notre dame montreal

Sermon for Epiphany 3

The Wedding at Cana  -  The Old is transformed to the New

There are some people who describe the miracle of Jesus turning water into wine as a ‘luxury’ miracle. No one was healed, no one was saved from an evil spirit, no one was raised from the dead, not even a touch where someone feels the presence of God. All it seemed to achieve was saving the family at Cana acute embarrassment.

But this is to miss the point of the story. It is at the beginning of John’s gospel and gives insight into the entire meaning of the gospel. If John’s gospel was a musical work, the story of the wedding at Cana would be the overture, giving a foretaste of what is to come.

The story starts at the end of last weeks reading where Jesus tell Nathanael that Nathanael will see angels ‘ascending and descending on the Son of Man’, a reference back to Jacob’s dream where Jacob had seem a ladder or stairway going from earth the heaven.

So Jesus has, in effect just told Nathanael, and us, that He is that ladder, He Himself is the way of access between heaven and earth. Something in the world order is changing.

The story now passes to Nathanael’s home village of Cana. And our gospel reading begins, ‘On the third day…’

John is giving us a clue as to the magnitude of what is about to unfold. The readers of this gospel would be fully aware of things that happen on the third day. Death becomes life on the third day, the old world order if fully superseded by the new world order on the third day, that which was hopeless becomes a fount of hope on the third day. On the third day, there is a wedding at Cana in Galilee

The very words that open the story evoke a picture of the old and the new coming together. Jesus’s mother (the old world order) was there; Jesus and the disciples (the new world order) had been invited. The old world order has run out of wine. Run out of steam. Despite the best efforts of those involved the old world order has been found lacking. Jesus’ mother, at this point a link between the old and the new turns to Jesus and tells Him what has happened.

Jesus replies that His time has not yet come, nor will it fully until another story involving three days, but Mary can sense the new world order is beginning and instructs the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them. John notes were six stone jars there. The old world order is even referenced in the past tense.

Jesus asks them to take the vessels that are normally used to hold the water for ceremonial washing of the old world order of the law. He asks them to fill them up with water, the water that would be used to cleanse themselves so they were fit for entering into their rituals and engagement with God, fill them up to the top. It doesn’t matter how full they are, they can be full to overflowing in the old regime, they will never be adequate.

And then once they are full, Jesus simply says to draw some of it out and take it to the master of ceremonies, the architriklinos (ruler of the three couches, from the three couches and tables that were laid out at a Roman banquet for people to set and eat from)

And we know that the water has been transformed into wine. The way in which people came before God was transformed by the presence of Jesus.

In John’s gospel there are many references to water, springs, wells, basins, and ultimately water flowing out of Jesus’ side. It’s often a symbol of the raw material of our human nature.

In asking for the vessels to be filled up with water so that they can be transformed into wine, Jesus is demonstrating that He can take the very stuff of our human nature, all that we have been in our lives up to now, all that we will be in the future, all our cares, all our concerns, all our fears, and transform them by His very presence.

There was no great histrionics when the water was changed into wine and there need not be great histrionics as Jesus transforms our lives. All He asks is that we offer the very stuff of our lives to Him so that He can touch it and transform it so that we can know the fullness of the other third day. So that we can experience the intersection of the old world order and the new world order in our lives, the intersection of heaven and earth in our lives.

Jesus doesn’t take our old way of doing things, our old way of being, the way we have been up until now and smash it to pieces, saying it’s worthless. He asks us to expose it to Him so He can transform it by His touch and His presence.

What He wants to do is fill what we are up to the full make and then transform it. In this sense He does not want less of our human nature, He wants more, He wants it all, so He can transform and us it and us for His work and transform us so we can have a relationship with God through Him who is the way of access to heaven.

When we come to church we are exposing ourselves to this transforming power. God’s Spirit is with us in our churches as we come before Him week by week so we are exposing ourselves to His transforming power and are transformed as we do so. We may not feel very transformed, but that is what’s happening to us.

The very thing He promised to Nathanael and that He demonstrates at the wedding in Cana happens to us week by week as we expose our lives to the transforming power of God and the new world order increasingly breaks through in our lives.

There are two other points which John draws out in the story of the wedding at Cana. He says that this is the first sign, the beginning, the ruling principle, the overarching principle or sign of Jesus. A sign of transformation, a sign that the new world order has come, a sign that the way of access to God is not some abstract ladder in Jacob’s dream but Jesus Himself as the Messiah, the Son of God.

And if this is the ruling principle of the signs that follow, the healings, the walking on water, the raising of the dead, need to be understood in its light. That Jesus takes the old world order and transforms it by His touch and His Spirit. He did then and He does now.

John also tells us that in performing this sign that He revealed His glory – a word that can also mean the weight or value of something or brightness. In performing this first sign Jesus demonstrated His worth and the brightness that had now come to a world in darkness.

It would not be until the next story of the third day that this full value the brightness that overcame the darkness would be fully understood by the disciples but we can see it now.

And as we allow Jesus to take the very stuff of out lives, as we expose it to His transforming power, so His glory shines from us, perhaps not very brightly sometimes, but shines nonetheless.