Scripture Readings: Isaiah 62:1–5 | Psalm 36:5–10 | 1 Corinthians 12:1–11 | John 2:1–11
“Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11).
In this season after Epiphany, our readings regularly invite us to reflect on some of the key moments where Christ’s mission is revealed: reminding us of who He is and what He has come to do. In today’s reading we heard tell of the now famous miracle at the wedding in Cana, where Jesus creates wonderful wine out of water… saving the nuptial party from turning into a social disaster.
Of all the wonderful miracles that Jesus performed, why is this one singled out as being so significant? What does it tell us about the bigger story Christ is playing out? Is it just a gracious wedding gift to a desperate couple in need? A unique opportunity to perform a random act of kindness? A display of miraculous power to wow the crowd and help build up a following?
The Gospel of John tells us this event was much more than a kind gesture… John calls it “the first of his signs”… and signs point to something… they have a message that is meant to be understood.
But who is this sign meant for? Far from a dramatic display of power, this miracle is done in secret. Sure, the benefits are shared by all the guests, but only a few know who is behind it all. This sign is first of all meant to say something to His disciples… including you and I, about what Jesus has come to do. And what He is calling us to take part in… revealing a glimpse of His glory as the One who has come to make all things new.
Of course, the image of a wedding runs all through the story of Scripture… especially when it comes to God’s relationship with Israel: a community set apart to be God’s own covenant people… committed to sharing their life with the LORD in joyful celebration. As we’ve looked at before, the covenant ceremony at Mt. Sinai, where God gives the Law to the newly rescued Israelites through Moses, was almost to be like a ‘marriage’ celebration, a new beginning. But disastrously, the people went back on their vows almost immediately… building an idol to worship, and throwing a raucous party for themselves. What was meant to be a wonderful, holy event became a shameful tragedy… one which was replayed, throughout their history again and again.
This faithless path leads, first the Northern Tribes of Israel, and then the Southern Kingdom of Judah, into destruction and exile… cast out from the Promised Land that God had prepared for them. But as tragic as their future seemed, and as hopeless as they may have felt, through the prophets the LORD God reminds His people that He will be true to His word. That His judgment on their sin isn’t meant for their destruction, but to cleanse them… to restore them to His side… to rescue them, even from themselves… so that they can actually, finally share in His New Life.
In our reading from Isaiah this morning we hear this hopeful message:
“You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
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.” (Isaiah 62:3-5)
The LORD Himself promised to turn His tragic ‘marriage’ to His people into joy… renewing their life together to share completely in His holy love.
Again, we hear this hope of joy-filled life with God expressed in our Psalm this morning:
“How priceless is your love, O God!
your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.
They feast upon the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the well of life,
and in your light we see light. (Psalm 35:7-9).
No matter how hopeless or tragic the story of God’s people turned out to be, the truth is the LORD their God would be faithful to them and rescue them. The desolate would be embraced. The forsaken would share God’s delight. Israel was told to trust in the steadfast love of the LORD, who would cleanse His people, and be reconciled again with them forever.
Let’s turn back now to John’s Gospel, and the wedding incident in Cana. Here also we find what was to be a joyful celebration turn sour: Not because of any infidelity between the couple, but because of the heartbreaking consequence of not having enough… of not being able to provide enough wine to match the special celebration, which would have been experienced as a great source of shame by those hosting the party. Not just public embarrassment, but outright humiliation… lowering the family’s status in the eyes of the wider community.
How often do we find ourselves feeling the same way? Running on empty, while others are depending on us? Feeling like we have let our loved ones down instead of offering joy?
The truth is, there are many ways we can find ourselves feeling desolate. Sometimes it’s because of our own choices. Sometimes it’s because of the failures of others that we depended on. Sometimes life just play out in ways we did not expect, or could not have controlled… and still we find ourselves experiencing shame, emptiness, desolate… without hope.
For times like these, God gives us a sign: we’re offered a glimpse of the glory of Jesus Christ today… not a random generous act, or a magical remedy to take away all our troubles, but a sign to point us to the One who has come to make all things new… to transform even the worst tragedies through His life-giving, saving love.
Jesus tells the servants to take the water set aside to be used for purification, water used to make people clean, and turns it into the most splendid wine… bringing delight beyond all expectations. Purity, holiness surprisingly leading into joy. Shame turned into honour. Desperate emptiness turned into abundant celebration.
From the very beginning, Jesus was bringing about God’s promised restoration… not simply of wedding celebrations, but of God’s relationship with His people… and beyond. This sign reminds us that the LORD longs to delight with humanity… to share His everlasting life and all it’s joys with us. And though on our own, we’ve fallen short… God’s re-creating love is never limited by what we can, or cannot, bring to the table. From first to last, Christ has come to bring… to give to us God’s New Life.
And this sign points us ahead to the cross: to the ultimate act of Christ’s mission of rescuing mercy… enduring the most shame-filled, and tragic death to cleanse His people and all nations of the earth from all our sins… to bring full reconciliation between us and the LORD through offering up His own blood; dying to set us free. Yet on the third day, God turned all that tragedy and shame into unending joy by raising Christ again from the grave; God’s New Creation bursting into being in the Risen Lord, who will come again in full glory to reunite Heaven and Earth… setting all things right again, and making all things new.
As we are facing our own tragedies… our own moments of desolation, whatever they may be… let us look to Jesus our Risen Lord, and seek a glimpse of His re-creative glory. Let us “do what He says”, as Mary told the servants at the wedding, and find that we too are somehow taking part in His gracious, rescuing work. And let us “believe in Him”, as the first disciples did, responding even to the hidden work of His holy love with the faith to follow Him each day, and the certain, joyful hope that God has saved the best for last. Amen.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School