Perspectives on a Miracle
A sermon on John 2:1-11
(for an audio recording of this sermon, click here. Photo by Tom Crew on Unsplash.)
Father of the Bride
It was a catastrophe!
I know that might sound a bit… dramatic. It’s not like someone was dying. No one was going to have a heart attack because we ran out of wine. My daughter and her beloved were still married. Life in our village would not be forever marred if the festivities ended a bit ahead of schedule.
But still… it mattered.
It mattered to our village.
Cana is not an important town like Sephora, where the Roman elites and their retinues host regular parties. Cana is just a village in the backwater region of Galilee. Most of us are simple tradesmen: carpenters, or stone masons, or else peasant farmers and herdsmen.
A wedding is one of the few opportunities we have to gather for the pure celebration of life and togetherness. It’s a town-wide holiday. For a few days we can forget the relentless grind of survival and just be happy together.
But for the wine to run out… it’s like a slap in the face from reality. A reminder that carefree joy is not our lot in life.
And for our family? For our family it meant deep shame.
It might be hard for you to understand – your culture does not have the same rigid expectations around hospitality.
But to run out of wine before the wedding celebration was completed was more than a social gaffe. It was the kind of mistake that would permanently lower the honor of the family. People might start to question why.
Were we foolish? Failing to make provision, not carefully calculating the stores required for the number of guests?
Or was it a failure of thrift? A wise family would save carefully over many years to ensure that they could bear the expense of a wedding when the time came, but perhaps we had been thoughtless or wasteful?
Or, worst of all, perhaps we were stingy. Simply unwilling to extend the generous hospitality due to our neighbors.
Whatever the reason, it would change the way that people in Cana saw us.
And there’s one other thing too. Again it might be hard for you to understand, but for us it is profound.
A wedding banquet is more than just a party; it is one of the central metaphors used in our scriptures for the restoration of God’s relationship with Israel. A wedding banquest reminds us of God’s faithfulness to us, especially when our daily lives gives us far too many reasons to doubt that God really does delight in us.
When life is good, the imagery of the wedding banquet can be a metaphor to help us understand spiritual matters in more relatable terms.
But when life is bad, when we need a source of hope, then our human activities that are echoed in our scriptures become all the more important. They are something to hold on to when we need to remember that God has promised to redeem Israel as a bride.
It mattered that this wedding had run out of wine. It really was a catastrophe.
Mother of Jesus
I could see the panic among the servants, the hosts eyes rounding in shock and narrowing as he questioned the staff, urgently seeking some solution.
I supposed it wasn’t really any of my business, but I’ve felt the prompting a God’s Spirit before and I just knew that I needed to involve myself.
I edged up close to the whispered conversation, and quickly discovered the problem: no more wine.
Of course, I understood why they were all looking so worried. I knew my host must have been thinking this was a catastrophe. But I had the opposite thought: “What an opportunity!”
I hadn’t really understood before why I had wanted my son Jesus to come with me to the wedding, and to bring along the new group of men who had suddenly begun to follow him. It could have been a whim, I suppose, but for some reason it had felt important.
And now I thought I understood. All those revelations about him that I had treasured in my heart for 30 years… my knowledge that he was sent by God for a special reason, that a time would come where his true identity would be revealed to the world.
Here, now, at this wedding, the time had come.
And of course it would be at a wedding! I should have expected it! What more obvious place could there be for the beginning of God’s saving plan to be revealed?
The wedding feast is so often the image our prophets use as a symbol for the joy we will know in our salvation, when God claims us as his bride!
And that was what Jesus had come to do! So why not reveal himself by using the power God had given him by restoring the celebratory atmosphere of a wedding?
That’s what was in my mind when I brought the problem to Jesus’ attention. I just knew that this was the moment!
Apparently, it was more of a surprise to him.
I don’t know what he expected after John had publicly proclaimed him, and he himself had begun to gather followers. When he told them to “come and see” he must have been planning for them to “see” something!
But, then again, maybe he just wanted a little more time before the burden descended on his shoulders. I little more time just to be Jesus, the carpenter, living a normal life.
He knows what is coming. He knows what “his time coming” will ultimately mean – the pain he will have to endure. The weight that he will carry for all of us. Salvation is never easy.
But that’s all the more reason to begin his public ministry in celebration, for his first sign to be a sign of simple joy! The heavier things will come all too soon.
For today, there was an opportunity to reveal his power in a sign as simple and profound as providing wine for a wedding feast. That’s why I told the servants to do what he says, whatever his hesitancy.
Father of the Bride
Do you know what it feels like to see an accident coming and to know that there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop it?
The way that time slows down, and you watch the jug slowly tumble toward the ground but you are too far away to catch it, and anyhow you feel rigid, stuck… so you just watch it smash?
That’s what it felt like.
Like I was paralyzed, unable to act, to remedy the crisis, as I watched the news spread through the party.
I felt like I should be doing something, but what could I do? I couldn’t just magically produce more wine. I’m not Moses to hold out my staff and have the laws of nature suddenly re-write themselves at my command!
