The Reverend Dawn-Victoria Mitchell with a sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, based on the RCL readings from Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 36:5-10, I Corinthians 12:1-11, and John 2:1-11
I love many things about being a priest. Baptisms and weddings are at the top of the list. Seeing God’s love reflected in the couples’ love brings me great joy. I also enjoy getting to know the couple as we prepare for their big day. There is such a contagious joy and excitement that comes with a wedding.
Weddings in the Ancient Near East were elaborate affairs. The celebrations frequently lasted for a week! Lavish feasts were the norm. The cultural emphasis placed on hospitality would leave any host embarrassed if the food or drink ran out. And that is exactly what happens in our Gospel reading.
Jesus and His friends are at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Suddenly, the wine runs out during the festivities. Jesus’ mother, Mary, approaches Jesus about the situation. Mary’s concern may indicate that she is a family friend or even a relative. Her giving orders to the servants fits with this scenario (2:5).
Somewhat reluctantly, Jesus obeys His mother. Jesus turns vessels of water into wine for the guests. John calls this a sign. A sign is something that stands for something, that represents something else. Here, the abundant wine is not just about wine. The wine points beyond itself to a great reality.
God’s grace, God’s love are like the wine. Just when you think you have reached the ends, there is more. God’s grace and God’s love are infinite. They cannot be contained but “runneth over” (Psalm 23:5). There is not merely enough but a literal downpour of God’s love and grace.
The extravagance is highlighted by the number and size of the jars. John tells us there are 6 jars of water. The water is used for the customary purification rituals (see Mark 7:1-8). Each jar holds 20-30 gallons. That would be somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons of wine. Now that is some wine!
The steward notes that this new wine is no ordinary wine. “You have saved the best for last,” the steward tells the bridegroom (2:10). In both Amos and Joel, the abundance of good wine is a sign that God’s new age has arrived. In describing the restoration God’s kingdom will bring, Joel says (3:18, CEV):
On that day, fruitful vineyards will cover the mountains.
And your cattle and goats that graze on the hills
will produce a lot of milk. Streams in Judah
will never run dry; a stream from my house
will flow in Acacia Valley.
Similarly, the New Testament talks about the coming of God’s eternal kingdom as the Wedding Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9). When we think of weddings we think of joyous celebrations. There is food and drink, including wine. There is sometimes dancing. Often, we see loved ones we have not seen in a long time.
There is good reason why the Gospels and the New Testament liken God’s Eternal Kingdom to a wedding. God’s Heavenly Kingdom will be one big, joyous celebration! But that joy, that celebration is not just for the sweet by and by.
As Christians, we should be noted for our joy. I’m sure we’ve all heard of denominations where there is no singing, no dancing, no playing cards. Scholar Robert Hotchkins remarks that
“Christians ought to be celebrating constantly. We ought to be preoccupied with parties, banquets, feasts, and merriment. We ought to give ourselves over to veritable orgies of joy because we have been liberated from the fear of life and the fear of death. We ought to attract people to the church quite literally by the fun there is in being a Christian.”
Sometimes we tend to take life too seriously. We forget all of the blessings God so freely gives us. A clergy colleague of mine once commented that we come Episcopalians come forward for Communion like someone just killed our dog. A little over the top, I know.
However, she does have a point. The Eucharist is a solemn Sacrament where our hearts join with God. “Eucharist,” as I have pointed out before is a Greek word that means “thanksgiving.” The Eucharist is about thanking God for all that God does for us.
The Eucharist should send us forth with “an attitude of gratitude.” Those around us should be able to see that there is a joy and a peace about us despite the challenges we might be facing or what might be going on in the world.
That peace, that joy should lead them to ask for the reason. Then we can tell them, “Let me tell you about this person, Jesus, and this place called St. Mark’s.”
1 "Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration" by David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor