Wine at the Wedding

January 27, 2013

Reflection: Wine at the Wedding                                                            January 27, 2013
John 2:1-11

When I was planning what I’ve begun calling “the sabbatical that wasn’t,” I was concerned that I might waste too much of my sabbatical time watching TV instead of reading or walking or playing music or all the other fruitful things I had planned; so I called SHAW and asked them to put my cable on hold for 6 months. When my anxiety disorder hit full-force, my brain pretty much slowed to the speed of molasses, and I was too washed-out to do much of anything. So, there I was, stuck on the couch, and just for the heck of it, I turned on the TV, not expecting to find anything other than fuzz. To my surprise, I discovered I had more channels than I did before I cancelled my cable! I don’t know why. For whatever reason, I discovered my guilty pleasure. Can you guess what it was? Yep – “reality” TV.

I found TLC channel and hours and hours of “Say Yes to the Dress” and “Four Weddings”. Yep, I watched women trying on metres of satin and silk and beads and bangles and feathers and strapless gowns and traditional gowns and frou-frou galore – over and over and over again; and I watched their bridal parties playing critics and fashion consultants, and I watched the tears of frustration and the huge smiles in the end as the assistants “jacked them up” with veils and tiaras and jewellery. I watched women attend each other’s weddings and rate the ceremony, the dress, the reception. I watched this stuff for hours – it was about the speed my brain was moving at.

All this might not seem all that surprising to you – after all, women are supposed to go crazy over weddings. But I’m something of a wedding skeptic, as are many ministers. Many of us get tired of the show, the extravagance, the Bridezillas and the misbehaving grooms and the drama. You’ll hear many a minister say they’d rather do an honest funeral than an overblown wedding.

But there’s something about weddings, even for ministers like me. There’s something about weddings, because there’s something about marriage. I’m a strong believer in the blessing and the sanctity of marriage and the gift it is to a couple and a community. Every time I meet with a couple who clearly have done a lot of work on their relationship and are excited about taking the next step, I’m absolutely delighted. I haven’t done a wedding in three years, would you believe it? I’m quite excited that I’ve got one lined up for August. Weddings, done well, are a wonderful chance to celebrate the love between two people and their connection to family, friends and community. They’re a fantastic chance to say thank-you to God for that elusive gift of lasting love and companionship, and to ask a blessing. They’re a chance to remember our own lives and loves, too. And they’re one great excuse for a party! I went to some fantastic weddings when I was in Manitoba, from a 500 guest Ukrainian extravaganza, to a small Filipino-Canadian wedding in a little country chapel with the best wedding food I ever tasted.

The story of the wedding at Cana is told only in John ‘s Gospel, and John specifically refers to it as a “sign”. All through this Gospel the writer uses that word “sign” to describe something that reveals the nature of Jesus and his importance for our lives. Jesus’ miracle at Cana is an odd story – especially if you’re uncomfortable with the notion that Jesus might have actually enjoyed a good party!

Lots of people get hung up on Jesus’ response to his mother’s prompting. I don’t think they realize this is supposed to be funny! Jesus like any other young man is saying to his Mum, “Later, Mum, I’m busy!” And Mary, like any bossy Mum in effect says, “Get on with it!” Funny how often we need a kick in the pants to get going, even when what we need to do is something really worthwhile. That’s how it is in community – we need each other to get each other moving in the right direction.

There’s another joke here. The water that Jesus uses to turn into wine is purification water. It’s the water used for ritual cleansing as part of the rites of Hebrew faith at that time. John, as a Christian writer toward the end of the last century, has a bone to pick with that faith tradition, in part because by this time the synagogues and the new Christian communities had parted ways and were competing for converts. John’s story turns sober religious observance into Spirited celebration – pun intended. John wants us to know that life with God doesn’t have to be sober and serious all the time. If Jesus brings life, then Jesus brings joy, too!

One more joke: most of the guests don’t ever realize what they’re getting. They’re too drunk to tell the difference between supermarket plonk and an award-winning vintage. I suspect John is letting us know that a lot of people miss out on this wonderful, joyful, abundant gift of life in Jesus. Somehow we’re so busy over-indulging in mediocrity that we miss the truest and most reliable source of joy!

One more thing: wine is a significant image in the Gospels. Jesus is the vine that produces good fruit; Jesus is the wine of salvation; we speak of the wine of communion as the blood of Christ, the life of Christ given for us. In all three of the other Gospels Jesus talks about new wine as the life of the Spirit, and says you can’t put new wine into old wineskins, or they’ll burst. It may be that John decided to tell a story to make a similar point.

One of the interesting things about weddings is that they mark the ending of the old, as well as the beginning of the new. Parents say a symbolic good-bye to their children and pass them over to the responsibility of their partners. Partners say good-bye to the single life and hello to the married life. Even those who have lived together for years generally find that the wedding ceremony makes a difference. I have a theory that marriage makes a good relationship stronger and a bad relationship worse. I don’t know if anyone’s ever done the research, but it tends to hold true in my experience. Marriage changes things, and the wedding is the symbol of that change.

Jesus the wedding guest invites us away from the old ways of doing things and into a life that is bubbling over with Spirit. In a sense, as Jesus turns the water into wine, he goes from guest to host – he becomes the one who offers others abundance. Imagine a life full-up with the Spirit – full-up with God! That’s what Jesus invites us to.

When I was first reading this story, what came to mind is a Scripture song I learned as a child. The main line is a quotation from Nehemiah 8:10, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” The longer passage from Nehemiah goes like this:
Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

These words are spoken to the people who have just heard the commandments of God read for the first time in generations, and who have been weeping at the realization of how they have betrayed God’s covenant relationship with them. But the word that comes to them is, “Don’t grieve – celebrate! This is a holy day, because we have encountered God, and our joy in God is our strength.”

If our life is full up with God, then the other stuff diminishes in importance. I’ve noticed this myself. There are times on Sunday morning when I get to church and I’m just dragged out: tired, wishing I could go back to bed and sleep, wishing I was somewhere else. Then worship begins and I’m reminded of why we’re all here. In the silence, in the music, in the words of Scripture and the prayers and in your faces looking back at me, I encounter once again the joy of God – and that joy is the strength that changes everything.

So enough with sober Christians, frowning faces and serious expressions. It’s not Lent yet!  Sing! Celebrate! Share your joy with others! Rejoice in the light that comes into our lives when we encounter Jesus. Be glad in this community, laugh at our foibles and follies, take strength in the knowledge that God is present in every moment of our lives and with every one of us – from the wedding feast to the fast food lunch, from the wine steward to the bride and groom to the folks that clean up after the wedding; from the highest moments in our lives to the most common everyday occurrences – God is present, the Spirit is alive, and Jesus’ joy is with us. Thanks and praise to God! Amen.
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