Holy Communion 16th January 2022
Cana, Parties, Blessings
John 2. 1 – 11
Not every party needs an enquiry. But the ones that do will have much to teach us as the specifics of the event are laid bare. That’s as much as you are going to get on the headlines of this week, except to say that the details of who gave permission for what will be instructive about the use of power and the creation of cultures. You know you are in trouble when the BBC calculates the amount of alcohol you can get into an overhead locker suitcase to be wheeled up Whitehall and broadcasts the report in a primetime news bulletin.
In our Gospel reading a party needed more alcohol. Enquiring into this one will also teach us about the use of authority, the offering of service, the creation of culture, and the transforming power of God. I am no Sue Gray. But let’s look at the details and see what we can conclude.
It’s a wedding. At its best this will have been a joining together not just of two people made in the image of God, but two families, two sets of friends, two communities, and a whole region. Cana is not far from Nazareth, and links were good. There will have been relatives and friends and companions and business partners. At the centre of it all were two people committing themselves to bring their individual gifts and identities, not to be lost in the marriage but to find their fulfilment as a new community is formed. “Marriage”, says the wedding service “enriches community and strengthens society.” The celebration here is no indulgent blow out, but a binding together of all in love.
Such weddings were multi day events, and there was a miscalculation about the wine. The solution is extravagant, and is not something to be swept under the carpet or into the long grass. There are “six stone water jars”. There is significance in the detail. I have generally let my eyes rest on the amount of liquid they could contain, and many a wedding couple has heard me say that Jesus brought an extra 180 gallons of wine to the wedding, and wishing them a happy reception. But six is important too. It could be that there were simply six jars there, but many have pointed out that six was an incomplete number, anticipating the perfection of the seven day creation. The imperfect here is transformed by glory.
The jars are empty. They were there originally to enable the necessary rites of purification, ritual washing, for the wedding guests. We are told they are stone, rather than clay, and may therefore have been used by a priestly family, steeped in the worship of God’s people. Though there is tradition and heritage here, it is combined with the new and the radical. Jesus elsewhere talks about the need for new wineskins when there is new wine. Here the jars are as old as the hills they are made from, and the ancient containers are filled to overflowing with the life of God. There has to be life, then, in the old jars of our church structures, but only if we are prepared to be emptied and refilled. Some things will need to go. That has always been the case. But our living identity remains as we welcome God’s new thing.
They are jars for “water”, and that is what they are filled with. It will have taken ages – the combined contents would fill a wheely bin. Human beings are mainly made up of water. It is the stuff of life, and totally familiar, if not always available in the quantities human beings need. This water is transformed into the richness of the new creation by the one who brought it into being in the first place. Not only that, but the jars are filled with water “up to up”, full to overflowing. You can hear the liquid splashing on the ground as the wine is drawn out. The new life of Christ is about abundance, prodigality, generosity, and to be shared with the many, not the few. The whole community benefitted.
This was a wedding on “the third day”. There is some discussion on the chronology of John’s Gospel, but a simple assumption would be that this is the third day of the week. Sunday was the first, so this is Tuesday. In Jewish interpretation of Genesis, this is the day of double blessing, because the phrase “and God saw that it was good” is used twice about Tuesday. Look it up! In Jewish custom it is an auspicious day to get married, so the couple in Cana were doing the best thing. We need all the blessing we can get, and God pronounces a double blessing when the ground of creation is complete, with seas and the land in their right places. We have all we need to be fruitful, and a good earth on which to live. This too is shared with all.
If you listen to the whole of John’s Gospel, and to the other Gospels too, there’s another “third day”: the third day after the death of Jesus, the day of resurrection. This “third day” is when the glory of God in the new creation is fully revealed, looking to the promised fulfilment of all things, which the book Revelation describes as a wedding banquet. Some parties are open to all, and the invitation should be given to all. In the middle of a familiar and joyful occasion, with the kind of catering mishap we can all identify with, on the day of double blessing, Jesus blesses the whole world, though only a few notice. Old traditions are filled with new life as water becomes wine. Diverse people are brought together in covenant relationship where each values the other, and all are transformed.
To do this, the servants needed to listen to a command, and needed to carry it out. They may have felt it was the most ridiculous thing they had ever heard. But it wasn’t them who would look foolish, and they did it. That’s a challenge for us. Our enquiry has shown that God’s glory is revealed in the ordinary and the special, among people of all shapes and sizes. When God calls us to shine with the light of God’s love, it is God’s reputation on the line, not ours. What happens now is, then, up to us. We have a Gospel to proclaim. The new wine is here. The best, which is yet to come, is here to taste right now. May we share it with all.Print This Page