By Paul Koch –
The story of the wedding feast in Cana is truly one of the most joyful and pleasant stories in the Gospels. There is no animosity, no direct opposition to our Lord, no condemnation of any kind. Jesus, along with some of his first disciples, join his mother at a wedding. The setting is one of laughter and joy. It’s a scene of wine drinking and friendship. In fact, this scene has been referenced for years in the Church’s wedding liturgy where we say things like, “Our Lord blessed and honored marriage with His presence and first miracle at Cana in Galilee.” Jesus, God made flesh, the long awaited Messiah, took the time to celebrate with friends and family at a wedding and we are privileged to celebrate along with him.
Now with the backdrop of this wedding day, we are drawn into the text by an unfortunate turn of events. A crisis has arisen; they have run out of wine. Now I don’t know about you, but in my house this would be a major moment of embarrassment. In fact, every time we have guests over for a dinner my wife will make far more food and make sure we have far more wine (and for that matter bourbon, as well) to make sure that we don’t run out. To run out as a host is a terrible thing. And so this grand wedding feast, this great celebration, is about to be marred by their lack of preparation. When Mary informs her son what has happened he replies somewhat abruptly by saying, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” But she isn’t deterred. Perhaps this exchange has happened before. Instead she gets a hold of one of the servants and informs him to do whatever Jesus tells him to do.
So what does he do? Well, there are these large stone jars there used for the Jewish rites of purification. And I’m talking big jars, each one holding 20 or 30 gallons of water. So Jesus instructs the servants to fill them to the brim, which they do. And after they have done so he directs them to draw out some and take it to the master of the feast. And when the master of the feast tastes it he finds that it has turned into wine. And not only is it wine, it is a lot of wine, a superabundance of wine. Not only is there a lot of it, but it is the best wine the really good stuff. So much so that the master of the feast goes to the bridegroom and says, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” What joy, what a celebration. This wedding went from the brink of disaster to an occasion that will not soon be forgotten. And we are told that this is the first of our Lord’s signs which manifest his glory.
Now we could just leave it there and move on reading through John’s Gospel to discover what other signs of his glory are to come. There are six more, in case you’re wondering. But there are some things that sort of linger about this text. Sure it is a joyful scene and somewhat comforting to have our Lord enjoying a wedding. But that exchange with his mother is difficult to just pass over. What did he mean when he said, “My hour has not yet come?” Why does he end up providing such an abundance of wine? Certainly our Lord is more than just a guy that provides what is lacking. Jesus is not just a problem solver. I mean we may want him to be that guy, but He didn’t come to make sure we didn’t run out of wine at our parties or make sure our kids get good grades in school or help us to get a better job or plan for retirement. He’s not the cosmic gas station attendant there to fill us up when we are running on empty. There is something more to what he is doing when he provides wine from jars of water.
I have officiated a lot of weddings over the years. Some fairly large, some small and quaint. I’ve performed weddings for everyone from senior citizens who found each other after they were widowed late in life, to weddings for extremely young couples, and more than a few where the bride was already pregnant. But no matter how big or small the wedding is there is an understood order, a way in which the ceremony is to be conducted. There are laws written and unwritten that give form to the typical wedding day. There’s the procession including flower girls and a ring bearer, the white dress, the giving away of the bride, and so on. While these rule may trouble us from time to time, most of us are actually happy to have them. They give shape and purpose to our time. The rules, whether it’s as simple as who stands on which side or who begins the vows, enable everyone to enjoy the celebration.
And if the rules can help something as common as a wedding we can be sure that we will seek out higher and better rules for the ordering of other parts of our life, as well. We have rules for the governing of almost every aspect of our lives. Traffic laws, employment laws, tax laws, mortgage laws, insurance laws, on and on the list goes. Of course the highest and most complete and perfect laws are those given by God himself. His Law, that most salutary doctrine of life, is not used to simply keep us safe or make sure we have a great party. His law directs us to salvation itself. His law acts as a guide for the living of our lives. It is the foundation from which all order flows. We are guided in acts of love, in forgiveness and compassion.
But if we are placing our hope in our use of the Law to achieve the goal of eternal paradise why then we are in for a terrible discovery. Yet, I suspect that we already know what it is. For no matter how hard we try to follow every letter of the Law we can’t, and we seem to always stumble and fall along the way. We look around ourselves at almost any time and we can see those we have hurt and those we have failed to help. We know only too well the thought and desires of our hearts, the sin the hides under every rock and lurks around every corner. The rules may guide us through a wedding feast but they will not bring us into an eternal celebration.
So a failure to keep up with the rules of etiquette turns our Lord to some large stone jars. Not just any jars, these are jars set aside for keeping the rules, for adhering to the Law. We are told that these six stone jars were used for ritual washing before eating. They are for the Jewish rite of purification. The jars then were tools in trying to keep the Law. Everyone knew what they were and the law that they symbolized. So Jesus says, “Fill them up, fill them to the brim.” And from these jars of the Law Jesus provides life and hope and celebration to the wedding feast. The very best wine, we are told, is what he brings. The Jewish rites of purification, like our clinging to the Law did not make them pure. They would enact their ritual over and over again, for though the Law could show how they were always filthy it could not make them eternally clean.
Jesus gives a sign, a superabundance of the blood of the grape for those at the wedding banquet as a foretaste of the blood from his own body. Our Lord lives perfectly under the Law of God. He does what we could never do. And then in his perfection he embraces your sins as his own; and the Law with all its rules and guides, with its stone jars and rituals, condemns him to die. And when his hour has come he does just that. From his body flows the blood of salvation. From his death comes our life. From his suffering comes our hope. The water into wine is a sign of his glory. It is a sign of his great work. It is a sign of the free gift of eternal life. It is a sign that points to the day when it is not water and wine but water and blood.
It is fitting in John’s Gospel that this exchange between Jesus and his mother stands out to us. For in this telling of our Lord’s life Mary disappears from the Gospel until we find her towards the end with John at the foot of the cross as she watches her son die. There she sees the terrifying agony of the hour of his glory. There she sees the cost of turning water into wine. After he cries out, “It is finished,” bows his head, and gives up his spirit, we are told that they come to break his legs. Finding him already dead, they take a spear and pierce his side instead. And what flows out? Water and Blood.
Salvation flows out, hope flows out, life flows out. It is the fulfillment of the Law and the forgiveness of all your sins. Forgiveness filled to the brim and overflowing for each and every one of you.