Sermon for Epiphany 2 – 2016
When preparing couples for a wedding the selection of a Scripture reading for the service is not straightforward – after all, as I remind the couple, no scripture was written with a marriage service in view. The apostle Paul didn’t sit down one day and think ‘we need something to read out at a wedding . . .’ and run off the 13th Chapter of his letter to the Corinthians – a common choice. This is a rather blunt example of how we imagine that Scripture is primarily written for us, rather than to us.
And that is a very significant difference!! Try as we might, it is very hard not to understand Christian faith as something which is in its essence ‘Anthropocentric’, that is, it’s all about US, and its primary goal is human happiness. So we use the Scriptures – sometimes to bolster a position ‘Well the Bible says . . .’ . . . or we go to a favourite passage in a trying time . . . or we go to it to try to find a suitable reading for a wedding.
One of the worst examples of this ‘putting the Bible to our own use’ is to be found in the marriage liturgy of the Church of England. In the marriage preface, the lengthy discussion of the nature of marriage and its purposes in Creation, we hear ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ was himself a guest at a wedding at Cana in Galilee . . .’ There you are. Jesus is interested in our lives, he even once went to a wedding 🙂 As if the point of the Scriptures was to justify our lives – as if John in his gospel knowing the other gospels was thinking – hang on a minute – there are no weddings!! So includes the wedding at Cana – as if he’s writing Jesus’ diary for him. ‘On the third day – went to a wedding at Cana with Jesus, his mum and the rest of disciples. Wine ran out. Jesus fixed it . . .’ . . .’just a wedding’, ‘just another miracle’.
Over the last two weeks we’ve been considering the sacramental nature of our existence in Christ. Heaven and Earth woven together in Jesus. Nothing is ever just ‘this’, or just ‘that’. Nothing is ‘just’ anything. It’s never ‘just’ a wedding . . . For above all and through all and in all, Jesus never ‘just’ does anything . . . certainly he never ‘just’ went to a wedding. So we might ask ‘What is this passage talking about? Is it about my wedding or Jesus’ wedding? Which is it?’ and as we have leaned, the answer is ‘Yes’ 🙂 Not that human weddings and the marriage of Christ are indistinguishable, but that we cannot think of one without thinking of the other . . .
Hang on a minute though!!! Who said anything about this being ‘the marriage of Christ?’ Jesus went to a wedding, he didn’t get married!!! Did he . . .?
None of the gospels are a diary of the events of Jesus’ life. Indeed such writing was unknown in the time of Jesus – it wouldn’t make much sense for, in the words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning ‘Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush ablaze with God.’ For the people of Jesus’ time, nothing was just a thing – everything was crammed full of meaning. So in John, Jesus does not ‘perform miracles’, rather he ‘does signs’. Everything Signifieis. Each of the evangelists in their own way are telling the story of Jesus crammed with heaven – everything ablaze. Just this week for example I noticed Luke does something extraordinary in his account of the 12 year old Jesus left behind in Jerusalem . . . Jesus’ parents miss him . . . three days later they find him. They lost him . . . three days later he is restored to them . . . My point is that the evangelists are presenting Jesus to us – Here He Is. And there is far far more to Jesus than meets the eye – the evangelists have more significant [sic] things to be doing than detailing Jesus’ diary for the day . . . And that is nowhere more clear than in John
All the other evangelists share a great deal of material, not John. And where he does he is about revealing Glory. He is the Revelation Evangelist – and this affects how he tells the story, All the evangelists except John place the cleansing of the Temple in its chronological position, at the beginning of the Holy Week. John begins his account of Jesus’ public ministry with it. the first time Jesus steps into the public sphere in John, it is in the most dramatic fashion in the Temple, with his startling promise to those who are appalled at his behaviour – Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will rebuild it . . . A little while and you will see me no longer, and a little while and you will see me . . . After three days they found him in the Temple . . .
But before this the wedding at Cana. He and his disciples have been invited – and his mother is there . . . no decent weddings without a mother . . . and the wine runs out . . .
So accustomed are we to Jesus’ miracles, that we might just gloss over this, but this is John – as I said, he isn’t writing up a diary – he is writing these things that hearing them we might believe, that we might See!! And John does this by carefully leaving space . . . he leaves space in his gospel, by not giving us too much detail . . . He never refers to himself, rather he leaves space leaning against the breast of Jesus for any who would follow, for any whom Jesus loves . . . and there is another space deliberately left, in this story.
We know how it goes, but do we See?? The wine runs out, Mary the mother of Jesus, (whom by the way John also never refers to by name . . .) goes to Jesus and tells him. He tells her his time has not come, but she persists and he tells the servants, ‘Fill the purification jars with water and take some to the Steward of the feast’. So they do it and take it to the Steward. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ the steward called the bridegroom and said to him . . . the steward addresses the bridegroom, ‘You have kept the good wine until now . . .’ Who is he addressing? The bridegroom. Who is the bridegroom . . . And all of a sudden as the disciples watch the words of Isaiah come ringing into their ears
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. , , , 4You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. 5For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
And they believed in Him . . . Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Why a wedding?? The Scriptures are book ended with Marriage. The scriptures open with an account of the Creation, a thinly veiled account of the Temple – the Dwelling place of God – and in its midst, the man and the woman – become one flesh. Jesus draws directly on this account when he speaks of marriage . . . and then in the book of Revelation – at the very end – what do we read ‘I saw the new Jerusalem, coming down from heaven, adorned as a bride for her husband. The apostle Paul speaks of the Church as the bride of Christ. And the Salvation of God is spoken of as God joining himself to his people irrevocably in marriage – as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
In this on the face of it common and familiar event, a wedding – we see the whole of Scripture, the whole of God’s Salvation purposes for human kind – we see the beginning, we see the end, because John would have us See Jesus, the one who is the Resurrection and the Life, the One who is The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. The Source and Fulfillment of God’s purposes – their Culmination. John would have us SEE Jesus
the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; . . . and his disciples believed in him. May the Grace of Believing in Him be granted to all who hear his Word.