Gracious God, may your people, illuminated by your work and sacraments, shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth.
On Monday night a group of us met for the last Advent Study session. We had been studying a book called The Art of Advent by Jane Williams. It is a series of paintings from different genres and periods, with a commentary, that in some way represents the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. Some others in the congregation had also been studying this book during Advent.
One picture (which you can look up later if you so choose) was a representation of the Wedding at Cana, by Paolo Veronese (veh·ruh·neez). He was born in Venice in the 16th century and was one of the major Venetian painters of his time.
The painting is set as if in Venice, with everyone wearing 16th-century Venetian dress; but Jesus and his disciples dressed appropriately for the first century of the Christian Era.
The scene is perhaps like some weddings we have attended, rather busy, and with lots of activity all happening at the same moment.
The painting depicts the wedding feast in today’s gospel narrative, where Jesus, the disciples, and significantly his mother, are present.
In the fourth gospel, Jesus’ ministry begins, not with profound teaching or healing, but with a wedding feast for an ordinary couple (friends or family of Jesus) who lived in the small town of Cana. This, we might assume, represents a rather insignificant beginning to Jesus’ pastoral ministry. This is not so.
In Jewish culture (as in others) the drinking of wine was a way to celebrate, and Jesus wanted to celebrate life throughout his ministry. However, when the wine runs out he is reluctant at first to get involved. In fact, it is his mother (who is never directly named in this gospel account but called the mother of Jesus) who sets in motion Jesus’ ministry.
Mary, who appears at this moment in John’s gospel, is not mentioned again she is at the foot of the cross. Mary, we assume believed that this was the moment for Jesus to reveal his gifts; Jesus wasn’t so sure. But mother knows best and so she advises the servants to do exactly what Jesus told them. At this point Jesus had options, ignore his mother and face the embarrassment of the wedding couple for running out of wine, or step up and respond. We all know what decision he made. So Jesus’ ministry begins, one that is in a sense, initiated by his mother.
Jesus identified six large jars of water, used for purification rites as the text tells us. Each would hold 30 to 50 litres (imagine 7-10 large jugs of milk!); this was a lot of wine. In turning water into good wine, Jesus did two things: first, he enabled the feasting to continue. Secondly, (and probably more importantly), Jesus reminded us that he came to provide a life of plenty for everyone. Perhaps we want to be invited to such a wedding where excellent wine flows. This is the point: because Jesus invites us one and all, and will provide for us wine (in terms of new life) without limit.
Once again we see the God of abundance rather than the God of scarcity. When we least expect it there is a profusion of good wine. Here in the midst of this ordinary feast, the celebration of a marriage, Jesus acted, making God present in the everyday lives of ordinary people. It is this same God who is present in all our lives.
In following Christ we are called to also reveal God’s presence by our words and actions. For as take care of one another by visiting with someone on the phone we reveal God’s presence. When we talk to someone who is down or depressed, we reveal God’s presence. When taking part in worship or reading or praying in person or online, we reveal God’s presence. When we support the life of the Church by our gifts of financial resources, our time and our skills, we reveal God’s presence.
In the narrative of turning water into wine, there is the danger of seeing the sign as being the most important thing, whereas the sign points towards what is being revealed about God. In the same way, when we visit with someone, our action isn’t as important as the person being visited knowing they matter to God. It is easy to forget that.
At the same time, the Church has the responsibility to call out the gifts of those who may be reluctant to offer their skills, their time, and their financial resources for the community.
In the picture from Monday evening, we see a multitude of people enjoying a good time. That is exactly what life in the kingdom of God is meant to be like. It is not all about duty or service, it is about knowing God and being part of the community which is the church. When we come to church (on Zoom or in-person) we receive something we can get nowhere else. We come into the presence of the Holy One, who gives us life, inspiration and the means to carry on. We come into the presence of one another, fellow companions on a journey. We come to the One who gives us new life and new possibilities, the One who graces an ordinary wedding feast and provides excellent wine when it runs out. Through Christ we have our means and access to God; the One who in turn provides us gifts in prodigious quantities; the One who blesses us with skills, time and financial resources, all of them to be used for the common good.