I wonder if in years to come, what happened that day in Cana of Galilee became the stuff of family stories to be told over and over again. I wonder if that unnamed couple entertained their children with imitations of the expression on the steward’s face when he tasted the excellent wine that, for some reason, had been saved until well into the wedding celebration. Or whether the couple spoke to themselves and to others about what an honor it was that Jesus himself had come to their wedding and performed his first miracle there to save the day for them. It would have been a social disaster to run out of wine at the wedding. Very embarrassing to the bridegroom and to his family, and probably even worse for the servants who were responsible for making sure that there was enough wine to go around.
We don’t know. We don’t know how many people knew, at the time, that there had been a miracle. The servants who had poured the water and then ladled out the wine, they did know. The steward didn’t know, but word must have spread, and we hear that after this miracle of abundance—a hundred and twenty or a hundred and eighty gallons of excellent wine—after this, the word spread, and the disciples did believe.
We had a thing that happened at my own wedding forty years ago in New Hope which did become the stuff of a family story, which is why I thought of that. Our disaster, or potential disaster, happened when the caterer didn’t show up.
We got married at Chris’s Quaker Meeting right outside of New Hope. The custom was that every member of the Meeting was invited to come to the wedding ceremony. Chris was a very popular young man, and many people came. And the plan was to serve punch and little tea sandwiches right after the wedding, and then we would retire somewhere until evening and have a much smaller dinner for our close family and friends. The caterer was supposed to bring the punch and sandwiches.
Of course, we didn’t know what was happening but two women who were our guests noticed the problem, and they dealt with it by driving to the nearest grocery store, which was a couple of miles away. They bought some kind of food, I don’t even remember what they bought for food, but they bought up every can of Hi-C that was on the shelves of that grocery store. Remember Hi-C? I don’t know if they make it anymore. It was this fruit-flavored beverage that came in these tall cans, and it was very brightly colored, and I can tell you that when you pour enough of it into one of those punch fountains, it makes quite an impressive display.
Our friends saved the day, and the wedding went on, and the guests were fed, and I guess the rest is history.
Surely there are a lot of differences between what that wedding would have been like in the first century, and our wedding in the 20th century. For the wedding in today’s Gospel, the tradition would have been, the first evening the bridegroom and his friends went off to the bride’s house to collect her. They would all have been dressed in wedding finery, they would have brought her back in glorious procession. They would have had somewhat of a low-key evening, and the bride and her attendants would have withdrawn.
The ceremony would have been the next day. The wedding feast would have started that evening, but it would last for several days. It could last as long as a week. Thank goodness my wedding didn’t last a week—one day was exhausting, right? Their party would go on and on. Clearly, this celebration at Cana had been going on for a while because they had run out of the wine. They were expected to provide hospitality for a week, so this would have been quite a disaster, except when Jesus stepped in and saved the day.
If you’re a biblical scholar, you will delight in seeing that there are many levels of meaning here. Lots of symbolism in this story and what it means. I think on a very basic level, a wedding is always about the same things: no matter how the customs vary, it’s about love, it’s about commitment, it’s about relationships. The relationships in a wider community of support that gathers around a couple as they make these promises to each other. You see that wider community in Jesus and his mother and his friends being there to celebrate, and to support them and make sure they didn’t run out of wine. You see that large community of support in the desire of the members of the Meeting to all be present for the ceremony, and the desire of my friends who came from Long Island to be there.
And let’s be honest, a wedding is about sexuality, and it’s about the potential for bringing life into the world. In many ways, I think you can say a wedding contains in it the essence of many of the good things of what it means to be human. And Jesus’s presence at a wedding says something about that, too. It sort of echoes what I think is one of the overall messages of the Incarnation, the idea that our God became human and walked among us and lived a human life. It tells us that life is good, that human life is good. That life on this earth is good. That all these things that we experience, both intangibles like love and commitment and tangibles like wine and good food, they’re all good.
Jesus was there in that human reality, and that message is that all of these things are good, and that God is with us in our human lives. There’s a writer named Paula Darcy who says God comes to us disguised as our life. And there’s the Jesuit priest, James Martin, who talks about his own conversion moment, which took place in an apartment in Stamford, Connecticut, at the end of a long and exhausting workday. He was eating some warmed-up spaghetti and watching TV, and in that moment God came to him, called him back to faith and called him eventually to a vocation as a priest. He says, “God met me where I was because that’s where God wants to meet us.” God is in this life and life is good.
On a different level, this miracle of Cana was the first of the signs in John’s gospel. There are seven miracles that John’s gospel is structured around, and this is the very first. Each of the miracles shows us something about Jesus and his identity, shows us his divine identity—and in this moment the disciples believe. This is really an appropriate message and an appropriate Gospel for the season of Epiphany, in which the Gospels show us, again and again, these little moments where the identity of Jesus Christ becomes clear and people can see that he is the Light of the world, the true Light.
These moments of epiphany, we have them too, but for us as Christians, one of the things that happens is that we receive these epiphanies but we’re supposed to become epiphanies, in turn. Each of us should be a manifestation of God in the world, as we say in that opening prayer that we said at the beginning of the service:
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory.
We pray that we may be in the presence of God in the world.
I think it’s appropriate to be thinking about that on the eve of Martin Luther King day. I believe that he’s the only ordained Christian minister to be honored with a national holiday. I think he’s the only one who has a national holiday essentially because of his witness to the Gospel, his witness to the biblical message for justice which begins in the Old Testament—It’s really clear in the prophets—and it comes right through Jesus in the New Testament.
Certainly, he’s an extreme example, he paid a pretty high cost for his witness to the Gospel. While I hope that it will not be so costly for any of us, I do pray this prayer that we will all be little epiphanies, little signs of God’s presence in the world. That we are illumined by Word and Sacrament to shine with the radiance of Christ glory in the world.
[ii]“Finding God in All Things,” OnBeing: ames Martin interview with Krista Tippett, https://onbeing.org/programs/james-martin-finding-god-in-all-things/, accessed Jan. 18, 2019.