Today’s Gospel in the Revised Daily Lectionary is the Wedding at Cana, a favorite of mine. Found only in John (2:1-11) it seems odd, almost out of place. No complex theology, at least from a first look. No questioning Pharisees or confused disciples. It is a wedding, a party. We aren’t even sure where Cana is, although scholars and archeologists have a whole list of potential candidates, but all in Galilee. It seems that Galilee was the first century version of Berkeley in the 1960s, a hotbed of politics and rebels, and Gentiles, that is, non-Jews. What were they doing there, the family of Mary? The first clue that this is more than an odd story, credited as the first public sign that Jesus performed, is that it is specified “on the third day,” as in on the third day he rose again. It is preceded by a whole list of days concerning John the Baptizer’s calling Jesus the Lamb of God and Jesus bringing together his first disciples. So third day from when is unclear. But here we are at a wedding which his mother is at, and, oh, also, Jesus and his disciples have been invited. Was Mary related to the bride or bridegroom that she is cited first? John doesn’t answer much, but John never has throwaway information.
The wine gave out. You can’t have a festive wedding without wine. And we upon reading this perk up. Wine, yes, as in bread and wine. Mary points this out to Jesus. A lot of ink has been spilled suggesting “Woman, what concern is that to you or me? My hour is not yet come,” was not a rebuke, but a formal, but normal way to say, “Mother, stay out of this.” We can’t have Jesus being rude to his mother, now can we? “Woman,” in the Greek is in the vocative case, a direct address. Normal enough. But it still seems to separate him from his mother and acting on the lack of wine. But his mother then turns and orders the servant to do as Jesus says. Did she box him in? A pious case could be made that Mary knew all along what he could do. Something has always seemed missing to me. But this, I think, is a distraction from John’s purpose in telling this story so early in the Gospel. Jesus is always playing out his Father’s kairos, the right time. Although he says his hour is not yet come, although John introduces the impending Passover very early in his Gospel, this sign is necessary for some reason.
What Jesus does is to order the servants to fill six huge vats with water. Hyperbole? These vessels contain bathtubs full of water. They were intended for ritual purification. And Jesus has them fill these with water, he, whom we are later told by John, offers the water that will quench thirst forever, and who is the one who will offer us purification through baptism and the Spirit, and through the Cross. So we are now deep into symbolism. And then the water turns to wine, fine wine, vintage wine, the stuff you would only put on the head table for the first toasts to the bride and groom, and after that the Two-Buck Chuck comes out. The fine wine we partake in at the Sacramental feast. And the wedding feast now has an abundance of wine, as the Holy Table is a table of abundance for all, no matter how many may come. And for those who are theorizing on Jesus and social justice, the steward tastes the wine and finds it good, but only the lowly servants who lugged in the huge vats of water know how it got there. And the steward calls to the bridegroom and complements him on serving the best later. Who is the bridegroom? In the context of the wedding feast, some local lad. For us, the Bridegroom is Jesus the Christ. And the pericope ends with the disciples recognizing his glory and believing in him. And here might be the holy kairos to explain this early sign of Jesus’ power, in this backwater local wedding. It binds the faith of the first disciples, his Apostles. John, as usual, gives us more and more than what we see at first.
How are we guests at this feast? When and how do we see Jesus in his glory, and know, truly know, him to be the Lamb of God, and bind our lives to him? It is accomplished in baptism and confirmation, when we are made part of his cosmic drama by adoption. But if that were all there was to it, every baptized Christian would instantly be aware and devoted to every word in the Gospels and in the memories shared in Acts and the Epistles. But we are not. Formation is long and difficult. It requires in equal parts the gift of the Holy Spirit and our willingness to listen and conform to the will of our God. It requires steadfastness and discipline, turning back when we get it wrong. We are such fragile creatures, so self absorbed, so hard of hearing, blind to seeing. But so beloved. Again, how are we at this wedding? Oblivious to Jesus in our midst? We don’t have that excuse anymore because he was revealed on the third day, and we are bathed in his blood and his baptism. But we, too, run out of wine, thirst for the water he gives, and sometimes too tired and harried to ask for it, to seek it, turn to the Christ and ask him to turn our bad days into flowing cups of wine. God chooses, as Jesus chose the Apostles and disciples. We wrestle with the notion that a God of universal love should exclude anyone, but our minds are not his mind, and sometimes we just have to shrug and say, “What concern is that to me?” and be like those disciples with Jesus at the wedding and see him in his glory and believe in him.
Yesterday was the Epiphany, and three foreign magicians, magi, wise men, came to give the Holy Child gifts, gold for his kingship, frankincense for his priesthood, and myrrh for his death. But their greatest gift, never mentioned, a fourth gift, is that these learned men, full of the knowledge of astrology, the writings of Plato, the mysticism of Pythagoras, bow and submit to the newborn baby, the Christ. Because knowledge or philosophy or theology don’t hold the key to heaven. It is faith, trust, belief in the little child and his place in salvation history as revealed by God in Scripture. So, yes, the wedding feast has meaning. It was the place where Jesus first acted, not in the Temple courtyard or in the synagogue, but in a home filled with joyous people, people celebrating a new family and the promise of children and a life to come. And a place where Jesus forges the first strong bond between himself and others, here with his disciples, but soon with all whom will drink his wine, which will grow into the ekklesia for all ages.
Dr. Dana Kramer-Rolls is a parishioner at All Souls Parish, Episcopal, Berkeley, California and earned her master’s degree and PhD from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.