Benediction Online

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Wine for the Wedding. John 2: 1-11

The gospel accredited to John is quite different from the other three. Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the synoptic gospels because they all have a similar view of Jesus’ ministry. John is quite different; it uses different language; it takes place mainly in Jerusalem whereas in the other three gospels Jesus goes to Jerusalem only at the end of his earthly ministry; all Jesus’ teaching is collected together in one part of the book and though he uses some familiar and important analogies, he does not teach in parables; and in addition, there are some stories which do not appear in the other three gospels at all.

The wedding at Cana is one of those. John does not describe it as a miracle but rather as a sign. In other words it’s a revelation of who Jesus really is - an ‘aha’, or an epiphany. Since the Gospel of John is often thought of as metaphysical or even Gnostic, I don’t think it’s inappropriate for us, in pondering its meaning for us, to think about this sign – the wedding at Cana – as one might think about a dream.

Firstly there’s a wedding taking place. As the first reading reminded us, the relationship between God and Israel was often described using the analogy of marriage, of the bride and groom, and later, of the faithful husband and faithless wife. Similarly the relationship between God and the soul has again and again been imaged as the relationship of lovers. Here the community is gathered to celebrate this relationship of sweetness and hope, to help the couple take their new place in the fabric of society, turning their love from a purely personal affair into something which will benefit all.

But, as is the way in dreams, something is not right. The wine has run out. The festivities are about to come to a premature end.

What does wine mean to us? If I ask you to come and have a glass of wine it feels very different from if I ask you to come and have a glass of water. Wine is rich and festive; it can provide an enjoyable altered state of consciousness which helps to create festivity. It is associated with food and hospitality. Drinking wine together is often a bonding experience. Within the Christian church we use it to symbolize God’s hospitality to us in the eucharist and our sharing in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Traditionally wine has been considered to be an analogy for spirit. In this wedding it is as though the spirit of the relationship has dried up. It can no longer be celebrated. Something is needed to bring new life and new hope, new joy and new dancing.

It is the mother of God who names it. ‘They have no wine’ she says. This relationship has run dry. It doesn’t have any juice. It is the sacred feminine who shows us the problem, and points to the solution. ‘Do whatever he tells you’ she says. This is the turning point in our dream. The sacred feminine has exposed the dry dreariness of the old relationship which was begun with so much joy and looks to the Christ to bring the new.

But not so fast. ‘My hour has not yet come’, he says. We wait in suspense… will he turn away because he thinks it is not yet time? No, because this is the first of seven signs that will lead up to Jesus’ ‘hour’ of glorification in the events of Holy week and Easter. Jesus’ reference to the right time is a hint of things to come.

And what does the Christ use to bring renewal but jars which were used for the water for purification? These jars symbolize the old relationship, the old way of coming to God through keeping the law and through acts of purification. Now they are used to make the new wine, the spirit of the renewed relationship that comes through Christ whose blood is symbolized in wine in the Eucharistic feast. But it is not enough that the jars are filled with water, it must also be poured out and the new wine, the wine that is so much better than the other wine, must be tasted and enjoyed, and the celebration begins anew.

But here is a dramatic irony; only the servants and disciples, and those of us who are listening to this story know that a miracle has taken place. The people at the party have no idea! All they know is that finally the servants have gotten out another jug of wine and it tastes great! Yet we know that Jesus has shown the first of his signs and his disciples have believed in him.

And since we are his disciples, we too believe.

So what does any of this have to do with us today? Our faith tells us that objectively Jesus brought new life, Jesus turned the old jars of purification through the law into containers for new wine. Someone once calculated how much new wine there was, and it would have been enough to keep the whole village inebriated for days. Jesus turned the weak water of the old relationship with God into abundant new life in a while new love affair.

What is happening in your love affair with God? Are you like new lovers, longing to spend time together, eager for every opportunity to talk or just to sit together, or are you like the long time married couple who sit together in silence? I often look at couples in restaurants, eating together but not talking and wonder, is this the silence grown out of long lived intimacy where words are often unnecessary, or a silence born out of apathy, boredom and estrangement?

Has your relationship with God run out of juice? The hope of today’s Gospel is not only in the knowledge of the new life, the new dispensation, which Jesus the Christ brought, but in the possibility that this can happen again today in our lives. Where our walk with God has become arid, relying on outward form with little inward joy, Jesus can bring new wine, new joy, new life.
As we pray for the new wine in our lives as individuals and as a faith community, let us not forget that someone has to pour it out and drink it. To pray for renewal and not to open ourselves to receive it is like hoping to win the lottery without buying a ticket or to receive a gift and never unwrap it. So let us seek together and open ourselves up to a new relationship with God. One with the joy and excitement of young lovers but with the intimacy and faithfulness of mature love.


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