John 2:1-12 2.6.22
Everyone loves a wedding! We all enjoy the beaming smiles of the wedding party, the beautiful clothes, the extra special food and drink, the music and dancing. Guests connect with friends they know and meet people for the first time at a joy-filled celebration that just brims with love, life, and abundance. Sometimes I wonder how much the bride and groom really get to enjoy the day, as there are often many guests to engage with, details to manage and possible hiccups. Like when the bride’s make-up artist was running late, and the groom, the pastor, and all the guests had to wait at least 30 extra minutes for the bride to be ready. Or when the wind was so strong at an outdoor wedding that it looked like lighting the unity candle would end up being a negative symbol of the couple’s unity being snuffed out. Even the most experienced wedding planner could not keep that from happening! Weddings can also be stressful when some brides and grooms (or their parents) end up deeply in debt due to lavish wedding arrangements that are out of their price range.
No matter the size or the setting, a wedding celebration is indeed a special event for anyone who attends. In first-century Palestine, and in many parts of the world today, a wedding was much more of a community-wide event than is practiced by families I have worked with in the US. Invitations were not only extended to a carefully selected specific number of guests, but to the entire community. You were invited to the wedding just by being a neighbor of the bride or groom. In the gospel reading for this morning, Jesus’ mother has come to a wedding in Cana, about 10 miles as the crow flies from her hometown of Nazareth. She must have known either the bride or the groom’s family. Jesus was also a guest at the wedding, and he brought his disciples along with him. It did not matter that they were not from Cana—the four fishermen turned disciples were from Capernaum, which was about 16 miles from Cana as the crow flies. Since a wedding is a community wide celebration– if Jesus is going to a wedding, his companions are going too. There would have been nothing surprising about that.
The hiccup at this wedding was critical. Running out of wine at a wedding–described as a ‘wine fail’ by my friend Mark Davis– makes the host look bad, and the guests are disappointed, perhaps even likely to leave early. I wonder if there were too many extra guests from other towns who came to this wedding, and that is what led to the ‘wine fail’. Or was it poor planning on the part of the groom? Or the wedding planner? It seems that the maitre’d, or the chief steward or the head waiter was basically a wedding planner at least for the feasting part of the wedding, so if anything went wrong, he would have been notified by the rest of the servers so that he could fix the problem. Yet the first one to take action when the ‘wine fail’ became apparent was Jesus’ mom. She did not go to the maitre’d. She went to Jesus. She clearly expected that he could and would fix this problem.
Wedding celebrations, wedding psalms and marriage metaphors are found in the scriptures. The relationship between marriage partners is used to describe the relationship between God (the groom) and the people of Israel (the bride) or between Christ (the groom) and the church (the bride). I think especially of the Old Testament prophet Hosea. Remember he was the one who was told by God to marry a prostitute, who he knew would continue to be unfaithful. Hosea’s marriage to Gomer was a demonstrative lesson for the people of Israel who were continuing to be unfaithful to God. The message was that God’s love for the people persists even through their unfaithfulness. Listen to these words of God through the prophet, addressing the people of Israel:
“I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will take you for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord.” They are beautiful promises that sound a lot like wedding vows. They are God’s promises to be committed to Israel as spouses make promises to be committed to one another.
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul uses the relationship between Christ and the church as a metaphor for the way spouses ought to treat one another. He is clear that the committed relationship between spouses should be built on sacrificial love and respect, with each spouse nourishing and tenderly caring for the other just as Christ nourishes and cares for the church. Perhaps that was not happening among the couples in Ephesus, and the Christians needed a teaching on the subject.
Weddings invite the community to celebrate the love shared by the couple. Weddings invite the gathered community to witness their public vows to one another. You and I both know that for too many couples that wedding day joy of being united into one does not last, often for multiple reasons. Marriage commitments are broken, trust is absent and relationships end. This is so common today that many couples choose not to make that public life-long commitment, preferring an easier escape route, just in case. When couples celebrate 50 and 60 or more years of marriage, today we tend to be amazed at their long commitment to one another.
We find a similar pattern of separation when we look at the relationship between God and God’s people. God certainly knows about having an unfaithful partner. Again and again the voices of the prophets call the people back to their husband, their God, exhorting them to make good on their promises and to change their wicked ways. Human beings have historically not been faithful partners toward God. We are no exception.
Perhaps we can see the miraculous solution to the ‘wine fail’ at the wedding in Cana as a metaphor for what life is like with Jesus around—plentiful, joy-filled, celebratory, stone jars half full instead of half empty. Jesus, as he is prone to do, turns a fail into a huge win. The groom comes across as an unusually generous host, saving the best wine for the end of the party. Jesus is introduced in a big way right here at the beginning of John’s gospel. This sign (or miracle) reveals that Jesus is the one whose words and actions point to God’s purposes of salvation and love for the world. Those who are paying attention at that wedding feast, and those of us who read John’s gospel today, are getting a first inkling of the extent of God’s amazing work of salvation through Jesus. He surprises the servants, the disciples, the wedding planner, the groom and all of the guests with overflowing generosity and grace. I have often wondered if his mom was really surprised. She seemed to be very confident that he could fix the problem even though it was not yet his time to be fully revealed as the Son of God.
The marriage commitment between two people is the focus of and the reason for a wedding. When I meet with couples who are planning to marry, I stress that it is the days, weeks, months, and years after the wedding day that are really important. We talk about building and maintaining a high level of trust, about sustaining clear and regular communication, about their plans for growing together spiritually, and about how they handle conflict, money, and in-laws. Each of these practices impact the strength and quality of a marriage relationship. Each is an observable way that love is expressed, a recognizable way that love is deepened and strengthened, and sometimes a way that love is tested.
Surely those same kinds of practices are key to any committed relationship between Christ and the church, between God and God’s people. If the church is Christ’s spouse, the church must commit to keeping up ongoing, daily connection, communication, and trust. The good news is that we know that there is no ‘fail’ on our part that can separate us from the love of Christ. Any one of us can experience a ‘joy fail’, an ‘energy fail’, an ‘optimism fail’, a ‘love fail’ – a time in our lives when joy or energy or optimism or love runs out like the wine did at the wedding. How does Jesus respond to our fails? He can take a fail and turn it into a win. He promises to remain faithful without fail, even when our faithfulness wanes. Being in a relationship with Jesus is different from being in relationship with a human– Jesus’ love never fails. His love wants the best for us as a church and as individual partners with Christ. His love expects commitment from us, trust from us, practices that are observable and recognizable.
Today we share not in a wedding feast but in a spiritual feast, the supper of our Lord. It is a community wide feast, and there will not be a ‘wine fail’. This feast, like a wedding, celebrates unity, love and being rooted in faith in God in Christ. We celebrate because the meal reminds us of the sacrificial love Christ has for us all. Look! The table is set. And there is a seat for you. Alleluia, Amen!