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Sermon on the wedding at Cana

Epiphany 3 - The Wedding Feast at Cana

Sermon on John Chapter 2 The wedding feast at Cana by The Reverend Canon Charles Royden

The Wedding at Cana - Jesus turns water into wine

John 2 

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’  And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’  His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’  Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim.  He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it.  When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom  and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’  Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.


John's Gospel and Signs

In the synoptic gospels, (Matthew, Mark and Luke) Jesus performs what are called miracles. In John’s Gospel John does not call them miracles, he calls them signs. We are told in John 20 what the purpose of the Gospel was - he wrote

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Note ! Jesus performs signs, not miracles. And the reason why these signs took place was in order for people to believe in who Jesus was. John is quite restrictive in how many of these signs he records. There are only seven in the whole Gospel. He has slimmed down the miracles and chosen seven special ones which he thinks are significant signs in demonstrating who Jesus was and what he was doing.

For some time I have been trying to get some new signage in Bedford town centre about the Council Community Toilet scheme. These are to point to shops which have agreed to open the toilet in their premises to anybody who want to walk in and use them. These will be very helpful, especially if you want to use the toilet. Now just seeing the sign will be of absolutely no use to you. It will only be useful if you follow the sign and find the shop! It is the same with the signs of Jesus. I think a lot of people know the story of Jesus turning water into wine. They may never put step a foot inside a church, but they know the story. I know this because quite often at parties or events folks will crack a joke about it they need more wine. Something like ‘hey Charlie’s a vicar he can make some more’. They also know about one of the other miracles or signs which John records, - Jesus walking on water. But knowing ther story is completely pointless unless you follow the sign to where it is pointing - to Jesus and what he was doing, which was so much more than just turning water into wine !

 So lets think about this sign  - the water into wine

In the Gospel of Mark Jesus begins his ministry with an exorcism. In John’s Gospel today we read of Jesus turning water into wine. We know that the Gospel writers didn’t just throw their material together, it is compiled very carefully to make a theological point. So why did John begin the ministry of Jesus in his Gospel by showing Jesus provide wine at a party? He could have chosen something much more dramatic, like raising Lazarus from the dead. John had only seven special miracles or signs, and this is the first one he chooses so there must be something very important going on. So let’s look at the passage and see what is going on and why this sign is so important

Why was Jesus there?

Jesus is invited with his disciples and we know that at this stage there were probably at least five: Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, Nathanael and the anonymous disciple (1:35). The mother of Jesus is also invited. We don't know why Jesus was invited. Mary perhaps knew the family because she is concerned about the wine and seems to be able to give instruction to the catering staff. Note - in John's Gospel Mary is only mentioned twice, once here and the next time is at the cross when Jesus hands her into the care of the disciple.  Curiously she is never actually called Mary. We know that one of the disciples of Jesus, Nathanael, came from Cana, he would have probably known the couple who were getting married.

It was on the Third Day

A wedding was a big occasion in that time. We are told that it took place on the ‘Third Day.’ We have weddings on Saturdays, at that time in ancient Israel Tuesday was the wedding day! In the UK right now I am told that Sunday is the most popular day for Jewish weddings to be held.There is some thought that at the time Tuesday was considered a good day because in the Torah story of creation Tuesday is the only day that God describes as ‘good’ twice.   (see Genesis 1:10 and Genesis 1:12). The significance of Third Day can hardly be missed, Jesus was raised on the third day.

It went on for seven days

Wedding ceremonies normally lasted  seven days. Depending on the wealth of the family a whole town could be invited and many rabbis excused the celebrations from the conflicting religious obligations. Even people you didn’t get on with would be invited and it was insulting to refuse  to attend. The ceremonies were not just about two people getting together, it was the bringing together of families. There could be no quick trip to a wedding chapel in Jerusalem!

Wine was important

The host was supposed to provide wine for all for seven days !  Running out of wine was a major faux pas. It was not just a blunder, in a culture which was very much based around shame and honour, it was something which would bring shame on not just the couple but the whole family. Wine was a fundamental part of the celebrations and to run out was not just inconvenient it was a loss of reputation, a damaging social situation would cause a loss of honour and status.

Mary told Jesus they ran out of wine

Much has been written about how Mary asks Jesus to help out, and how Jesus responds. Most of it is just guesswork and we will never understand fully understand. On the face of it Jesus seems reluctant to intervene. He uses the words ‘my hour has not yet come.’ The word ‘hour’ in John’s Gospel is a term which is used by Jesus to refer to his death. I have included the references here which you may wish to use in your own Bible study. :4:21, 23, 5:25, 28, 7:30, 8:20, 12:23, 27, 13:1, 16:2,4, 21, 25, 32, 17:1).

