I wonder, have you ever been to a disastrous wedding? Luckily I haven’t been to one which was totally disastrous, but between the two of us, Jonathan and I have seen some come close to it. Like the one where the bride was so nervous that she fiddled with her necklace until it broke and all the pearls bounced onto the stone floor and rolled around the nave.
There was also the wedding where the entire congregation failed to show up, because the coach that had been booked to pick them up from the Four Spires hotel on the Abingdon road, in fact went to Abingdon itself.
The latest of brides have have ever known was one of our friends who was getting married in Winchester, unfortunately the driver of her car had no idea how to get to the Cathedral, so she was over an hour late.
And then there was the time when the bride decided to romantically arrive at Chalgrove church on a white horse, which was all very well and good until the bell ringers started up and the horse went crazy.
I’ve even known of one couple who decide not to get married at all because they realised they would in fact be spending the entirity of their married life in different countries.
I don’t want to bore you with anymore wedding stories, so lets turn to the mother of all wedding disaster tales, the wedding at Cana. Somewhere in the midst of the celebrations, probably after quite a few hours or even days into the party, the wine ran out. This is a very interesting episode in the gospel of John, as it heralds an important moment in the life of Jesus, as we shall see. But why? The actual problem, the lack of wine, seems so trivial. Unlike the healing of the sick, raising Lazarus back to life or Jesus’ teaching in his great discourse, the fact that the wine eventually ran out at a wedding seems such a small matter and unworthy of Jesus’ attention. Or was it? Let’s look more closely at this passage and we may find that not everything is as it seems on the surface.
Firstly, the situation was a bit more serious than it appears to us. Jewish weddings were celebrated for 7 days. The whole community was invited to feast with the bride and groom. It was very important that the wedding party provide a grand celebration, and not run out of one of the most important and basic staples of any large celebration…wine. To run out of wine would be a serious embarrassment for the newlyweds and also for their parents. In these days, it was even possible to take legal action against a man who had failed to provide an appropriate wedding gift; and running out of wine may render the bridegroom responsible for failing to provide an appropriate celebration. This may have been unlikely, but one thing is certain…the bride and groom and their parents would forever remember the shame which the newlyweds and their families would now have to live with. It was a major faux par and would have serious consequences. It is also unlikely that the wedding party would have run out of wine in the first or second day, so we can assume that the wedding celebration has been going for a while.
The second illusion is when the matter comes to Jesus’ attention via his own mother and his response, intriguingly, appears to be quite rude: ‘Woman!’ he says, ‘What is that to do with me?’, a kind of ‘so what’ reply, with the added annoyance of ‘My time has not yet come’, indicating that if Mary doesn’t keep quiet, she’ll spoil everything.
But this situation, again, hides a more significant truth. As we know, the meaning of words for St. John is extremely important and the only other time that Jesus calls his mother ‘Woman’ in the gospels is in a totally different setting: when he is on the cross looking down with compassion on her and his closest friend John. ‘Woman, behold your son’, and then he says to John, ‘This is your mother’. The identity of Mary not just as the birth mother to Jesus, but as a spiritual mother to the disciples is brought out in the passion scene and pre-figured here at the wedding at Cana.
For at Cana, it is Mary who has absolute trust that Jesus can perform a miracle and even though this is a relatively small event, when she says to the servants: ‘Do whatever he tells you’ and Jesus performs the miracle, the scene becomes the first sign, the first of several in the gospel and in his ministry, of who he actually is, the Christ.
The third set of hidden meanings in this passage, is that each part of the narrative relates to another part of the gospel. The obedient servants who draw the water remind us of Jesus’ words in John 14:“He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Here we have the perfect example of those who keep Jesus’ commandments enabling his love to be revealed.
Likewise, in the performance of the miracle itself there is hidden meaning. The wine Jesus creates is on a superficial level a face-saving gift of enormous generosity to the groom and his family, but on another level it speaks of the ‘good wine’ of Christ’s grace which now comes to fulfil and supercede the ‘inferior wine’ of the Jewish Law. The miraculous proportions themselves come from the Jewish water jars used for purification, by filling them with the new wine of the kingdom the redemption which Jesus brings is revealed. The old ‘water’ of Jewish Law has run its course, and now is the new wine of grace poured out. Jesus is the only one who can claim to ever have done such a miracle.
What we have here in this wedding story which so easily could have fallen apart, something new being revealed as a result. Firstly, it is a sign, the first of the several signs identifying Christ and revealing his glory in John’s gospel. A sign or miracle is much more than a demonstration of the Holy power of the Lord…a sign reveals something…something beyond the ‘work’ itself. The sign-miracle speaks of the union of Jesus and the Father, and therefore of Jesus’ glory, which will be revealed fully only in the ‘hour’ of his passion, death, and resurrection.
So secondly, it reveals that glory. And what is Jesus’s glory? It is his total union with the Father. The miracle manifests this union inasmuch as it testifies to Jesus’ oneness with the Father in the working of the sign. The belief of the disciples is related to their ability to see that such a miracle involves the union of Jesus with the Father. It testifies, therefore, to the truth of Jesus’ claims.
Finally, as a result the faith of the onlookers, especially his disciples, is increased. This is not a belief that Jesus is able to do magic tricks, but the deeper and more profound belief in who Jesus is and what he has come to do.
For us, who read this story with the benefit of hindsight and knowledge of history, and who see some of its hidden meanings, this is our opportunity to acknowledge the power of the risen Christ in our lives; like Mary, to trust that he is able to work miracles in us by his love; and that this power is part of that Trinitarian relationship between Jesus and his father, given to us now in the Holy Spirit. As his living disciples today, we are the successors of John and Jesus’s friends, and he speaks to us through this miracle, the sign of his glory and purpose. All we have to do is believe. Amen.