Readings: Isaiah 62: 1-5; 1 Corinthians 12: 1-11; John 2: 1-11.
May the words of my lips, and the mediations of all our hearts, be forever pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
It might surprise you that I would describe today’s gospel as a story of the everyday and the life-changing; of discipleship and authority; of faith and belief; of the spiritual and the physical; and of death and life itself. This is a very rich and full reading which tells the story of a key moment in the life and ministry of Christ on earth, and it’s paired with two other readings to make sure we know that it’s not just a nice story about something that happened to someone else: it’s also about us.
During Epiphany we’ve been following John’s account of the revelation of Christ, his baptism and calling. Today we see Christ begin his ministry; today we are encouraged to consider what our ministry will be.
Up until this point in the gospel, Jesus has played a passive role. He was sent by God into the world, brought up by his parents, and baptised by John, but he actually performed none of these actions himself.
The uncomfortable truth for many of us in our faith is that we are passive in it. We come to church, we hear readings and sermons, we sing and pray; but those activities, important as they are, are largely about receiving, not giving. It’s not true for all of us all the time, but it is true for most of us. I can’t read minds: whether it’s true for you is up to you to determine.
Our Old Testament reading says “because of the salvation and vindication given to us by God our maker and redeemer, I won’t shut up or rest until the world and its leaders know about it.” This is Isaiah giving us a kind of litmus test for spotting persons of faith.
The gospel tells the tale of the start of Jesus’ active ministry, and he is initially resistant to it, saying that his time has not yet come. Yet, out of the prompting of his mother, Jesus for the first time performs a miracle himself, and in doing so, gives a public sign of who and what he is.
The Epistle reading is not about the attitude of religious believers, or about what happened to Jesus, but rather looks forward, offering advice to us and all creatures about what lies ahead in the faith-life journey of all Christians. This reading says that all baptised Christians should be ready to receive gifts from the Holy Spirit to use in their ministry to the world.
The question these readings ask us, then, is whether we’re willing to become active, or perhaps more active, for God in our lives. John asks us if we’re willing to do that even if we don’t feel ready for it yet, because Jesus doesn’t seem to be ready, but his mother knew he was. Are we willing to start being more active, even if we don’t feel it’s the time and place for us yet?
The wedding at Cana is a transition time: a rite of passage for a couple, where their old identity is left behind and a new one is born and publicly acknowledged; and it is at such an occasion that Jesus himself publicly engages with his own identity as the Son of God. He leaves the authority of his Mother, and assumes his own role of leadership and ministry, beginning his journey towards Calvary and the salvation of creation.
We don’t often think about the faith of Jesus – we look at the faith of those around him instead – but here Jesus has to take a step of faith, and be ready to let a miracle happen through him, something the gospels tell us he had not done before in his incarnate life. Here’s the rub, however: our reading from 1 Corinthians says we might be asked to do the same thing: “To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom… to another the working of miracles”. How does that make you feel?
This gospel story is both spiritual and physical. Some call John’s Gospel the spiritual Gospel, the one that deals with the most spiritual and philosophical aspects of Jesus’ life and works on earth. And yet his writing is also profoundly real: utterly rooted in the physical, which is how Jesus lived. So often we compartmentalise our lives, separating out what we do in church and what we do in the everyday. Jesus doesn’t: his spiritual experience is not disconnected from his lived life; they’re inseparable. As I’ve said, Isaiah says that what marks a spiritual person out is that they are physically unable to stop being active and loud in their spirituality. It’s not that quiet people aren’t spiritual people: if they’re spiritual, even the way they are quiet shouts about God. If you’ve met one, you know what I mean.
Spirituality doesn’t have to be dull. People at weddings are (hopefully) having fun. The people at this wedding in Cana were probably having fun. I imagine Jesus was having fun. They were also evidently drinking alcohol. And what is Jesus reaction when he discovers that they are running out? Does he say that the guests should have paced themselves properly, or that they should be abstemious and serious now and that the party should come to an end? No! Rather he decides to make more wine (120 to 180 gallons!), so that the party can go on. God gives us life, and wants us to celebrate that great gift; and in the wedding at Cana he celebrates it too!
And if that’s not deep or significant enough for you, then consider that this Gospel reading encompasses the story of death and life. When we talk about baptism we say it is a sharing of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, a dying to sin, and a rebirth to new life, sharing in his resurrection.
In John’s gospel, Jesus is baptised, and this begins a journey culminating in this miracle at the wedding at Cana on the third day. From a ritual which we associate with Christ’s death, Jesus takes a three day journey which concludes with a ritual we associate with the birth of new life. How’s that for blending the physical with the spiritual?
And if that’s still not profound enough for you, then consider this little gem of information, which I discovered the first time I prepared a sermon on this gospel: scholars have noted that the amount of wine that Jesus creates in this first sign is the same amount of wine required by Jewish tradition for a funeral.
This story, Jesus’ story, reflects our stories; Jesus’ story is one of the everyday and the life-changing; of discipleship and authority; of faith and belief; of the spiritual and the physical; and of death and life itself. It is the story of each of our lives, and it is the story of the Christian journey. The superficial details may change, but the deeper meaning remains for every one of us.
Stories exist to teach us about ourselves, so let’s use this story to contemplate the desire of God to be active in every aspect of our lives; and the deep desire of our souls to be active in his service.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, who took such pains to reveal to us the joy of your presence in the person of your Son, help us to know and love you better, and to show that joy in all that we do, and to share your love with all that we meet. We ask this in the name of your Son, our saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.