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The Bridegrooms Feast

2nd Sunday after Epiphany BCP

15 January 2006 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

'In olden days a glimpse of stockings was looked on as something shocking, now, heaven knows, anything goes'. In the so-called 'celebrity' Big Brother House (mostly minor ones I suspect?) Rula Lenska and George Galloway this last week lamented the interminable and turgid preoccupation with what the MP called the lewd and baser aspects of life highlighted by the now evicted Jodie…there was genuine surprise and offense, and clearly 'anything' does not go. I'm pleased something was said. Mutual tolerance can sometimes be an excuse for a lazy or cowardly refusal to engage and challenge. If anything goes, then the danger is that nothing matters. I raise this only as a kind of 'introductory aside' and with reference to our attitudes to miracles. We need to think carefully and rigorously at various stages of our Christian lives, even if the struggle with mystery doesn't offer easy conclusions, and even though it is possible to posit a life of faith leaving many questions open and unanswered. We know how calamitous the fundamentalist certainties of religion can be. But are we so concerned about the perils of lazy laissez-faire woolly thinking? This week in another short TV series, the arrogant certainties of fundamentalist religion were countered by the robust evangelical atheism of Dr. Richard Dawkins. Though he seems obsessed with being anti-religion, nevertheless I admire him for taking these issues seriously, and for at least having the passion to crusade against what he regards as evil and dangerous. Clearly 'anything' does NOT go.

As a student I once needed a small miracle when a rural bishop's car ran out of petrol in the middle of nowhere, and though I was driving a slightly pompous suffragan home from tea at Buckingham Palace, the solution to our problems would most certainly not to have put some water in the tank and hope for the best! I had warned him several times the tank was low…it hadn't been a good day (driving in circles 3 times round the block, he presuming a footman would open his doors, as they were for the Jags…and Bentleys…and Rolls…but NOT his little Triumph!)…and the only miracle on that occasion was to see glimpses of a nascent humility in the Right Reverend Father, forced by our predicament!

Having started by mentioning miracles, the importance of today's gospel story isn't the obvious miracle of water become wine. The wedding at Cana is traditionally seen as completing the mystery of the season of Epiphany…there is no veiling who Jesus is here, and the device of Messianic secrecy concerning the identity of Jesus favoured by St. Mark is never on the map for St. John, as he plans his account of the good news. When he chooses how the telling of the gospel would be ordered…the glory of the Lord shines…all is revealed from the start… the very opposite of veiling the mystery…signs there are a plenty, testifying to his glory announced in the very first chapter… 'we beheld his glory'.

Jesus has just called his disciples, ending with Nathanael, who was astonished to be known and recognised, and told 'you will see greater things than these'. (Nathanael was aka Bartholomew…came from Cana…and so was a local lad, perhaps explaining his comment 'can anything good come out of Nazareth?' as Nazareth was an even more unremarkable local rival town.) Within three days Nathanael and all the disciples indeed see greater things, as they witness the amazing events at this marriage feast.

On the third day after calling the disciples, St. John reaches a climax as Jesus manifests his glory at Cana, and his disciples believed on him. On the third day as every Christian account of the resurrection affirms, the disciples witness the final manifestation of glory which conquers death itself. And St. John's purpose throughout? To record many signs, written 'that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, you may have life in his name'.

Jesus' family in the person of his mother was already at the marriage and his new disciples were invited. The central issue is not about the miracle of changing water into fine wine. 'What does that matter to me and to you, woman?'…my concern is when my hour comes…will people understand and fathom the meaning of who I am? There is more than enough for 2500 - 3000 people (even by today's catering standards and I've calculated roughly 3 glasses each). The point is, there is plenty for everybody. The translation is quite clear, 'Water having become wine' and this basic information is reported straightforwardly. But the key issue in this miracle is about Jesus himself…he is the genuine bridegroom who transforms the situation. (cf. Can the wedding guests fast when the bridegroom is with them Lk 5 vv 33-35) He is an invited guest, which is ironical, given that in the greater scheme of things, he is the host of the banquet as the bridegroom of Israel, and comes to the party at Cana as Messiah of the new Israel, with his disciples and mother. They are, with Christ, the nucleus of the new order. God in Christ is the bridegroom, with holy Church - you and I, his beloved bride. This is one of my favourite images of the Church. The main point of the story is not about the wedding, or the wine, but to show Jesus as the incarnate, fleshly manifestation of the Father's promise that he would marry, would wed, his people. There is plenty of imagery in the Old Testament promising the fulfilment of that long-term engagement. And if, by marriage, 'two become one flesh' can there be a deeper union than truly to BECOME the other, to take on the other's nature?

Here, at the first supper, if you will, with his newly chosen disciples, the miracle is of water becoming wine. At the last supper, with the same disciples, Jesus works the wondrous transformation of wine becoming his blood. The blood of grapes becomes the blood of Christ, and the best wine is saved until last. The Word who was made flesh at the start of St. John's Gospel passes through death, descends into hell, and rises victorious at the Resurrection, with that same flesh no longer subject to sin and death, and the best is saved until last. In remarking that the best wine is served last, the governor of the feast may well be making a veiled allusion to the superiority of the Gospel to the Old Law. The water of Judaism will not suffice John is telling us, but the good fine wine of Jesus Christ is always more than enough…both in quantity and in quality. It is indeed a miracle. And to join the party in partnership with God isn't tasteless watery tedium, but is as good as a fabulous meal. In fact, right here, right now, it is a glorious meal. The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.
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