SERMON IN CR CHAPEL

SUNDAY 30 JANUARY, 2011        EPIPHANY 4        1 Cor 1:18-end. John 2:1-11

Transformation

There are two particular locations in the Gospel narrative which down the centuries have appealed strongly to Christian imagination and piety. One is Emmaus and the other is Cana of Galilee. However, there is a touch of irony about this, for there is some uncertainty as to the precise whereabouts of these two places. It seems that we can’t be absolutely sure that the place which today is known as Emmaus is the same village which figures in St. Luke’s account of the first Easter Day. Similarly, we can’t be sure that the present-day Cana is in fact the place where the Wedding Feast recounted  in today’s Gospel reading happened – although pilgrims go there and people renew their wedding vows and the local wine trade continues to be brisk.  

However, we need not become entangled in topographical questions, for what is going on in this account of the first of Jesus’ signs (John 2:11) takes place at a deeper and more significant level.  

As the Evangelist presents it, this is a threshold event. Not only does it stand at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry but it also tells of movement, of transition, from one level of experience, one level of understanding, to another, for many of the characters who appear in these village nuptials – a movement, a shift in perception, which inevitably changes them.  

A marriage is being celebrated – and that of itself speaks of change, of passing over into a new reality, a new identity, as bachelor and spinster become husband and wife and two individuals become a single identity, a new creation.  

For the disciples there is a shift in their perception of Jesus; an epiphany takes place for them; they see something in him which they hadn’t seen  so clearly before and, as the Evangelist puts it, they believed in him. (John 2:11)  

For Jesus too – a threshold is crossed. He now steps into the public gaze and engages directly with the contingencies, the awkwardnesses and uncertainties of the human condition – its celebrations and aspirations and its helplessness and vulnerability in the face of unpredictable and wayward circumstances. He is there, present to it and in it. There is no drama, no hype, nothing over the top – just the simple commands – puzzling perhaps to the servants – to fill the water jars with water up to the brim (John 2:7) and then to draw out and take to the chief steward (John 2:8). Presumably it was quite a slog for them, going to and fro from the well to the jars, each containing twenty or thirty gallons. Filling them would be heavy work. However, they did what he asked of them and for them too there was an epiphany; something was given them – some kind of insight, some kind of understanding. Whatever it was, they knew  (John 2:9), they now knew something which they had not known before.

A marriage. For the human spirit marriage is not only a threshold event, it also represents the coming together of the opposites – man and woman, male and female, matter and spirit, earth and heaven. It speaks of coinherence, of balance, of fullness and completion. It is not for nothing that Scripture ends with the vision of the Bride coming down out of heaven for the wedding feast of the Lamb.  

The Mother of Jesus was there (John 2:11). She is not named. She is simply the Mother – the one who brings forth natural life and who nurtures and sustains it. Here at Cana she does not take control. She simply points out that something is lacking, something is needed and she suggests what is to be done. They have no wine (John 2:3) she says to Jesus. Do whatever he tells you (John 2:5) she says to the servants. She is that figure of Wisdom which in the Jewish tradition is both Child and Bride and Mother and who gives to those who seek her out the water of wisdom to drink (Ecclus 15:3).  

The outcome is astonishing. Just when it seemed that humanly speaking it was all over, something totally unexpected is given. You have kept the good wine until now (John 2:10). John’s Greek seems to indicate that the now is exactly now. Jesus had said that his hour had not yet come (John 2:5} but meanwhile there is this; this now. It is for this moment, this situation, that resources are miraculously provided. Not only is the wine good, it is given in abundant measure.  

What the Evangelist seems to want us to understand from the way in which he recounts the story, is that by taking the risk of crossing thresholds, venturing ourselves into new possibilities of responding to GOD and by acknowledging our poverty, our lack of resources, recognising that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves, that our transformation can begin to come about.  

We are invited to listen for the voice of true Wisdom, not my own voice of self-opinion and self-regard but the humble wisdom of waiting upon GOD, allowing his silence to address us and shape us.  

As it was for the servants at the Wedding Feast, so for us – the hard grind, the daily slog, of seeking to recognise and respond to the GOD whose epiphanies are not always obvious or unequivocal but who reveals himself and conceals himself in the plain facts and natural happenings of everyday life. Perhaps, as it was for the servants, so it might be for us, that it is through that kind of trusting obedience and faithfulness that we too might come to know that which cannot be known or given in any other way.  

Transformation is what all human life looks to. Transformation is what human life is  to be engaged on. To be turned towards GOD, seeking to have the mind of Christ, wanting only what he wants for us and of us, asking him who has made a beginning with us to perfect his gifts in us and to renew and restore the true self of each one of us – that is how we are to co-operate with the business of our transformation.  

Be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Rom 12:2) St. Paul tells the Christians in Rome . It is by keeping in view him in whose face the Father’s glory of self-giving love shines, that we shall be changed into his likeness, from one degree of glory to  another (2 Cor 3:18). The New Testament writers are in no doubt that our destiny and dignity as human beings is that we are to share the  glory of God (Rom 5:2), being made partakers of the divine nature (1 Pet 14.)  Beloved we are God’s children now.  It does not yet appear what we shall be but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).  

We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Perhaps it was this which Richard Crashaw had in mind when he composed his two-line couplet on the Wedding at Cana : The shamefaced water saw its Lord and blushed.

Eric Simmons CR