Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 95; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; John 2:1-11
We have been liturgically blessed this year. We were able to celebrate Epiphany on its right date, 6th January. And we have been reminded of all three of the epiphanies that traditionally make up that feast: the showing of Jesus to the wise men on Epiphany Sunday, his baptism by John in the river Jordan on the Sunday following, and today the first of the signs where ‘he let his glory be seen’, the change of water into wine at the marriage in Cana.
It’s as if at the beginning of this year the Church has lifted up a great portrait or icon of Christ for us to see and to take courage from for the year ahead..
‘There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. The mother of Jesus was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited.’
Jesus begins his public life by going to a wedding. Cana was just an ordinary place, and we don’t know the names of this couple. They say nothing in the story and history has forgotten them – except for the fact that Jesus was there. And why was he there? For two interlocking reasons. At the Sermon on the Mount he said he had come not to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfil them. We could paraphrase ‘fulfil’ as ‘bring to fulfilment by filling full of himself’. Jesus doesn’t come to take away. He comes to give, to put right, to complete. And he goes to this village wedding for the same reason. He goes to bless marriage, to sanctify it, to make it a sacrament. Marriage belongs to the order of creation, to the way things are and God wants. And Jesus comes to fill marriage full of himself and so bring it, the life-giving love of woman and man, to fulfilment.
And so the second reason comes into view. ‘It’s no wonder, says St Augustine, that he went to a house for the sake of a marriage, since he had come into the world for a marriage.’ In the 1st reading, we heard Isaiah addressing Jerusalem: ‘No longer are you to be named “Forsaken”, nor your land “Abandoned”, but you shall be called “My Delight” and your land “The Wedded”… Like a young man marrying a virgin, so will the one who built you wed you, and as the bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so will your God rejoice in you.’ God’s long-laid plan, his long cherished desire, the very reason he makes us, is to “marry” us, to be completely, intimately and fruitfully one with us, he in us and we in him. Historically, this takes the form of the union of Christ the Bridegroom with the Church his Bride. Sacramentally, it’s the Eucharist. Eternally, it’s heaven, the wedding feast of the Lamb. And so Christ begins at a wedding. The wedding at Cana points beyond itself. ‘For the Lord takes delight in you and your land will have its wedding.’
And, in the midst of our current controversy, here’s a thought: man and woman can marry, because though both are human, they are physically and psychologically other, opposite; they complete one another. And out of the coming together of what is other comes new life, a new generation. God and man, in a real mystical sense, can marry, because God and man are other, Christ and the Church complete one another. And out of their coming together humanity’s reborn. With people of the same sex, on the other hand, we can collaborate, we can be mates, colleagues, friends, we can be as close as close. But we cannot marry and no children can come. This is our problem with ‘same-sex marriage’. It is a category mistake.
But back to Cana.
Jesus is there, and disaster strikes. The wine runs out. ‘They have no wine,’ his mother says. Imagine the shame. Imagine how in a village like that it would never be forgotten. ‘Woman, Jesus says, why turn to me? My hour has not come yet.’ It’s a strange response, at the very least distancing. But Jesus is moving on a different level. And Mary intuits this. She knew the apparent rebuke ‘contained a mysterious compassion’ (St Maximus of Turin). And as she had done before and would do again, she follows him, even though she doesn’t fully understand him. She says to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’
And we know the rest. ‘The conscious water saw its God and blushed,’ said an English poet. Red wine, then! And huge amounts: 6 times 20 or 30 gallons. Everyone must have got very merry! And of top quality: ‘People generally serve the best wine first, says the steward astonished, and keep the cheaper sort till the guests have had plenty to drink; but you have kept the best wine till now.’ Everything Christ does he does well. If he comes to a party, the party becomes a good one!
And so back to our beginning. Jesus doesn’t come to take away. He comes to fulfil – by filling with himself. ‘I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.’ The six stone water jars were ‘for the ablutions customary among the Jews’. And so at Cana the water of the Law of Moses turns into the wine of the Gospel. The time of fulfilment has come.
Let us explore this a little more.
Last week the Church kept the feast of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus joined the queue of penitents, even though he wasn’t a sinner. He went down into the muddy river. And this going down was a symbol of how God, in the person of Christ, enters the flowing water of history, enters the stream of our lives, and sanctifies it, fills it with himself. Today, water is turned into wine. It is another symbol. We are the water and the Spirit is the wine. The Holy Spirit is given us when we believe. He is given us when we are baptised and confirmed. He’s renewed in us after sin through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And he is the wine of the new Covenant (cf. Acts 2:15). Wine, as we know from the parable of the compassionate Samaritan, disinfects; it cleans our wounds. Wine, like any alcohol, de-inhibits. Sometimes it de-inhibits what would better stay inhibited. But ‘the sobering wine of God’s grace’ can only de-inhibit in a good sense. It injects in our lives a secret current of freedom and joy. It gladdens the heart (cf. Ps 104:15). The Holy Spirit de-inhibits of our fears and selfishness, our self-imposed limits. Faith, hope, love can, non-toxically, intoxicate lives. And like wine, as our barriers fall, as our sins dissolve and our life flows on, the Spirit can gradually take over the whole of us. He can penetrate our attitudes and outlook, our minds and our wills, our heart and our conscience, our words and actions, even our bodies and faces and eyes. And then we become wine ourselves. What else is a saint but someone who has all but become wine? ‘God worked this miracle, said St Augustine, for the sake of our re-creation. We were water, but he has changed us into wine. He has made us wise through our faith in him.’ ‘There are people just like water,’ says St John Chrysostom, cold and weak and inconstant. But their watery will can turn into wine, ‘and they become a cause for joy for themselves and for others’ – wine to gladden the heart. ‘To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good,’ as St Paul soberly put it in the 2nd reading.
And there’s another step. ‘My hour has not yet come’, says Jesus. This is the hour of his lifting-up on the Cross, the hour of his death and resurrection, the hour when his glory was finally shown. And what happens at that hour? At the Last Supper he changes wine into his blood, as he does at every Eucharist, and on the Cross, blood and water flow out of his pierced side. These are signs of the total gift of himself. ‘This is the chalice of my blood, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.’ At Cana water into wine, in the Passion wine into blood. And if we look at the lives of the saints, we see them led step by step the same way. The Spirit of Christ fills their lives with his wine and they find their fulfilment in giving those lives, their blood, for others. What Christ brings us is the capacity, the opportunity to give of ourselves. He the Bridegroom gives his blood for his Bride, his life. And we too are led by the Spirit, however humbly and undramatically, to give our lives for the brethren, for those given us to love.
Then the words will be true of us too: ‘For the Lord takes delight in you and your land will have its wedding.’ Then like Jesus and his disciples at Cana, we will find ourselves part of a mystical marriage, ‘invited to the marriage feast of the Lamb’ (Rev 20:9).