Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C – Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
“Everyone serves the good wine first, and the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now,” (John 2:10).
In our gospel reading this morning we have a story about water and wine but it is not really a story about water and wine. It is meant to show us something about Jesus, something that we wouldn’t know on our own, bright as we may be. It’s a story about water and wine, the very best wine we are told. Indeed, so blown away is the steward that he calls the bridegroom over and commends him on the quality of the product in what is the focal point of the story: “Everyone serves the good wine first, and the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”
Here we need pay attention, for here is the key to understanding what we are being shown about Jesus in and through this story. “But you have kept the good wine until now.” A true statement but it’s ironically true in the mouth of the steward because while it ought to be directed towards Jesus—the one who miraculously created this delicious wine from tasteless water—it’s actually directed to the bridegroom. So, the statement is true but not in the way that he means it, in fact, it’s true in a way which points to a much deeper truth—it is not the bridegroom but God who has “kept the best wine until now.” The wine that God gives now is qualitatively better than the wine that came before it.
But this isn’t really a story about wine.
This is the language of Israel’s Messianic hope and expectation—the hope of a future that would be characterized by greater blessings than anything that had come before, and the wedding feast and the wine are a sign for the joy of this age. Consider this passage from the prophet Isaiah: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever,” (25:6-8a).
Notice the connection between the finest wine and the abolition of death. The same connection is present in our reading from the wedding in Cana but it’s hidden away in Jesus’ somewhat cryptic response to his mother: “My hour has not yet come,” (2:4). In other words, what’s happening here when Jesus miraculously gives them the best wine they’ve ever had is merely a foretaste of what will come into greater focus at a later hour when the glory of God is most fully revealed in Jesus, the hour of his death and resurrection (12:23, 27; 13:1). The hour in which he gave himself wholly to us and for us, for the forgiveness of sins, for our liberation from sin and death—the wine of our redemption, which would obtain life for all (Maximus of Turin).
This Messianic wedding feast with the best wine, this marriage of heaven and earth, this hoped for time of union with God, was not just for Israel but for “all peoples.”
This is the goal of the Christian life, of any life at all, of human life. For this reason alone were we created, that we might be joined to the Living God in an indissoluble union of love. To live from God and to God and with God, moving ever deeper into his love and light.
However, we only come to realize that this is the goal of life once our eyes have been opened to behold the glory of God in Jesus Christ, to see in his death and resurrection God’s very own self-giving to us and for us that our condemned marriage with sin and death might be annulled, so that we might live anew with God in fullness of life. This reality has arrived in the person of Jesus Christ, the very best wine that God has to give, his own Son. And we receive this gift every time we receive the bread and the wine of the Eucharist.
I was filled with great joy as I read Archbishop Colin Johnson’s recent letter to all the churches in the diocese, a letter which we will hear read at our vestry in a few weeks. The letter ends with these words: “I have a continuing concern that we deepen our own understanding of our faith in Jesus Christ and our ability to speak of that faith reasonably and confidently, and to give voice “to the hope that lies within us” as St. Paul writes.” Yes! O that we might be such a people here at St. Mary and St. Martha’s this year and always, drawn ever deeper into the mystery of Christ and finding in that deep treasury hope and life and faith and love.
One of the great Biblical figures for this union with God is—you might guess from the setting of our story—marriage. Throughout the Old Testament God is depicted as the faithful Bridegroom of His oft-unfaithful people Israel. Consider, for example, this morning’s reading from Isaiah: “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you,” (62:4-5).
Later, looking back on the Old Testament in light of the risen Jesus, the apostles saw in him the figure of the Bridegroom par excellence. Thus, the gospels are full of parables about wedding feasts. Moreover, the bridegroom in the wedding at Cana a stand-in for Jesus, a fact confirmed by the words of John the Baptist in the very next chapter: “He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled,” (3:29). John’s joy is fulfilled because he is the friend of the Bridegroom and now, finally, the Bridegroom has come for his Bride.
Is it any wonder that he who came to Cana for a wedding came to this world for a wedding?
St. Augustine reflects on this saying: “Therefore he has a bride here whom he has redeemed by his blood and to whom he has given the Holy Spirit as a pledge. He wrested her from enslavement to the devil, he died for her sins. He arose again for her justification. Who will offer such great things to his bride?” And the Church is the Bride of Christ, to whom and for whom he has given his very life, his own blood.***
This is the best wine—life with God in Christ. That the Holy Spirit might direct our life in the Church such that we grow up into maturity and fullness of life with God in Christ. And this happens slowly, over time. Indeed, our present experience of this reality is merely a foretaste of the great heavenly banquet that is to come where we will truly be one with the Bridegroom. Even so, as with the steward in the story, a foretaste is enough to elicit great joy! What joy is to come then, that even now is at work within us! When Christ, as a sign of his power, changed water into wine all the crowd rejoiced at its marvelous taste. Now we all are partakers at the banquet in the church, for Christ’s blood is changed to wine and we drink it with holy joy, praising the Bridegroom (Romanus Melodus).
My prayer for you this year, for us all, is that we might come to know ever more deeply the glory of God in Jesus Christ, who poured his very life and love out for us on the cross and then into us by the Holy Spirit. That we might be transformed in spite of our sins and failures, into the Bride of Christ. And that this union with God in Christ would generate spiritual children, new followers of Jesus. This year, more than in the past, may we be drawn ever further into this mystery. Amen.
 Richard Bauckham, Gospel of Glory, 180.
Sermon was preached by the Rev’d Jonathan R. Turtle at St. Mary and St. Martha’s, Mount Dennis, on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 17th, 2016.
***At this point in the sermon there was an additional section which I included during the 8:30am service but made an editorial decision between services to exclude it from the 10:30am service. Below is the text that I cut-out.
This is one of the reasons why it matters what the Church believes about marriage. It has become increasingly clear in the late-Modern West that the traditional teaching of the Church on matters of sex and marriage—these deep issues that cut to the heart of what it means to be a human creature—are at growing odds with particular cultural orthodoxies. We live in a time and place where it is not only possible but desirable, so we are told, to separate sex from marriage and procreation from sex because sex and marriage and procreation are ultimately about realizing one’s self. Thus, in a strange inversion sex and marriage and even children are ordered to nothing greater than the pleasure and experience of the individual. We turn ever further in on ourselves and experience not abundant life. But the Church has consistently rejected this in various ways over time, insisting that sex and marriage and children are meant to go together, and that God orders them towards something greater than our own pleasure or experience, that they have the power not only to communicate to us the mystery of Christ and his Church but to form us after his likeness as we are called to lay down our lives for our spouse and children.
As the marital love that unites a man and a woman bears forth fruit, that is children, so too the marital love that unites Christ and his Church bears forth fruit, that is spiritual children: new disciples, new believers, new followers of Jesus Christ, new recipients of his abundant and life-giving grace. “And his disciples believed in him,” (2:11).