Monday, January 21, 2013

Our Wedding Feast: A Sermon on John 2:1-11

Three days ago Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan by John. Three days ago John saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove. This man Jesus is different, somehow. He walks by, and people say, “Look, here is the lamb of God!” (John 1:36).

Three days have passed, and Jesus has gathered a group of disciples about him. He has an entourage, now. They call him “Rabbi,” which means “Teacher.” His public ministry has begun.

Today they have all been invited to a wedding in Cana of Galilee. We don’t know who got married, only that Jesus is there with his disciples and his mother. They are celebrating, enjoying themselves, honoring a newly married couple, when the unthinkable happens.

The wine gives out.

This wedding disaster transcends time. You’ve invited all your friends and family, the party is in full swing, the guests are a bit tipsy, and you realize that the WINE is GONE. Maybe the less polite guests start to sneak out the back door.

So it is that Jesus’ mother turns to him and says, “They have no more wine.” Why is she telling him? I wonder. Or, is it not so much that his mother is worried about the wine as it is that she knows there is something different about her son that has yet to be revealed, something she awaits with eager anticipation.

Jesus, sounding to the modern ear like a typical, human son, says, “What is that to me?” Not my problem, mom. But he goes on: “My time has not yet come.” The moment is a pregnant pause, looking forward with expectation to the revelation of who this Jesus person is, of what he will do, of why he is here.

Though his mother speaks to him about the wine, Jesus isn’t talking about wine.

Despite his calm dismissal of her words, though, Jesus’ mother tells the servants to follow his instructions, whatever they may be, and Jesus does as she expects.

 There are six stone water jars. Each one holds 20-30 gallons of liquid. That’s 120-180 gallons. A lot of wine. Jesus asks the servants to fill them all the way to the brim. Then, at his instruction, they dip into the water, draw some out, and fill a glass for the chief steward – the equivalent of a head-waiter or master of ceremonies.

Imagine the MC’s confusion. Perhaps he has been panicking about the wine running out, when suddenly a glass appears in his hand. Where did it come from? He tastes it. It is good. This isn’t some cheap back-up wine.

In his surprise he goes to the bridegroom, and says, “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.”

This is Jesus’ first miracle. In John’s gospel, the only one where this story appears, the present, temporal worry about running short on wine is quelled both by Jesus’ “What is that to me?” attitude, and by the simple, un-dramatic fashion in which he restocks the wine supply. As far as we can tell only the servants and Jesus’ disciples even know what he’s done.

 There’s something else, though. Sure, Jesus kept the party going, but as Maximus of Turin reminded me this week, “[Jesus] had come to offer the peoples of the whole world the chalice of eternal salvation.”

Today, Jesus serves them wine, but in the days to come there will be a different cup. Today, they are at a wedding supper, but soon there will be another supper – one with an air of finality, one with eternal significance, one marked by both betrayal and love.

 John’s gospel doesn’t detail the last supper in the way that Matthew, Mark, and Luke do, but Jesus does speak of himself in these terms:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. (John 6:58-55)
Today Jesus turned water into wine; but wine is just wine.

Today Jesus is a guest. Later he will be the one getting married, the bridegroom of the whole world, his broken body and shed blood a peculiar wedding feast.

 This marriage imagery is used in our Old Testament passage for today, which reads:

You 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. For 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. (Isaiah 62:4-5)
You who think you are forsaken, you who live in a land of desolation, you – you – are God’s delight, and she rejoices over you.

 When we gather for communion, as we will next Sunday, we are remembering that our identity is found first in the one who rejoices over us, whose very flesh and blood sustain us in a way mere food cannot. It is the marriage feast of our communion with God, made possible by Jesus’ life and death.

This is not popular Christian bookstores’ “Jesus is my boyfriend” ideology, marketed only to young women who are worried about dating. This is all of our identity as the church. This is the shape of the Christian life, for each of us. This is communion with our creator, redeemer, and sustainer. This is a God who became flesh for the world – for us, the church.

We are not ordained priests or members of religious orders who, in pursuing their religious vocation, have become the bride of Christ in an obvious way. And yet, we are missing something if we limit that level of commitment, and this imagery’s meaning for our lives as followers of Christ only to those with a specific religious vocation.

As Mennonites we don’t have monks or nuns. We emphasize the priesthood of all believers. As such, we all come to the table, female and male, as brides of Christ.

Today, though, we read in John that Jesus’ hour has not yet come. He celebrates someone else’s wedding with his disciples, he turns water into wine – he reveals his glory in this, the first of many signs, honoring those who host him as a guest. His followers – the ones who call him “Teacher” – see this, and believe.

Today, they have no idea what is before them.

Today, they have a lot to learn about this man’s identity: their Teacher, their fiancĂ©e, their bridegroom for life to come.