Preached by Alan Jenkins LLM on 24 January 2021: Third Sunday of Epiphany
John 2: vv.1-11
So: turning water into wine – magic or miracle?? Paul Daniels or David Blaine would have loved to know how to do that, to entertain their audience, and to enhance their skills as magicians. For magic tricks are, at root, some sleight of hand, illusion or other deception offered to dare anyone to see how they are done.
But Jesus was no magician, and deception was never part of his discipleship tool box. The miracles that he performed were not the result of some chicanery, or an attempt to entertain. Rather they were all designed to demonstrate the glory of God, so that those who were exploring and developing their relationship with him could begin understanding and building their faith.
This event at the wedding at Cana was said to be the first of these opportunities, and really kicked off the start of Jesus’s ministry. He had just been recruiting disciples – Andrew, Simon Peter, then Philip and Nathaniel, the first of the band of twelve that would loyally follow him for the next three years or so. The inference is that they may have been with him and his mother at the wedding feast, which would have included all the traditional and expected elements of a celebration – and outwith a lockdown I’m sure there were more than 30 of them there, which is why they ran out of wine so soon!
But Jesus did not see this as merely a gathering to celebrate a wedding, but more of a messianic banquet, providing him with opportunities for introducing the changes that his ministry would usher in. The coming of the Messiah, in the extant traditions of Judaism was expectant, looking forward to change, but – a new covenant with God, a new source of spiritual nourishment, a new vision of a liberated life in Christ? These were not the expectations of those who had waited so patiently (or not) for the arrival of a new ruler.
So, to the surprise of all who were at the wedding feast, this new wine was a sign of renewal; instead of the water for ablutions, representing the hollow rituals of Judaism, Jesus produced something quite different that was the sign of the new rich Gospel that he was about to share though his ministry.
This was Christ’s wake-up call to those who would pay attention. This was Jesus foretelling what only he knew at that time, that ‘when his hour was come’, to take the reference in verse 4, when his mission would be fulfilled, then he would provide the Wine and Bread of life, symbolised ever since in the Eucharist as we meet round his table each week.
So, far from being some magic sleight of hand, some weird provision of gallons and gallons of good wine for those who were already drunk, this was a clear promise that the New Covenant would be freely available for all who would believe, – with some to spare as well.
That Jesus chose a wedding feast for this first miracle is no random coincidence, for the intimate relationship with God that he offers to us can be likened to marriage vows, and the Gospels record many occasions when Jesus uses banquets as a way of demonstrating human and spiritual interactions. And the vision we heard from today’s reading of John’s Revelation further underpins this: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’ he writes, and goes on to uphold the worship of God, whose Son’s testimony will be the fulfilment of prophesy.
So, where does this leave us?? His new disciples, in witnessing the signs at the Cana wedding-feast, believed in Jesus in otherwise unlikely and inexplicable circumstances. Any particular life event can affect people in different ways; both suffering and prosperity can sap their faith if they turn inward on themselves and lose their vision of Christ. Yet the same experience, circumstance or event may prompt others to grow their faith, their relationship with Christ, ever deeper, and look for ways to uphold their worship with practical examples of Christian outreach and evangelism.
Holding to our faith, in the Christ who does provide for all who believe – and more, – should give us strength to face the unprecedented events of the Covid pandemic. Rather than become introverts, we should look out, and use Christ’s example to help others, not only for immediate results, but so that they may see the ongoing glory of God, and his gifts for us all. That is our challenge, to honour Christ’s command and share his Gospel by the way we overcome today’s undeniably alarming threats to humanity, globally as well as locally and nationally. Amen