And yes, I know, that wasn’t really Moses’s power anyway, it was God’s. But… I mean… this isn’t the kind of problem for which you pray for a miracle!
Even if I’d had the time to prepare a sacrifice and bring it to the priest, who would ask a priest to offer a petition for more wine at your daughter’s wedding? It’s ridiculous. Running out of wine is not a “spiritual” problem.
So, I stood there frozen, after the serving man told me that the last wine cask had been emptied.
I watched him moving toward the chief steward and I braced myself for the news of my shame to begin to spread.
And then I saw the widow from Nazareth stop the serving man, watched her gesture toward me and then turn back. I knew what they must be saying. I realized how far the story of this shame would spread, not just within Cana but the towns around as well.
I just felt so helpless…. But also confused.
Why was she beckoning the serving man to follow her? She led him over to the young man she had brought with her, the one whom people said the prophet John had pointed out when he was baptizing at the Jordan.
At the time I had thought it was a mark of prestige to have him in attendance, but now he and his disciples would carry the story with them.
But then, the servant scurried away, and came back with others, carrying jugs of water. They were pouring them into the purification jars beside the door, one after the other until the huge jars were brim full of water.
It was bizarre. Any minute now the news would be out that we were out of wine, and not long after the guests would begin to leave. There was no need now for the ritual washing of new-arriving guests. What was the point of it all?
But then again, why did it matter anyhow? Nothing that anyone did was going to change the situation.
You know, the advantage of three decades of motherhood, is that you learn how to talk so people will listen.
Jesus may have been hesitant at first, but when I told the serving men to follow his instructions, they were ready to do whatever he asked.
And even though he had denied responsibility for the concern, he wouldn’t turn his back on his neighbors in their need. The servants turned to him, and he told them what do to, just as I knew he would.
Not that I had any idea what he would do! Frankly, the instruction about the water bemused me a bit… it seemed strange to use a bunch of washing-jugs as the setting for a sign of power.
But then again, maybe not. Jesus is a common man, for all that he is God’s Son. He understands the value that rituals of welcome and hospitality hold among our people.
He anticipated how fitting it would be to use simple water, and jugs used to welcome guests, as the everyday accompaniment to his first act of glory.
In a way, there is something MORE profound, more comforting about God’s power revealed in accessible, everyday things than it would have been for Jesus to rend open the heavens or some such impressive act of majesty and power. It meant that God’s concern, and God’s power are not reserved only for matters of momentous importance. God can show up in the most mundane of objects and moments as well.
At least, I know I will never again wash my hands upon entering a house without thinking of the way that Jesus used just such water to reveal BOTH his power AND his understanding of simple human needs.
Father of the Bride
I still can’t quite believe the way that it all turned around.
I was braced in dread when I saw the Steward striding toward me. I had seen the serving men finally approach him, after whatever the Nazarite widow had told them to do. They had brought him something to drink, but it had been water jugs they had brought from the kitchen. How could that help?
And his expression had certainly not been encouraging, although, looking back, I can recognize that he was probably more confused than scandalized.
But then he slapped me on the back and started laughing, asking me incredulously why I had kept the good wine back when most the the guests were too mellowed by now to be able to tell the difference.
I didn’t know what to say.
The “good wine”? I would have been happy with ANY wine. Cooking wine. Sour wine. Anything would have been better than running out of wine entirely.
And I swear, that’s what the servant had told me. That the last cask was empty. The wine was gone.
But suddenly it wasn’t. He handed me a goblet, and he was right. This wine was excellent! Better than anything I could have afforded even for a small family gathering. And we had jugs full of it, gallons and gallons! Enough to last longer than any village wedding feast ever would. (laugh!)
I still don’t understand what happened. I know it wasn’t all a dream, because I am not creative enough to dream that up! But, then again, what does it matter.
Tonight is a celebration. Tonight is about joy. Maybe that’s all I need to understand.
Mother of Jesus
You know, I have heard the stories of God’s glory since I was a little girl, sitting in the synagogue by my mother’s knee, hearing the readings from the Torah, and the prophets.
It was all so grand.
I liked to imagine the pillar of cloud and fire that led my ancestors in the wilderness.
The presence of God so overpowering that Moses had to be hidden in a cleft of the rock while God passed by.
Isaiah’s vision of being caught up in a dream to heaven, where an angel purified his lips with a coal from God’s own fire.
And then, of course, I had my own visitation from an angel.
I’ve never doubted that it really happened – how could I when Jesus was the evidence of every word the angel spoke to me? – but it also felt so… unreal. Like an encountered utterly removed from daily life.
I think, for me, that is what makes this night, this sign from Jesus, so very special… because it wasn’t “special” in any of the ways that we are used to thinking of God’s glory.
There was no fanfare or spectacular display.
Jesus used simple, every day things: water, wine, and washing jars.
Most of the people at the wedding never even knew the miracle that they had been a part of.
And it was in this ordinary moment, of togetherness and joy, that Jesus revealed his glory. And those of us who knew what happened, we knew God was with us, in glory, in a way we had never known before.
Thanks be to God.