Water into Wine

A sermon by Revd Katherine Hedderly.

Readings for this service: Genesis 14.17-20; Revelation 19.6-10; John 2.1-11

Out of the blue a couple that were married here at St Martin’s 7 years ago, got in touch this week. Amy shared news that they now have two young children and described where work had led her and her partner. She also wanted to ask if her parents, who were also married here over 40 years ago, could renew their wedding vows in a simple service. What surprised me most was how she referred to the preparation sessions I’d had with them. ‘Our marriage lessons were wonderful and we both frequently refer back to them’, she said. ‘I feel like life is so hectic a lot of the time, it’s so strong and powerful to just think back and take forward those times.’  Goodness, what a privilege to have been part of that I thought! But it was God and them who had done the work, not me.

It was so good to hear about this couple, so fulfilled in their lives, drawing on that time of preparation for marriage with such joy and gladness, and her parents too seeking deeper joy in their own relationship. It was a wonderful reminder, as I was preparing this sermon, of the potential for joy we have in our relationships and commitments to one another, how we draw deeply on that joy and have a desire to celebrate that with others.

One of the simple messages of the wedding at Cana of Galilee is that Jesus comes to share in that joy with us, to help to prolong it and rejoice in it.  He and his disciples and his mother were all invited guests, there to celebrate with the couple and all their family and friends, the new life that they were just beginning.

The theologian Miroslav Volf says of this Epiphany season, that ‘from the wise men to the wedding at Cana, joy comes from recognising and affirming the good.’

“Christ has come to bring joy not only by turning darkness into light, conquering powers of evil, and establishing the reign of justice. He has also come to bring joy by turning water into wine, by overcoming what we lack, and helping sustain and enhance the goods we already enjoy. The resulting celebration at the wedding at Cana …is a testimony to the goodness of creation. The joy an echo of the original and abiding goodness in our souls.”[1]

Through his actions Jesus brings uncomplicated human joy to this wedding. He rejoices with us with his liberating presence in our gladness of being alive, our loves and celebrations.

Like the wedding guests however we can simply fail to see the source of this goodness, fail to appreciate all that God has provided for us or give back to God our gratitude and praise and faithfulness.

In this ordinary celebration that the gospel describes there is something far deeper and more joyous to celebrate if we have eyes to see. A life lived with God, that if we perceive it, will make us not just amazed that good wine comes at an unexpected time in a wedding feast, but a deeper joy, something deeper that connects us to the source of all life, that we will want to draw on always and be thankful for.  It is a life that we can also take part in, caught up in the bringing of this goodness and abundance of God too, even in the everyday actions of our lives.

The Evangelist John helps to point the way to this deeper life in the way he tells this story, allowing us to chose for ourselves whether we will be like the guests who remain unaware, or like the steward who stays on the surface level of the miracle, trying to contain the extraordinary event within the safety of the life he already knows, assuming it is the bridegroom who is responsible. Perhaps however we will have courage to follow the example of the disciples and Jesus mother, who truly recognise the revelation of God in the abundance of wine and are open to seeing everything in a new way, open to believing in Jesus, the one who has brought this about this miracle, learning from the faithfulness of the servants, who respond obediently to the instruction to ‘do whatever he tells you.’ If we do then our lives will be enriched more than we can hope for.

I wonder if you have times when you have known that richness and depth and let go of some of the boundaries of your own life to make space for it. I think when Amy referred to drawing on the conversation and preparation for marriage, she was in touch with that richness. Seeking to hold the presence of Christ with them in their relationship in amidst the ordinary water of everyday life. I witnessed it this week when our new bishop elect for London Sarah Mallally met with clergy of the Two Cities Area, many of whom rejoice in having her as our new bishop, but some of whom find it difficult. She represented for me the new rich possibilities of God that are re-forming the church, through the ministry of women in the episcopate. She expressed it very well as she spoke to us of her faithfulness to the call to follow Christ, or in the context of today’s reading ‘to do whatever he tells you’.

To help us find our place in this story, John sets the scene for these events to be understood as part of a bigger story of God’s faithfulness and covenant with his people. He shows Jesus taking the water used for ritual purification, the Jewish rite of cleansing and transforming it into wine, the new wine of the kingdom.  What had been used to wash the hands and feet of travellers and guests, as a sign of outward purity, becomes a sign of the transformation of inward joy that Jesus brings. The old covenant becomes in Jesus a new covenant, not a set of rules to abide by but a relationship to enter into; an invitation into abundant overflowing life with him. And for those who have eyes to see, it will become a sign that points to the gift of his very self, given once for all on the Cross.

When Jesus’s ‘Hour’ does come his act of self-giving love will offer a way for humankind to enter into his glory, purifying once and for all, all that needs his cleansing forgiveness, so that we can be set free. We live in that time with all of it’s possibility, if we chose to open our hearts to the revelation of Christ around us.

Wrapped up in this first of Jesus’ signs, therefore is joy and sorrow.  The joy of the new age that God is bringing, the fulfilment of all the hopes of Israel, and the sorrow that Jesus will be led through at the hour of his glory, his death, resurrection and ascension, a journey that unfolds throughout the gospel.

The joy of life that Jesus brings, comes at times of sorrow, bringing healing to those who come to him to be cured of sickness and later in the gospel even life in the midst of death when he raises his friend Lazarus from the tomb. For us, hope when we’ve run dry, befriending at times of abandonment, freedom for those who are imprisoned, compassion, justice, peace and love for our world.

Our calling it to be faithful and open to recognising the revelation of Christ among us in our own lives, alongside those in sorrow, celebrating with the joyful and holding the knowledge of the bigger story of God ‘with us’ bringing healing and joy to the world. For those at the wedding party, life didn’t change. But everything had changed. The world of the new kingdom had broken through in the most ordinary and extraordinary way.  We are witnesses to that new life breaking through with all of its possibilities, even if the world around us doesn’t seem to change. The promise is that the kingdom will come…abundantly.

I’d carried the ordinary water in my encounters with the couple preparing for marriage in meetings, conversation, and prayer.  I was simply the servant, called ‘to do whatever he tells you’. I had a glimpse this week of the wine that had flowed. This is what encourages me as I believe.

Look out for the glimpses of the wine that has flowed from the carrying of water you have been involved in, in Christ’s name. It will amaze you! The joy you feel with be a cause for thankfulness and rejoicing…

[1] https://www.christiancentury.org/article/critical-essay/joy-epiphany-too