Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Who doesn’t love a good party? Well, I admit, being somewhat introverted, they aren’t my favorite thing in the world. They can be noisy and crowded and keep me up past my bed time (which, some of you know, is embarrassingly early). This is particularly true of wedding receptions, though when the couple remember to invite me (which doesn’t always happen) I feel it’s my obligation to at least make an appearance and I’m not such a stick in the mud that I don’t have any fun. I’ve been to some pretty raucous receptions, but they have nothing on how ancient people partied!

It might surprise you to know that the Marriage in Cana included nothing of what we might recognize as the religious portion of the wedding. Weddings in ancient Israel didn’t include what we would call a church service. It was all party- seven days of it in fact. Unfortunately, the bride and groom would have missed the first six-and-a-half days of the event. They would have been sequestered in their bridal chamber with nothing to do but (to put it as delicately as possible) what the Law of Moses had enjoined them to do in order to consummate their marriage. Then, the couple would come out of their chamber and make it known that, in fact, it was a marriage, everyone would go bananas, and then they’d continue drinking what by modern standards would be considered an unhealthy amount.

So, this would not be my idea of a good time. It all strikes one, quite honestly, as a bit vulgar- drinking until one is sick in celebration of a rather indiscreet announcement of two people’s success in a matter that respectable people in our culture don’t talk about. But Jesus and his disciples didn’t seem to mind. They probably didn’t even have to go to the wedding. The language of this morning’s Gospel suggests that really it was Mary who needed to be there, and her strange son and his goofball buddies were invited as an afterthought, perhaps because unmarried men still lived with their parents in those days and it would have been rude to invite Mary without saying the kid could come along, too. There’s a stereotype these days about the sort of person who still lives with his mother when he’s thirty and never seems to go on dates. In first-century Palestine, it would have been even more of a cause for snickering. What’s more, we can surmise from some comments by Pharisees in the Gospels about Jesus and his disciples that these young men were considered by some to be what we’d call today “party animals.” All that said, I wonder if the hosts of the wedding party might have been a bit disappointed that their friend Mary’s son actually showed up and brought twelve of his good-for-nothing friends. “Well great,” I can imagine them saying, “there goes the wine budget along with the respectability of the whole affair.”

Little did they know what was going to happen next. They ran out of wine, a disaster at this sort of party, and Jesus not only provides some, but it’s great and there’s a lot of it. Somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons of good wine just appears. It’s more than even those raucous party-goers will be able to consume. The day is saved, even if Jesus seemed to be a little bit surly with his mother.

More is at work here, though, than just doing a solid for the newlyweds. In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) Jesus’ miracles (in Greek the word is dynamis or “deed of power”) tend to show God’s power and raise up the poor and needy. In John’s Gospel the word is seimon or “sign” and there is always a deeper truth about God being communicated. The people didn’t need more wine. To throw a party like this one, the hosts would have been rather wealthy, and elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus doesn’t seem too interested in helping rich people out. Rather, his actions here are didactic.

That being the case, what do we learn from this sign? First, we learn that God’s love is not only abundant, but decadent. They’ll never drink all that wine, but it’s there for the taking. We learn also that in the New Covenant mere rules-based obligation and purity are replaced with joy and freedom. The water pots, we are told, were meant for ritual purification. Instead, they ended up holding wine, which gladdens the heart and frees the soul from care (at least that’s what the ancients believed; now we know that that’s true to a certain point, but moderation is important).

Finally, we learn that God’s blessings can be mediated by the most unexpected people. When we let the outcast come to the feast, she or he may be the very person by whom God is made present. This thirty-year-old man who lived with his mother and his twelve rowdy friends saved the party. When we start seeing Jesus in that sort of person, the sort of person we really don’t pay much attention to, we’ll be surprised how much we are blessed.

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.