On 17 January, The Second Sunday of Epiphany, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 36:5-10, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11.
A man attended a friend’s wedding in the months before his own. He was paying close attention to everything and found he really liked the choice of hymns. One particularly seemed an ideal choice for his own wedding – Number 343 ‘Love divine’. On the next visit to the priest who would conduct his wedding, the man said that he would like hymn number 343. The priest was rather disconcerted and tried to dissuade the man but he insisted. Unfortunately, the man and his friend were getting married in churches that used different hymn books from one another. The guests were rather surprised to find themselves singing:
Come, O thou traveller unknown
Whom still I hold, but cannot see;
My company before is gone
And I am left alone with thee;
With thee all night I mean to stay,
And wrestle till the break of day.
I think it’s very unlikely that something like that could really happen. However, there is certainly a lot of preparation to do for a wedding and a lot of opportunities for something to go wrong. Our middle son and his fiancée are busy trying to arrange their big day and already there is some stress: can they get a date at the church, which venue is best for the reception, what should the guests be given to eat, what kind of wine should be provided, and so it goes on.
The details of a first century wedding in Jesus’ culture might have been different but there was still plenty to do. Weddings could last for a week and the cultural norm was to be lavish in what was provided. Only the best would do: the best food, in copious different varieties and the best wine. It was not adequate to provide enough, there needed to be far more than enough. It would bring disgrace on a family not to provide a suitable feast. In fact, in some cases people were taken to court for not doing so! (I’m glad that isn’t the case nowadays.)
You can imagine that supplies of grain and oil would have been bought in or taken from the stores the family had. Animals would have been prepared, fattened up for the occasion to provide the best meat. Wine of sufficient quantity would be on hand to make sure the party went with a swing. When the big day for the start of the feasting came, these wonderful provisions were ready for the guests to enjoy, and enjoy, and enjoy for the next few days.
Mary was at the wedding in Cana which John describes, suggesting she may have been related to the family. It would not be surprising, therefore, to find Jesus there too and it seems that hospitality included his disciples also. If Mary was a close friend or relative, it’s easy to understand why she might have been concerned on behalf of the family when the wine ran out. What a disaster! They would be humiliated! It obviously wasn’t possible to just go and get some more wine or surely someone would have done so. Perhaps all the village’s supply had gone. The family had no way out of their problem, so Mary turned to Jesus.
One thing that was not in short supply at the wedding was water. Six stone jars were standing there, probably provided for the many guests to wash their hands before eating, as the Law required. At other times, the water may have been used for cleaning or cooking. This was ordinary, day to day stuff, until Jesus got involved. There in the midst of the humdrum and ordinary, Jesus brought about transformation. God turned up in an ordinary situation, a village wedding of no one in particular, and replaced water used for every day work and for following the old law with around 1000 bottles of the best vintage anyone had tasted. He replaced potential humiliation for the family with amazement as the steward of the feast realised what superb wine the bridegroom had supplied.
This is a wonderful, heart-warming story. We feel for the family; we rejoice when the problem is solved; we gasp in amazement at the incredible miracle. To John it’s so much more than a story: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” This was a sign of who Jesus was, the glorious Son of God, someone worth believing in and following. However, he is not so glorious that showing himself in the ordinariness of life was beneath him. This miracle is a sign that God is there in the ordinary, in the disasters of life, and that he cares enough to transform things.
In the face of the recent issues of refugees fleeing Syria’s conflict, there can be few people of faith who have not turned to God in prayer. There seems to be so little we can do to affect the terrible dark situation of those fleeing either to refugee camps or across Europe in search of safety and a future. In Lebanon, where a quarter of the population are Syrian refugees, God is at work.
Nothing is provided by the Lebanese government for refugees. Churches are among those offering the basics of life to these people who are uprooted, bereaved and who only own what they have been able to carry. They give them mattresses, food, clothes, baby supplies. One church offers lunch to hundreds every two weeks and follows it with a drama and a message about the Gospel. Hundreds of Muslims are finding faith in Jesus this way. They give thanks for the fact that they have lost their homes because now they have heard about Jesus and the fact that God is a loving Father to them. They are seeing God answer prayers for healing and other needs. In the midst of a disaster, God is revealing himself in glory and power.
At the wedding at Cana, among refugees in Lebanon, in response to people’s despair at the darkness of life, God takes pleasure in providing the intoxicating riches of his grace. As the Psalmist promised:
How precious is your loving mercy, O God!
All mortal flesh shall take refuge
under the shadow of your wings.
They shall be satisfied with the abundance of your house;
they shall drink from the river of your delights.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor