The gospel for the 3rd Sunday of Epiphany this year was the wedding at Cana. Here’s the sermon preached at St John’s by Mother Anne-Marie.
I walked her home and she held my hand
I knew it couldn’t be just a one night stand
So I asked to see her next week and she told me I could
Something tells me I’m into something good!
You have to be a certain age to remember Herman’s Hermits, but that song “I’m into Something Good” gave them their first number one in 1964. The young lad in that song had read the signs. “She danced close to me like I hoped she would”, “She stuck close to me the whole night through” and “I walked her home and she held my hand”. All the signs that he was into something good!
We all try to read the signs. They might be body language signs that tell us someone likes us, or they don’t. It might be weather signs – all the cows are lying down so it’s going to rain! I’ve never found that one to be very accurate, whereas I think “red sky at night shepherds’ delight, red sky in the morning shepherds’ warning” does have some validity as a sign of the weather to come. And it is even biblical. Look up the beginning of Chapter 16 of Matthew’s gospel!
Yes, we all look for signs. And we have just heard in our gospel about the first of Jesus’ signs in Cana of Galilee. And this is certainly a sign that we are on to something good! Gallons of water turning into gallons of good wine, must be something good!
We are at the Wedding in Cana – an event we only hear about from John’s gospel – the other three gospel writers do not mention it. Even though it is the first of Jesus’ signs!
We are in John’s unique territory. The theologian is telling us things about Jesus. And John uses signs to tell us who Jesus is and what Jesus can do for us. Chapters 2 to 12 of John’s Gospel are sometimes called the Book of Signs. Interspersed in these chapters are seven carefully chosen miracles, which John calls signs. Each functions as a pointer to Jesus’ identity.
If you are interested in exploring further, I have put the references for all seven signs at the end of this post. You could read one each day this week – it would only take a few minutes, but you will be enriched if you do that and you will learn more about John’s Gospel. I have also included the focus that our great Archbishop William Temple gave to each one.
Today is the first sign, turning water into wine. How I wish I had been there at this wedding in Cana. I imagine it as a warm Mediterranean evening, the sort we often have when we are in holiday in Crete. There is the smell of roasting meat and fresh baked bread; and the table is laden with dishes of colourful vegetables. The whole village is having a great time as the wine flows. Then suddenly there is quiet panic – the wine is running out. The embarrassment! Did they miscalculate? Did more people turn up than expected? Well we don’t know! All we know is that Mary tries to sort it out! Now just another John-ism – in this unique gospel – Mary is always referred to as “the mother of Jesus”. She is never named, so if you only had access to John’s gospel, you would never know she was called Mary.
So, the mother of Jesus tells her son they have no wine. It is a wonderful interchange. There is something very human about it. Jesus knows what his mother is on about, but he tries to resist being drawn in. However, she goes ahead anyway and tells the servants to do what he tells them, and Jesus, despite his protests, goes and does what his mother wants.
“My hour has not yet come” Jesus has said, and maybe because of this, although he goes ahead and performs a miracle, a great sign, it is carried out very discreetly – the only people who know are his mother, the servants and his disciples. As far as all the other guests are concerned no miracle has happened, the bridegroom has just kept the best wine to the end.
Now some people over the centuries have found this a very frivolous miracle. Why is Jesus creating more wine for people who have already drunk a lot? It is not a miracle that goes down well in puritanical circles! No, it is a joyous miracle! And it is telling us something about who Jesus is. Wine gets a pretty good press in the Bible. Forgive the pun! Psalm 104 tells us “it gladdens the human heart” and Judges Chapter 9 tells us “wine cheers both God and mortals”. Wine is also used in the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament, as a sign of the end time, when God will intervene dramatically in history. Amongst several prophesies which link the abundance of wine with the great day when the Lord will save his people, is Isaiah Chapter 25, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear…..he will swallow up death forever….the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces…..It will be said on that day, Lo this our God, we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
The resonance for the first hearers of John’s gospel would be this sign of good wine in abundance heralding the Messianic age – this is our God, this is our Lord for whom we have waited.
“Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory.” His glory – meaning his splendour, his majesty, his transcendence, his divinity …..and we are told “his disciples believed in him.”
Because most of us do not know our Bibles well, we often miss the resonances. For the first hearers of this gospel, steeped in Hebrew scripture, this would ring bells. They would hear and know and recognise this sign.
So, as we sit here today as disciples of Jesus do we recognise the sign and believe in him as the first disciples did? Believe in who he is.
And it follows through that if we believe in who he is, the joy and abundance of this sign, this miracle, will be ours. Because the time, the age has come, when God intervenes, and his Son is revealed.
Listen carefully to the Eucharistic prayer today, the prayer we say as we bless the bread and wine. The first part of the prayer in this season of Epiphany says, “we celebrate your glory made present in our midst”, and it will draw our attention to the coming of the Magi, the waters of baptism and the water made into wine – because these all tell of God incarnate, God as a human being, God in our midst, gradually being revealed to the world. And the Eucharistic prayer will go on to say “in the water made wine, the new creation was revealed at the wedding feast. Poverty was turned into riches, sorrow into joy.”
The transformation of water into wine, heralds the new age in which lives will be transformed. This Jesus is the Son of God, and he will save us and transform us. He will wipe away the tears, poverty will be turned to riches and our sorrow into joy.
We are on to such a good thing. If we read the signs in John’s Gospel we will know what a good thing we are into. Water into wine, the first of his signs – “something tells me I’m into something good!”
Seven Signs in John’s Gospel
Sign and reference with William Temple’s focus
First Sign The difference that Christ makes
John 2: 1-11 – Turning water into Wine
Second Sign Faith is all that is required
John 4: 46-54 – Healing the official’s son
Third Sign Christ the restorer of lost powers
John 5: 2-9 – Healing the man by the pool
Fourth sign Christ the food by which we live
John 6: 4-13 – Feeding the five thousand
Fifth Sign Christ our Guide
John 6: 16-21 – Walking on the water
Sixth Sign Christ our Light
John 9:1-41 – Healing the man born blind
Seventh Sign Christ our Life
John 11: 1-44 – Raising Lazarus