Epiphany 3: The Wedding at Cana (and the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul!)

Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

Opening prayer

Almighty God,
whose Son revealed in signs and miracles
the wonder of your saving presence:
renew your people with your heavenly grace,
and in all our weakness
sustain us by your mighty power;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Readings

Acts 9:1-9 (NLT)

Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.

As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”

“Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.

And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink.

John 2:1-11 (NLT)

The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”

“Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” When the jars had been filled, he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.” So the servants followed his instructions.

When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over. 10 “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!”

11 This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

Homily

Recently, one of my daughters and I watched a classic Christmas movie together – Die Hard! My daughter enjoyed it, but what she enjoyed even more was working out where motifs and allusions from one of her favourite american police comedy shows came from. “Oh, THAT’s why they did that!” and “Oh, THAT’s why they say that!” And when you get to the (spoiler alert) Christmas tape stunt at the end, she was literally jumping up and down in her seat shouting “I know what happens! I know what happens!” Love it or hate it, Die Hard has become such a classic on our cultural landscape that other shows borrow from it, and once my daughter had seen the film she could appreciate her current shows all the more.

Our Gospel reading today is a bit like that. In itself, it is an engaging tale and reveals Jesus’ glory. That is why we tell it at Epiphany – the time when we recognise, alongside a whole host of other characters in the Bible, that the baby in the manger is so much more than he seems.

However, for Jews steeped in the Hebrew (as we call them, Old Testament) scriptures and immersed in the culture and theology of the day, this simple – if startling – story would be a bit like my daughter rewatching her police comedy after seeing Die Hard. I know why they say that, I know why they do that, I know what happens next…

This short punchy tale is full of allusions and references to the bigger God story. There isn’t an unnecessary detail. On the third day – echoes back to the Genesis tale of creation, just as the opening words of John’s Gospel do – and tell us that with Jesus begins a new creation. We have a new Adam and Eve – Paul in his letters calls Jesus the second Adam who brings life when the first Adam brought death. Mary is the new Eve whose urging leads to Jesus acting in glory and grace, instead of the first Eve who shared the apple with Adam in disobedience and sin. The setting is a wedding, something which for the people of the day always spoke of God relationship with God’s people. The Old Testament is full of metaphors where God is husband to Israel and they long for the day when God’s people will truly be wedded to God as joyfully as a loving wife is wedded to her husband. Jesus, himself, uses wedding stories to speak of the end of days and in Revelation, heaven is described as the wedding banquet of the Lamb! The longing is about to be fulfilled. The stone jars used for purification allude to the purification from sins and evil which the Messiah alone will bring, and the new wine, better than anything served before, is the new wine of God’s Kingdom. God’s glory is HERE!

Boom! It is quite a story. Jesus isn’t just a handy chap to have at a wedding when the drink runs out. Layer upon layer, sentence by sentence, John is showing that God is HERE. But interestingly, the only ones who know what has happened are Mary, the disciples, the steward and the servants at the wedding. In this tale too, we see the sort of God Jesus is – not one who demands centre stage and dominates proceedings, but one who acts quietly, in the background, amongst the ordinary folk.

And that is where the story for all its grandeur and glory, is still quite simple. God, the God of creation, the God who brings freedom from sin and death, the God of time and eternity still works amongst the ordinary efforts of ordinary folk, transforming them into what is most needed, making them more than they could ever have expected. Because of God, the quiet, well-worn yet heartfelt words Jo and I have offered at the funerals we have conducted this week will have brought comfort and meaning to families in grief. Because of God, some simple groceries picked, parceled and distributed with respect and a friendly smile from the Foodbank, will have communicated dignity and care and hope to people in crisis. Because of God, a bag full of crafts and some friendly videos will have cheered up families frazzled with home-schooling and lockdown and shown them a little of God’s love. Because of God, a kindly phone call or quiet prayer offered or simple note posted will have been a blessing. Because that is how God works. Jesus in the first sign of his glory chose to work amongst the serving staff whose unseen work behind the scenes made everything else possible.

Recently there was yet another letter in a major newspaper bewailing the fact that churches are closed. This could have been the churches’ time to be seen, it remonstrated. What the writer fails to see is that wherever God’s people are quietly and faithfully praying and serving, the Kingdom of God is at work, the church is being church. As Desmond Tutu said: Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world. Do your little bits of good and trust that the God who is over all the universe and yet was content to perform his first miracle for the benefit of servants will take your efforts and transform them for his glory. Amen.

P.S. And as I cannot finish without a quick mention of St Paul, whenever think that you are too useless or unworthy for God to use you, remember that he used Paul (Saul) who had been an accessory to the murder of St Stephen and was actually trying to squish the early church out of existence to share God’s love with most of the ancient Western world. God can use anyone – let him use you.

Intercessions

God of life, you have created every human being in your image and likeness.
We sing your praise for the gift of our many cultures, expressions of faith,
traditions and ethnicities. Grant us the courage always to stand against
injustice and hatred based on race, class, gender, religion, and fear of those not
like ourselves.
God of peace, God of love, in you is our hope!

Merciful God, you have shown us in Christ that we are one in you. Teach us to
use this gift in the world so that believers of all faiths in every country may be
able to listen to each other and live in peace
God of peace, God of love, in you is our hope!

O Jesus, you came into the world and shared fully in our humanity. You know
the hardships of life for people who suffer in so many different ways. May the
Spirit of compassion move us to share our time, life and goods with all those in
need.
God of peace, God of love, in you is our hope!

Holy Spirit, you hear the fury of your wounded creation and the cries of those
already suffering from climate change. Guide us toward new behaviours. May
we learn to live in harmony as part of your creation.
God of peace, God of love, in you is our hope!

(from the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity resources 2021)

Closing Hymn

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