Readings Genesis 14.17–20, Revelation 19.6–10 John 2.1–11
Preacher Canon Robert Titley
What does ‘glory’ mean to you? Think of a glorious morning, Vivaldi’s Gloria, or Danny Blanchflower, Spurs and Northern Ireland legend, on football –
The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.
What makes you say, like Humpty Dumpty, ‘There’s glory for you’? Glory is a bright and shining thing and it has delight about it. If you are caught up in glory, you don’t think about what you ought to do, you don’t dwell on bad things you’ve done or good things you’ve not done. Glory is a lot bigger than you are, yet it makes you more yourself. It doesn’t make you feel insignificant; being caught up in it makes you a bigger person than you were before.
This helps us to get a grip on the story of the wedding at Cana. When you hear it you may at once puzzle over it: this is a miracle; how could it ever happen? How can you turn simple H20 into C2H5OH plus H20, plus sugar and phosphates (the formulas for which I do not know)? This is an important question, and how you answer it will say a lot about how you see God and the world. You might say, ‘Yes, this is a physical miracle, and Jesus shows here that he is Lord of creation.’ Or, perhaps, ‘Whatever it is, this is not the record of a physical event; things like this simply do not happen; why would God override his own creation?’ Or you might say something different again. It’s an important question, and John’s gospel gives no help at all in how to answer it. If my first question is, ‘This is a miracle: how could it happen?’ the gospel says, ‘This is sign: what does it point to?’ And what it points to is – glory.
On the face of it, this may seem a frivolous miracle, not like healing the sick or feeding hungry crowds, more like the scene in Bruce Almighty when Jim Carrey, thanks to the powers God has lent him, parts the waters of the tomato soup in his bowl – just because he can. But think a moment – this is at a wedding, and a wedding has the raw materials for glory. The families might be rich or poor, but – then as now – a wedding should be a bright and shining thing. It is a day about what husband and wife ought to do, but much more it’s about delight, the sheer joy of two people giving each other the gift of their life. The prophets talked of God andIsrael as husband and bride, and the day of the Lord, when the world would be put right, as a great wedding banquet.
And then there’s the wine. Barrels of symbolism here. The prophets said that this divine banquet would be awash with fine wines, and they spoke ofIsraelas God’s vine. Why do those symbols have power? Because of what wine is. Do you need wine to survive? Will the wedding guests die of thirst? No – we know that there’s plenty of water available – but wine says that life is about more than survival. And Jesus lays on 768 bottles of it. There’s more, too. The head waiter tastes the wine and has an M&S moment: ‘This is not just wine,’ he says, ‘this is carefully selected, hand-picked, barrel-fermented, lovingly elevated, chateau-bottled, vintage wine.’ What Jesus brings is superb stuff – not just life, but life in all its fullness. There’s glory for you.
We are now about three months away from the arrival of David Gardiner as our new parish priest here at St Matthias. 69 days to go. If we were planning a wedding it might be time to panic, but all is in hand. Even so, there is stuff we can all do to help the beginning of David’s ministry here to be God’s moment, a foretaste of that glorious banquet. We have a head start: this is a building that hints at glory. Newcomers love it, and say as much. Did it need to be quite so high, the windows and ceiling quite so rich in decoration? Of course not, any more than the Cana wine needs to be so darned good. In its scale and adornment, this space goes beyond the water of mere necessity and invites all who come here to drink the wine of God’s extravagance.
We need that just now. Walk down into town: count the empty shops, see the frighteningly big reductions in the ones that survive. Look at last week’s unemployment figures. Everywhere there is retrenchment, the pinching of pennies, worry, sometimes desperation. And here is a house of God which says that, when it comes to deep down things, there is enough and to spare. We worship a God who knows each one of us by name, not in a finger-pointing way but with an infinity of love.
The building, though – this glorious space with its potential to make you feel more yourself, to make you a bigger person than you were before – is just a theatre set waiting for the cast to come on stage. The cast is us, and this first chapter of John’s gospel gives us the stage directions. In last week’s reading (John 1.43–end), Philip found in Jesus the one who embodied all his people’s hopes. And when a friend was sceptical he simply said, ‘Come and see.’ Now today, the catering stuff see what Jesus does to the water, but they don’t taste it. The head waiter tastes the wine, but doesn’t see where it came from. To know the true glory you need both. You need (as Eliot said in the Four Quartets) to have the experience but not miss the meaning. You need to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Psalm 34.8).
Over the next 69 days, then, let’s ensure that Sunday by Sunday it is evident that here is a place where people ‘come and see’. That means first, simply coming here, to the Lord’s house on the Lord’s day (or, if you are somewhere else, finding a church there). Is there anything more important for you and me to do at some point in our waking hours on a Sunday? I can’t think of it.
So come, but come in what frame of mind? Our parish profile, the document we drew up before hiring David, says that we want to find in St Matthias ‘an atmosphere of holiness, genuine hospitality, liveliness and sense of expectation’, a place where people expect to encounter something bigger than they are, where they come with a hope of glory. It is a thing to ask myself each routine Sunday morning: am I going to church expecting God to show up too? If I am, then I can be ambushed by God at any point: in a word scripture, a line of a hymn, in a prayer said as if people mean it; and of course, here in the Holy Communion, where we have our own miraculous wine.
If ever we catch the faintest rumour of glory, it makes us bigger people than we were before, more brave, more generous, more willing to know and be known by God and one another, people who dare to know each other by name, who are more willing to experiment with extravagance, with the time and the money and the energy they offer to God. That’s what it’s like when you glimpse glory. Though times are hard and life is tough, it is nonetheless glorious to hear today’s words in the book of Revelation and know they are about you:
Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. (Revelation 19.9)