My second summer at the seminary I was slogging through an incredibly boring course called New Testament Isagogics. Now by boring, I mean mind numbingly boring, and it didn’t help that it was the middle of the summer in St. Louis, it was more like some sort of penance than a great academic opportunity. Now Dr. Schuchard wasn’t the most exciting of professors either, he was just making sure we knew the info. That was until we got to the works of St. John. When we turned to the epistles, the Revelation and most especially the Gospel according to John Dr. Schuchard became a very different man. His eyes lit up as he spoke, his whole body became animated he could hardly wait to tell you about the intricacies and details of these works.
It was clear that he loved the works of John, and his love for them was contagious. All of a sudden this boring class took on a new life and every detail seemed to be filed with wonder and light and even fun. He was the one who taught me to love this great work and especially the wedding feast in Cana, it is a simply magnificent masterpiece of storytelling. For here in this strange text that is read every year at this time we have the whole story of our salvation, a story beyond a simple epiphany moment of God’s revelation – a story about your hope and trust.
“On the third day,” we are told, “there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.” Now apparently it was a family friend because Jesus and all his disciples were there as well. And while they are there the ultimate party foul is about to go down. It seems the host has run out of wine. Now how this unfolds is important. Jesus’ mom informs him and he doesn’t seem too pleased. In fact, he says somewhat cryptically, “My hour has not yet come.” But she persists in telling the servants to do as he commands. He then spies six stone jars, six jars that were used for the Jewish rite of purification; big jars, each one holding twenty to thirty gallons. He has them filled to the brim and then has them draw some water and take it to the master of the feast. When it gets there it had become wine, and not just any wine, good wine! Everyone is shocked, they know that the usual way things work is you serve the good wine first and when everyone is a bit tipsy then you bring out the 2 Buck Chuck and no one is the wiser. But here the wine Jesus supplies is the best, the very best. And there at Cana in Galilee his glory is manifested in this miracle.
Everything that happens in our text is said to have happened on the third day. On the third day we are introduced in John’s gospel for the first time to the mother of our Lord. Remember John’s Christmas story doesn’t begin with Mary and Joseph and the angel Gabriel but with the cosmic story of the creative Word of God becoming flesh. And it is here at Cana that we first hear of his mother. She isn’t even named but she plays an important role. She is the one who directs all eyes to Jesus on the third day and then we don’t hear about her again until she appears at the foot of the cross at the end of the Gospel. Here he tells her that his hour is not yet come but later he will say that, “the hour has come to glorify the Father.” And the hour he speaks of is his gruesome death on the cross – where we find Mary.
Now Jesus turns his attention to six jars, six jars used for the faithful fulfillment of the Law. It is this water that he turns to wine. But in this gospel we are reminded that it is at the sixth hour that Jesus is condemned by Pilate to death. Which happens on the six day of the week, on the sixth day of the Passover celebration to boot. Which by the way is the sixth festival that John records for us in his Gospel. And perhaps, just perhaps the one who begins his gospel with, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Would have us think of the beginning. For in the beginning of all things it is on the sixth day that Adam is put to sleep by God and it is on the sixth day when his mother is present and his hour has come that our Lord declares, “It is finished” and gives up his spirit and sleeps the sleep of death.
When Adam slept on the sixth day God opened his side to take a rib. And from that rib he formed his bride. From the side of Adam came the very gift of life itself. So John tells us that when our Lord sleeps on that dark sixth day they begin to break the legs of the criminals to kill them swiftly for it is the day of Preparation. But when they come to our Lord they find he is already dead but just to make sure they take up a spear and pierce his side. And what flows from his opened side? What comes gushing forth? Blood and water. Blood and water, the very means of eternal life itself. You were washed in the waters of Holy Baptism, claimed there as one of God’s own dear children, you are given his very body and blood to eat and drink in with and under bread and wine for the forgiveness of all your sins and the promise of eternal life. Blood and water, water and wine – the very best wine, the wine of new life in Christ alone.
We are told that the wedding feast in Cana happens on the third day, and it is the third day from his crucifixion that our Lord finds his disciples gathered in the upper room, locked away in fear. On the Third day he who turns water into wine, he who has given new life to his church he himself comes into their midst. He says, “Peace be with you!” And that is exactly what he gives. We gather on the third day, on the day of our Lord’s glorious manifestation, we gather as he comes in water and wine, as he comes in Word and Sacrament to give you peace. “Peace” he says, “for you are forgiven. Peace, for you have been washed and fed and embraced by God. Peace for it is finished, my hour has come, you are mine.”