17 JANUARY 2010. Epiphany 2. Sermon in the Community chapel.
The wedding at Cana is a vivid and memorable event, described in dramatic detail in today’s Gospel. Here we have the first of the signs of the power of the new creation breaking into the world through the presence of Jesus.
The story may be so familiar to us that we feel we know it well. However, like other biblical texts, there is always more to discover. For example – there is the question – when, exactly, was the water turned into wine? We are not given this information explicitly. Was it when the servants filled the jars to the brim with more water? Was it on the way from the kitchen to the dining room? Was it the moment the chief steward tasted it? If we may feel free to speculate here, we could discover an important element in the story. Hidden away there appears a lesson on obedience.
There are several major characters in the story. At the centre, of course, are the bride and groom. It has been suggested that either one or other of them was a relative of Mary – and a cousin of Jesus. Further to this, some years ago when I met an Orthodox deacon in Greece , he pointed out to me that my name, Simon (one of the patrons of the College of the Resurrection) was that of the bridegroom at the wedding in Cana . This surprised me, even if it were not true. It sounded very Anglican to combine an apostolic vocation with marriage!
The other important persons are Mary and Jesus. We have a strange conversation – about the wine running out – and Jesus’ apparent disregard of any responsibility. There follows that emphatic command from Mary to the servants “Do whatever he tells you!” The servants did exactly that! When Jesus said to them “Fill the jars with more water” – they did so, filling them to the brim. If – if they did not see the water changing into wine at that moment, they must have been very troubled and confused. The party had run out of wine – and Jesus was telling them to provide more water. Next they are bidden by Jesus to “draw some out” and take it to the chief steward. The phrase “draw some out” does not mention wine, so it is possible – possible – that the servants were getting more and more anxious. To take to the chief steward more water as an answer to this crisis might well mean that they could lose their jobs. The servants had a lot to think about on the way to the dining room – yet following Mary’s words they obeyed. Here they were, bearing what, to them appeared to be a poor and inadequate response to the crisis, yet carrying out the words of Jesus to them.
Now we can imagine their astonishment if – if they did not already know of the miracle – when the steward compliments the bridegroom on the quality of the wine. The poverty of their offering had been turned into riches, sorrow into joy.
Looking at it this way, the miracle at Cana became manifest through the obedience of those nameless servants. They did what Jesus bade them to do, despite all their doubts and misgivings, and a sign of the creative redeeming power of God breaks into the world.
This pattern plays a part in various stages in the gospel. Often obedience is the prelude to the unfolding, the manifestation, of the power and glory of the incarnate Lord. Obedience, particularly seen in the context of frailty and anxiety, becomes the channel for the coming of the kingdom. It unlocks the saving grace of God.
We might recall that both Mary and Jesus were aware of this themselves. Mary trembling and troubled at the angel’s words “How can this be?” Jesus in the garden sweating with fear – “Father, if it is possible, take this cup away.” In both it was obedience that opened the gate of glory.
All this is an encouraging message for each of us. So often in the face of what we are bidden to do by God – we are full of anxiety and doubts – only aware of our inadequacy. Here we are assured that, if we say yes to God, then in the words of today’s collect, he transforms the poverty of our nature by the riches of his grace.”
God again and again, if we allow him, does through us, what we could not possible do on our own. With God all things are possible. If we do what Mary tells us to do Jesus can turn our water into wine!
Simon Holden CR