Sunday, January 21, 2024

winter wedding

I wonder what the furthest distance is that you have travelled to attend a wedding. In the straw-poll conducted with our congregation this morning, the top 5 distances were: 5. Toronto, Canada. 4. Lexington, USA. 3. Chingola, Zambia. 2. Kochi, India. 1 Melbourne, Australia. In our Gospel reading today (John 2.1-11) Jesus and his disciples and his mother Mary had travelled 25 miles to attend a wedding, which isn’t far by car, but cars hadn’t been invented.

Weddings are a big deal, and they were a big deal then. The whole village would turn up, along with other guests from miles around.

If you’ve ever been on any journey, you’ll know that often the first thing you want to do on arrival is splash some water on your face. In Jesus’ time, guests would be welcomed by servants pouring water on their feet and hands and splashing water on their heads, as a way of saying, ‘You are welcome; we are so glad that you have come to us.’ At this wedding there were so many guests that they poured out the equivalent of 900 modern .75l bottles of spring water, or wine.

Weddings are a big deal, and they were a big deal then. The whole village would turn up, along with other guests from miles around, and they would stay for as long as it took to consume all the food and wine. When all the wine was drunk, that was the social cue to go home. And so, eventually, Mary turns to her son and says, ‘The wine has all been drunk; that’s our cue to leave; round up your friends, say goodbye to the bride and groom, it’s time to go.’

Jesus replies, ‘Woman,’ Woman. What a beautiful, tender moment. It resonates with the creation story. God had made a human from the soil and breathed life into it; but whereas everything else God had created was good, or very good, it was not good for this human creature to be alone. God saw that the human needed someone to stand alongside them, to sustain them, at times rescue them. So, God drew it into a deep sleep, took it up, broke it in two, and gave each part to the other. And the man cried out, in delight and relief, ‘Here at last, this one is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman for she was drawn out from man.’ In my culture, to call your mother ‘Woman’ may seem dismissive, but when Jesus calls his mother ‘Woman’ that delight in their shared humanity, their intimate biological belonging to one another, and the sense that Mary is the one who stands alongside him and sustains him are all there.

‘Woman,’ says Jesus, ‘what has this social cue to do with us? My hour has not yet come.’ Other than the sense that he is not ready to leave, that is a rather enigmatic statement that will just hang there for the next ten chapters until, speaking of his imminent death and resurrection, Jesus reveals that his hour has come (John 12.27). Ah, now we recall the wedding at Cana, and see that it was the first sign pointing to this moment.

Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus asks of them. And what he asks them to do is something very ordinary. He asks them to refill the water-jars. Something they would have done many times. An ordinary task for a servant, involving a trip to the well; something they would undoubtedly have done later as part of the clearing up after the guests had gone. But instead, they do it now. And when Jesus asks them to draw out some water, it has been transformed into wine.

The master of ceremonies is livid. He calls the groom aside and gives him a dressing down: This might be your first wedding, but it can’t be the first time you’ve been to a wedding!? Everyone knows that you serve the best wine when the guests arrive and hold back the cheaper wine until they’ve had plenty to drink. You have totally messed up!

The master of ceremonies doesn’t understand what is going on. But what is going on?

The water of hospitality had run out. The wine of hospitality had run out. But this is not the end of the story, only a necessary moment within the story. Jesus demonstrates the principle of death and resurrection, of the new life that is only possible because the old life has come to an end. It is a principle we see at play in the world around us, in nature. It is winter, and the plants and animals have withdrawn deep into themselves. The trees look dead, but something profound and necessary is going on beneath the surface. Only we humans are hard-headed and hard-hearted enough to live as if every month, every season, were the same. It is winter, and yes, spring is coming; but we cannot force it to arrive before winter has done its work. The world is renewing itself.

Our youngest son is in his second (final) A-level year. And he is flying. He is excelling academically, he has an active social life, he is making hopeful plans for his future. But there was a time when, for over two years, he could not face leaving the house, didn’t leave the house. I can tell you, that was a long, hard winter. I don’t mean December, January, February.

Jesus is the God who became one of us, who entered-into the death and resurrection of creation. Who blesses the life that we cannot hold onto, and the life that we receive if only we let go of the life we had.

This happens to us over again. This coming Saturday, at a service at the cathedral, we will mark Bishop Paul’s ten years of service among us as our bishop, as he retires. And we will pray for Paul and Rosemary as they begin a new life, in a new place; a life that is only possible because this life and ministry is coming to an end.

Sometimes we have varying degrees of choice, sometimes not. No one chooses bereavement; but Jesus says, just as I was with you, just as I blessed, the life that has run out, so shall I be with you, and so shall I bless, the life that still lies ahead.

What Jesus does at the wedding in Cana is the first signpost on this road.

It is such a beautiful, tender, and hopeful gospel.


Here, then, are some questions for those who would consider following him:

Where have you experienced death? It could be the death of a dream, the death of a marriage, a literal bereavement. In what part of your life are you dying right now?

Where have you tried to resist death, or deny the reality of dying? It could be in resistance to change or by masking the natural process of aging.

Where have you known resurrection—new life, not necessarily better than what was before, but different, and hopeful? What did that awaken in you? Is there any part of your life where you are experiencing resurrection life right now?


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