St John the Evangelist
Sunday 21st January 2018
Revelation 19.6-10; John 2.1-11
I wonder when you last went to a wedding. It might have been quite a while ago or it may have been much more recently. It might have been a family member or a friend or even your own wedding that you remember. Perhaps you can picture the day in your mind.
I went through a wedding phase when I was in my twenties and a number of friends were marrying; since then I’ve been to lots of wedding services – usually because I was conducting them - and a few receptions. Some of the weddings are great big affairs, some of them are tiny, but there are certain things that they mostly have in common.
First, even the smallest ones involve a coming-together of two people and their families and friends.
Second, though they may exist, I’ve never known a wedding where there has not been some kind of party as well as the marriage ceremony itself.
Weddings are not private affairs but something that are public occasions – not many people will have such publicity as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, but a wedding cannot be a purely private occasion – legally in the UK there must be at least two others present to witness the ceremony and the person who conducts it as well, so no wedding can have fewer than five people at it.
And weddings are something that people spend lots of time planning and organising, and these days sometimes spending obscene amounts of money on, to ensure that everything is just right and how they want it.
Brides still often have this idea of a dream wedding day, and woe to the man or woman that prevents that happening in even the smallest detail!
And, of course, marriage is something that has existed in many cultures, nations and religions since earliest times.
We hear today’s Gospel reading, and even if we don’t know exactly what a first-century wedding entailed, it is an idea that we are still familiar with – that a man and a woman come together in commitment and union and celebrate with a party.
John in his Gospel doesn’t use the word miracles but names such events as we heard about in today’s reading as signs – in other words they point towards something about the nature and character of God – and that is also where we centre our thoughts during the Season of Epiphany, which is the season of revelation.
So let’s look at this story and see what we see of God through Jesus in its telling. And then I want us to look a bit at what this means for our church today.
First of all, Jesus is joining in with normal human life. He is celebrating with his community and his friends an important staging-post in the life of the bride and groom. He is showing that he has a joy and concern for ordinary human life and its celebrations.
As far as we know he wasn’t intending to do anything big when he accepted the invitation and joined the party. He was “just another guest”.
But then something quite serious happened. I’ve fortunately never been to a wedding where the food or drink has run out, but in the first century the groom would never had lived it down if the wine had run out before the celebrations had finished.
Ever afterwards he would have been known as the man whose wine ran out at his wedding – you know how gossip is: do you know so-and-so? I’m not sure I do – oh, you do – he’s the one whose wine ran out at his wedding.
Quite possibly it would have been a defining characteristic from now on in, and not a good one it has to be said. Hospitality was exceptionally important in those days – running out of wine would have been something of a shameful thing.
So we have Jesus being part of normal life and joining in a community celebration.
Second we see that his approach to paucity is to respond with generosity. The wine runs out, he doesn’t just replenish the wine but does so in a completely disproportionate way.
When all the water has been turned to wine, there is somewhere between 120 and 180 galloons of the stuff. If you want to know what that is in more familiar terms – most of us don’t buy wine in gallons – it’s somewhere between providing an extra 720 to 1090 standard bottles of wine. That is quite a lot of booze.
Here we see the generosity of God, providing far more than could possibly be needed. Don’t forget that this is well into the wedding – most of the guests will have had more than enough to drink already!
And the quality of what Jesus provides astounds those who drink it. It isn’t just any old wine, it’s the best. Of course, that is always what God offers us – the very best.
And Jesus didn’t berate the groom for failing to provide enough wine. He wiped the slate clean and provided what was needed.
Let’s think too about what was transformed. The water jars had been full of water because of the rules about washing before arriving at a wedding – people needed to be outwardly clean before attending.
It wasn’t, though, the outside of the jars that Jesus changed but what was in them – he turned the contents into the very best.
The transformation that God brings us is an inward one. God has created us as we are but the transformation we are required to make is so much more about the inward than the outward.
And we see too in the actions of Mary, something of the care of God. Mary has spotted that there is a need, which Jesus can fulfil. She turns to him and he responds.
I think these revelations of God through Jesus and Mary require us to ask some questions of ourselves and of our church community.
First, how present is Jesus in our celebrations?
Second, how do respond to paucity with generosity?
Third, how well do we notice those in need and turn to Jesus for help? How quick are we then to follow the instructions he gives for relief?
Fourth, how do we offer the very best of God to people? How do let God give the very best to us?
Fifth, how do we help people know that Jesus will wipe clean the slate of our failures and help us start again with his support behind us?
If churches are going to grow and not die out, we need to ensure that Jesus is at the heart of what we do. If he’s not, then we are no different from any other organisation in this village, area, county, country.
So, take the questions that this story poses, and reflect on them. Where, as a church and as individuals, are we honouring Christ and where are we falling short?
Marriages require commitment and love. We have both of those given to us by God the Father through Jesus and the Holy Spirit in quantities that are greater than we could ever imagine – how well do we respond? Will we allow Jesus to fill our empty wine jars?