Sermons from St Faith's     


Christ the Giver of Life
Fred Nye, January 20th, 2013

Everyone likes a good story. I’ve always been intrigued by St. John’s account of the wedding at Cana-in-Galilee, which at one level reads like something from the Arabian Nights. The wine runs out at a wedding reception, but Jesus the wonder-worker steps in and produces gallons of the best vintage from the bathwater: the bride and groom are saved from embarrassment and everyone has a good time. But as always with St. John, this exotic tale carries deeper meanings, and we must search for some clues.

When Jesus hears that the wine has given out, he has an odd, almost brusque exchange with his mother. He asserts his own independence and authority, but also seems to see a connection between the wedding feast and his own destiny, his ‘hour’ which has yet to come. It’s probably significant that in St. John’s gospel the wedding is the occasion for Our Lord’s first miracle or ‘sign’ - and that his public ministry begins with this meal and ends three years later after another meal, the Last Supper.

Be that as it may, Jesus decides to save the day, and he tells the servants to start distributing wine from the water jars used by the Jews for ritual washing.  And in his characteristic way he swears them to secrecy, so that when the new wine arrives at high table it comes as a total surprise. Not only is it the best, but it keeps coming in enormous quantities: we’re talking here of well over 100 gallons:  not just enough for high table but more than enough for everyone. I even wonder if after the reception the steward decided to invite people in to share it, rather than let it go to waste.

So why did St. John write down this folk tale about Jesus, and give it such prominence?  It isn’t mentioned by the other three evangelists, and even in John’s gospel Jesus is usually portrayed as responding to deep human distress, perhaps the need for healing or reconciliation, rather than to an every-day minor social disaster. So what’s going on?

For answers we can turn first to the story itself.   Most importantly of course, Jesus was guest at a wedding; and what is a wedding but a celebration of a new life shared by two people who love one another, a celebration of the bond of physical love between them, and an expression of hope that the marriage will be blessed with children? It is quite simply a celebration of human joy. And for another clue we can go back to John’s introduction to his gospel, where he tells us that in the Word made flesh there was life, and that the life was the light of the world. At Cana Jesus was blessing the joy of human life, and responding to our need for that joy.

And there is something sacramental, something incarnational about this meal. It is about real people, talking, laughing, eating and drinking, and about stuff, about wine and water, about bodies that need to be fed, and watered, wined and dined, and washed. Our Lord enters physically into human life as he did at the wedding, as he did at every meal he ate with his disciples and his guests, as he did at the Last Supper and on the Emmaus road, and as he does with us this morning and at every Eucharist.

So how do you respond to this drama-documentary which St. John has staged for us? I can’t of course answer that for you, I can only share with you what it says to me.  First of all, Jesus’ use of the ritual water jars as the touchstone, the catalyst, that turned the water into wine, is for me a great source of encouragement. The cold unyielding stone of religious ritual and tradition becomes the vehicle for the new wine, the gospel of life and light.  We live at a time when the church is being torn apart by the opposing forces of tradition and scriptural dogmatism on the one hand, and the desire for human freedoms on the other.  The traditionalists, with sincere and well-considered motives, want nevertheless to restrict the freedoms of our ordained priests and bishops. So we have ended up with a church which will partly accept the ministry of gay clergy, but only if they are celibate; where an influential minority of church members shun women priests, and where even more want an all-male episcopate. We might at least ask ourselves whether these restrictions and antagonisms really reflect Our Lord’s longing for our growth and well-being. Oh that God might, as he promised to Israel, take the heart of stone from us and give us a heart of flesh, a heart that can celebrate human flourishing and fulfilment. My hope is that the wine of new life, with all its promise and risk, may yet be drawn from the solid certainties of established religion. And where, by the way, is the Holy Spirit in this storm which is engulfing the church? Is he there as our sheet anchor, or is he himself the rushing mighty wind?

Of course you may find all this too controversial, or disagree with me wholeheartedly. But there are other lessons to be learned from Cana which perhaps we all can agree upon. What Jesus achieved through his life and death was not a grudging acknowledgement of human need, but the promise of abundant life and joy for everyone. In following him we must have a longing not only to help the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless and the imprisoned, but to see them enjoy fullness of life in all its abundance. And for those in our church community, whether core members or on the fringes of faith, let’s bring in the new vintage, the wine of acceptance and affirmation, let’s learn to celebrate each other.

All of this is both struggle and sacrament. Our Lord brings us to heaven’s banquet via Cana, the upper room, the Emmaus road, and the Eucharist; and in everything he gives us of himself. And in following him we share in the risk, and in the giving. My prayer is that here at St. Mary’s and St. Faith’s, under Fr. Simon’s new leadership and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we may bring just a little more joy to the world.

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