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The marriage at Cana


16 January 2005 11:00 | The Revd Canon Dr John Cullen

NT: Romans 12.6-16a; Gospel: John 2.1-11

Some years ago there was a popular craze of pictures made up of small bright fragments of colour, like a mosaic. When you first looked at them, all you saw was just a riot of colour. But if you let your eyes wander over the picture, and began to focus, you suddenly "saw" something else "in the picture": it might be a flock of birds, or a ship, a flower, a face, or a shape of some kind. Then if you shifted your gaze, your eyes refocused on the surface and all you saw was the coloured mosaic again.

Reading St John's Gospel is rather like looking at one of those mosaic pictures. In the stories of this Gospel, we are given colourful, vivid pictures, like this morning's story of the wedding feast - where the wine ran out; and, when Jesus is appealed to, the situation is "saved", and new wine - better than what they had before - is brought on. But there's more to see in this story than first meets the eye; there is more to it than Jesus coming to the rescue and saving his hosts from embarrassment. If we look into this story with eyes of faith, we discover something else comes into view....

And the clue, the trigger, which helps us re-focus to see what is really within the story, is the opening phrase, those first three words: "The third day..." Now what do those words bring to mind? They're words we say in our Eucharist, whenever we say the Creed. They introduce the section about the resurrection of Jesus, "... on the third day". In this Gospel reading those words become the trigger, telling us to look deeper into the story (like re-focusing on one of those pictures) because in fact this is a story about the resurrection of Jesus....

Or more accurately, it is a story about what the resurrection life means for us - for followers of this Jesus. Sometimes we forget that all the writings of the New Testament were composed after the resurrection of Jesus, and therefore everything we read in all four gospels about the life of Jesus - the birth stories and the events of his ministry - is meant to be understood "in the light of" his death and resurrection, which were the culmination of his life and ministry.

So we are to hear this morning's Gospel, the story of the marriage at Cana, "in the light of" the resurrection of Jesus. "On the third day" we are told, "there was a marriage..."

Now, a marriage is a sign of a new beginning, a new life founded on and grounded in love, so this picture story is about new beginnings.... John is telling us that this story is about the new beginning brought about by Jesus' life, death and resurrection. And all the details of this story elaborate this underlying theme.

Next we are told: "…and the mother of Jesus was there..." Mary, who represents Jesus' beginnings, his family and everything of the 'old order' which had made him what he was. In contrast, the disciples who are also with him at the wedding are his new family. As he himself said, those who follow him in doing the will of his father "are my mother, my brother and my sister".

Now, we come to the heart of the story. In the midst of the celebrations, to the host's dismay, the wine runs out. The old order of things has run out, it is exhausted and spent; it is no longer able to satisfy thirst, and contribute to the joy that the celebration deserves. Mary looks to Jesus to save the situation. But he gives that rather cryptic reply (more correctly translated): "What concern is that to you and to me?" That was not intended as a rebuke. Jesus is simply stating that his concern is not with the running out of the 'old wine' - the collapse of the old order. His concern is what comes next.... "The old order is finished; behold I make all things new..."

Mary, sensitive to his reply, tells those serving the wine to do whatever Jesus tells them. At the doorway there are six large stone jars. These are not wine jars, they are for the water guests used to wash their faces, hands and feet as they come in off the street. They represent the old order, the Jewish rites of purification and cleansing. But out of this 'old order' Jesus is going to bring something new - indicating his 'new order'. He tells the stewards to fill the jars with water, one of the basic elements of the created order, the raw material out of which nature and we human beings are made.

The servants fill the jars with water. Then following Jesus' instructions they draw some off and take it to the master of ceremonies. To his amazement, he recognises that something new has happened. Jesus has broken with common practice: usually people served the best wine first, and kept the cheaper vintage until later, when most people wouldn't know the difference. But here a new order has begun, and we are given the clue in the words: "This beginning of signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him."

On the surface level, this story is about an apparently ordinary event: a local village wedding, where people have gathered to celebrate the beginning of a new life. But they are doing it in "the old way" - according to received tradition.

However, at a deeper level, we discover that the Gospel writer is telling us something more. He is telling us that wherever Jesus is present - things become different! Where Jesus is invited into any gathering, when Jesus is invited into any situation - he brings about a transformation.

And to achieve such a transformation he doesn't need anything more than very ordinary things, like water, bread, wine, or a very ordinary life - like yours or mine. But when he is invited in - we can expect things to be different.

At the beginning of our Eucharist this morning, we prayed that God's Holy Spirit would so inspire us that we might perfectly love him, and worthily magnify his holy name. We come together as an ordinary assembly of ordinary, needy people, to be with the Lord. If we are willing, in the course of out time together with him, things will change:
· minds will be changed at the hearing of his word in the scriptures;
· heavy hearts will be uplifted in our singing of hymns of praise;
· guilt, resentment and fear will be washed away as we own up to and confess our failings, and allow ourselves to be forgiven and cleansed by God's self-giving love;
· our self-centredness will be challenged as we are invited to pray for others even more in need than we are;
· and bread and wine will become the very body and blood of Christ - who invites us to feed on him, that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us.

That is the promise of the resurrection life. That is what is on offer at this and every eucharist, if we will but allow ourselves to receive it. The ordinary water of our lives will be changed into the new wine of lives lived in the power of his spirit. As St John tells us later in his Gospel, "Christ is the food which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world". To which, with the disciples, we might reply: "Lord give us this food always."
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