The writer of the Gospel says things like

  • Then they tried to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come.
  • He spoke these words while he was teaching in the treasury of the temple, but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.
  • Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

Jesus says things like

  •  Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.
  • After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,

I mention these passages because it puts the question of Mary and the response of Jesus into a context which is so much more than just helping out at a wedding. This was about understanding who he was and what he had be born to do, his obedience to the mission which God had given to him.

Jesus turns water into wine

It is a fantastic miracle. The Jewish traditions demanded that Jews were not to eat until they gave their hands a ceremonial handwashing. Do you remember Mark 7:3-4.

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him,  they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders;  and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also. 

So water had to be poured by servants over the hands of every guest before the meal. The more guests the more jars ! For the purpose of water purification there were six hug stone jars at this wedding about 150 gallons in total. Jesus gives instruction for the jars to be filled and for the content to then be taken to the chap in charge of the ceremony who announces that the best wine has been kept until then end of the festivities. 

So what was the sign - it wasn’t just water

Everybody remembers that Jesus turned water into wine. But of course it wasn’t just water. If Jesus turns water into wine it is a great trick, but it isn't the sign! It becomes a poingnant sign because this was special water, it was water of purification, it was Jewish cleaning water. Jesus takes Jewish cleaning water and shows he has the power to change it. It becomes a sign, an illustration of the fact that the old water of cleaning was now being superseded. You had ceremonial water which people had to use over and over again but they were never really clean. Jesus is saying that this system didn’t work and so Jesus puts an end to ceremonial washing !

The law constantly reminded you how dirty you were. Jesus has come so that you can be properly clean. The reason why this miracle is the first miracle, the reason why it is so important, is because in it Jesus is doing nothing less than redefining our relationship to God. Instead of repeatedly washing but never being clean, now all would be made clean by Jesus.

The Jewish system was about restricting God’s grace. There were concentric circles of God’s grace.

  1. In the Tenple there was the Holy of Holiest where only the High priest could go
  2. Then there was holy place where only the priests could go
  3. Then there was another place where only the men could go
  4. Then there was a place where only Jewish women could go
  5. Then there was a place wher only godly gentiles could go

Guess what, Jesus didn’t like the temple! His was a ministry where all were invited. The men the women, the children, the lame the poor, the gentiles, even the hated Samaritans ! Jesus despised what was going on in the Temple and with organised religion. John tells us that he went to Jerusalem and he made a whip and he turned over the tables of the money changers in the Temple

Jesus wanted to bring God’s wine of forgiveness and acceptance to all people and that was a complete change to what had been going on as different as water is to wine. Jesus hated the temple and all that it stood for about measuring out God’s love and forgiveness. He hated it so much we are told by John seven verses after the Cana wedding Jesus responded to the Jews in Jerusalem who asked for sign

‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ 20 The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.


Being a follower of Jesus is like being invited to a wedding where the wine does not run out. That sounds like it is a happy place and Christians should be filled with Joy, Jesus was not into making people miserable. You can get that out of the passage today with no problem.

But the sign says something else which is very important

The question used to be whether you could become clean enough to come near to God and some people still think in that way. 'I am not good enough', 'I am insignificant and God wouldn't be bothered with me.'

Jesus is not interested in how good we are, all are invited. No matter how dirty, you are Jesus makes you clean. The communion which we celebrate today is Jesus meal and he invites everybody. There is nobody too dirty, nobody who is not good enough, all are called to come. There are no barriers to the love of God, so all are invited to come. Children, women, men, all are invited to come.

Jesus said it was no longer about how clean how religious you are, it is just about whether you will come. Jesus says ‘come to the table.’  He invited everybody to come to him and he still does, and that is why the Cana sign laid down the new rules and why it was so important .

The Cana sign shows that Jesus is God’s expression of the turning over of the old religion of  barriers and his offering of himself for to show his overflowing love and forgiveness. Now all that we need to do is come.  


There are seven of these signs in the Gospel

1. Water into wine 2:1

2. Healing of Officials son 4:46

3. Healing the paralytic at Bethesda John 5

4. Feeding the 5000 John 6

5. Jesus walks on water  john 6

6. Jesus heals the man born blind  John 9 1-7

7. Jesus raises Lazarus John 11