The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Parish Eucharist      20th January 2019
The Wedding at Cana
Jan Rushton

Readings:   Isaiah 62.1-5;  I Cor 12.1-11;  Jn 2.1-11

“You shall be called My Delight - for the Lord delights in you.”
Do we know this?  Do we believe it? All of us will have known times when the epithets Forsaken and Desolate have felt more the mark. Times when our circumstances will have caused us to feel ashamed, shame both deserved - and shame because of circumstances, beyond our control. Bad choices, and mistakes we have made which were not our intention. Again and again the prophet Isaiah addresses the deep shame the Jews felt at their redicament of exile in Babylon, and then their struggle to rebuild their lives on their return to Judah.  For either, their plight was the result of the displeasure of their God,  who has deserted them for failing to keep their side of the Covenant. Or indeed, Israel’s God Yahweh, is not the God they believe him to be, does not have the power they have put their faith in, power to protect his people: the profound shame of defeat by the Babylonian gods evidenced in the reality that Yahweh’s people have been taken captive.

A wedding feast in a Galilean village was a major event in the life of every family. The celebrations continuing for days.   So important was the marriage feast in Jewish life it became symbol of the relationship between God and his people:  symbol of the abundance and joy when the purposes of God are accomplished.  Every detail of the wedding mattered.  The feast and the attire of the guests.  Any failure would bring deep public dishonour on the family - and especially, were the wine to run out.   We don’t know who this couple are, but Jesus is there with his mother and his disciples, and many scholars think Mary’s involvement indicates this may have been a wedding within Jesus’ family.  Whether this is so or not, there is here very real potential for deep shame for this couple and their families - including their guests.

Mary, mother of Jesus, is highly sensitive to what is happening. And she already has reason to believe,  believe that this her first born son may, just may, be able to do something about the emerging catastrophe. She gently calls Jesus’ attention to the plight of their hosts. And Jesus responds, responds in a manner that we hear as odd to say the least:  `Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?  My hour has not yet come.' Jesus' whole statement as we have it, is indeed,  an accurate literal translation of the words of the original text, but it conveys nothing of the sense of what Jesus meant by what he said.

The word translated 'Woman' is the same word that he uses on the cross to address his mother when he gave her into the care of his disciple John. Indeed, it carries the same sense of  dignity and independence which feminists today are asking for recognition of when they choose to be referred to as 'woman'  rather than 'lady'. It is the same word that Caesar used to address Queen Cleopatra. Far from offensive, it accords Mary - and unusually in Jesus’ day, it accords Mary an independent status.

There are various other translations of what Jesus says next: the Revised English Bible has it: "Your concern is not mine!" The earlier RSV has the even sterner:  'What have you to do with me?'   Jesus does indeed, intend to an extent, a rebuke, but once more,  in the context of his day, the phrase he uses  does not carry the harshness with which we hear it.  Jesus is pointing out to Mary there is more, much more, for her to learn about him - and his mission. 

Her anxious request betrays a lack of trust in her son. Mary is a swift learner! We see the reality of this in her immediate,  but apparently incongruous instruction to the servants: 
‘Do whatever he tells you.’  And six stone jars of water become the highest quality wine. 
The steward is astonished.

John's gospel is of all the gospels, most charged with symbolic meaning. As Jesus approaches his final passion he declares:  The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified! It is the crucifixion that is ‘his hour’, that is his glory ... Let us ponder this for a moment ... Here is glory turned upside down,  glory is not to be bigger and better than anyone else, not to be superior, able to dazzle and outshine everything and everyone, the real ‘glory of God’ is to consistently return love for hatred -  and pay the price for doing so ...  Foolishness to Gentiles and a stumbling block to Jews -

Jesus concludes his statement to his mother: My hour has not yet come.  While he is at the wedding,  Jesus ‘hour’ is still in front of him ... nevertheless, for those with eyes to see, ears to hear, Jesus is beginning to powerfully unveil his glory. And there are further allusions to what is to come. Our passage begins by stating that the wedding  takes place ‘on the third day’. The third day that is, since Jesus’ calling of his first disciples. This miracle takes place on 'the third day', a detail which points us to the resurrection when likewise,  on the third day, the disciples shall see that indeed, the crucifixion is God's triumph over evil. The evil of the cross, and death itself, cannot contain Jesus.

In Jewish symbolism great importance is attached to number. There are six waterpots - according to Jewish thinking seven is the number which is complete and perfect, six is unfinished. Thus the six stone water-jars represent the incompleteness of the Jewish Law - indeed the Law contains  in comparison with what Jesus will bring, only water. Jesus turns six times twenty or thirty gallons of water into wine. Far more wine than even the grandest village wedding could possibly want for.   And more than this, the old wine has not only run out, it cannot compete for quality.   Jesus brings not only an over abundance of new wine, but wine of the very best order!  Jesus has turned the imperfect Law into the perfection of full and unlimited grace, the transforming gift of God’s unconditional love, love which removes from us, our shame.

The Law in our failure to keep its precepts, finds us guilty, but is helpless to set us free from the bondage of sin.   Now, in the coming of Christ, in his death and resurrection, the Law has been fulfilled and we are set free. In the miracle at the wedding in Cana we see this fulfilment demonstrated. The freely bestowed grace of God is both unsurpassable,  and more generously poured out upon us than our wildest imagination!

There is no shame from which the grace of Christ’s love cannot release us, save us.This is the promise we receive in baptism - the outward sign and seal of God’s love for us which never wavers no matter the muddles and worse we may find ourselves in, get ourselves into.

What a gift Jonathan’s parents are making him this morning!  Jonathan is not only his parents’ delight, he is the Lord’s Delight!  And wherever life may take him in the years ahead, nothing can separate Jonathan from the love of God revealed in Christ.  Amen.

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