01 Feb Sermon for Epiphany 4, Year A
Sunday 29th January
450 litres of wine. That is the amount of wine that Jesus miraculously creates in this story of the wedding at Cana. 450 litres is by any reckoning a lot of wine, and even if with a large wedding party there is probably going to be plenty to go round, especially as this is of course the second helping after the first round of wine has run out.
Not surprisingly the miracle of the wedding at Cana has been interpreted as a sign of God’s abundant and over flowing grace. The vast amount of wine points to the generous gifts which God bestows; not just enough, but pouring over and great in quantity.
This miracle, as with all miracle stories, reveals and brings into focus the nature of God in a dramatic way, and so the joy and celebration of the wedding couple and their guests at the discovery of this new supply of wine, illustrates the desire of God and the quality of his goodness, his grace, and his love. The abundance of the wine shows in powerful ways the vastness of God’s mercy and grace.
However, this is an abundance which perhaps at times we may struggle to understand, or receive for ourselves, or share with others. Abundance is not always the normal way of things so a grace-giving God of overflowing love may cut across quite abruptly our normal ways of understanding life and its routines. To receive and to share that abundance requires us, as Jesus says elsewhere, to listen and learn from the child.
All too often perhaps abundance in our lives has be earned to the very last penny otherwise we think it is not merited, or the abundance is horded in order to build us a security for tomorrow that we predict will be every bit as dangerous and hostile as the yesterday that we cannot leave behind.
Free gifts of 450 litres seem a gift too good to be true; a gift for which we feel unworthy or a gift that we do not want to share.
This abundance though is not the only theme that is often noticed in the story of the wedding at Cana. We can see how the story points us towards the end of the gospel and the Passion of Christ on the cross. ‘On the third day a wedding took place at Cana’ writes John surely pointing us towards the third day $of the passion story. ‘Woman, what concern is that for me’ says Jesus to Mary at the wedding, and then on the cross, ‘Woman, here is your Son’. In both events Mary plays a crucial role in creating and focusing the ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ. At the wedding Jesus says ‘my time has not yet come’ and then on the cross ‘it is finished.’ The events of Cana reveal what is to come, but it is only complete on the cross. What begins at Cana is drawn to its perfection on the cross as Christ’s perfect sacrifice of overflowing love conquers sin and death.
These two events then are closely linked and in some ways are insepperable other than in the passage of time. They interpret each other and in John’s gospel they are both key to understanding all that takes place in between.
Nevertheless, in human terms the two events seem to show a clear decline and destruction of all that Christ is. As one commentator I read remarked, the wine of the wedding banquet becomes the vinegar that Jesus is offered on the cross. In other words, as the Gospel narrative unfolds it appears that hope fades away, abundance turns to despair, celebration seeps away into grief.
In human terms the two events show a clear trajectory towards loss and failure which no amount of initial abundance can redeem.
So we need to be careful I think in interpreting the theme of abundance at the wedding feast in a naïve or simplistic way which fails to recognise where the story is going; where Jesus is travelling. The abundance of the wedding is also the abundance of the love which for love goes to the cross. The abundance of the wedding is not a cheap thrill of excitement to blur the picture, it is the same abundance which doesn’t flinch from the attacks of hatred that are launched against Jesus as he approaches Jerusalem for the final time.
We hardly need reminding as we look at the world around us of the ways in which the trajectory is seemingly downward. The violence at a national or local level which does not let up, but reinforces the message of power through brute force. We are all aware of the instances where violence seems to be not only the goal but also the language which dominates and which has no apparent way of ending other than to spur on a new round of attack and hatred.
To speak simply of abundance then may appear almost blasphemous if it is held up as a measure of where God is at work. In the streets of so many places the only abundance is an abundance of evil at the end of a weapon. The abundance of which John writes, however, is of a grace and love which does not run from hatred and will not let evil go unchallenged. The abundance of Christ’s mercy and love brings into the light the hatred and reveals it for what it is. The abundance of God’s grace confronts evil not with the destructive weight of force, but with the renewing power of truth.
May God in his abundance pour upon us his light and life, overflowing our lives with his love and mercy, and strengthen us that we may join with him in his death and resurrection, and join with him in facing evil with an abundance of grace and hope. Amen.
Image: Swanson, John August. Wedding Feast, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=58581 [retrieved February 1, 2023]. Original source: Estate of John August Swanson, https://www.johnaugustswanson.com/.