and they are to be used! [Crouse, Sermon for Epiphany 2] The wine of God’s grace is being poured in, and it is to be shared with others from an overflowing cup that will be replenished.
And these are phrases St Paul uses in this passage about using our gifts in the Spirit: in generosity, with zeal, be genuine, love with affection, fervent in spirit, rejoice in hope, show hospitality, rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep, live in harmony – do you see a kind of effervescent spirit, there is joy behind it, it has energy… it is the overflow of love…it is the water of our natural gifts turned into the best wine.
This is the Epiphany of God in us through our union with Jesus Christ.
One commentator has noted that the first miracle has an inner mystical meaning. This first miracle of Jesus turning water into wine is comparable with Moses’ first miracle of turning the water of the Nile into blood. (Ex 7:14-21) [see a typical Orthodox icon where Jesus holds a staff like Moses] In the case of Moses and the first Covenant of the law, St Paul describes it as a ministration of death, because it brought condemnation. But in contrast, this miracle of Jesus opens a new covenant, which is a ministration of life, (2 Cor 3:4-9) wine to make glad the heart of man. [R. C. Trench, Notes on the Miracles of our Lord, p. 88]
Jesus says, Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life in him. (John 6:54)
As we are relieved of sin, as our guilt and shame are removed, and we are washed of its effects, our joy returns, we can start afresh, we are a new creation, and we can feast in the kingdom of heaven.
Let us now come forward in penitence and faith to eat of the bread of life to strengthen our hearts and to drink of the cup of salvation to make glad our hearts. And may there be an Epiphany, a showing forth, of God in us.
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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2