I’m very appreciative of the tradition we have with the Revised Common Lectionary.
If you are unfamiliar with the lectionary, allow me to give you a brief description. The lectionary assigns texts of Scripture based upon the season of the year, such as Advent, Epiphany, Lent, etc. The texts come from four section of Scripture (Old Testament, Psalms, Gospel, and Epistle). Using the lectionary’s texts allows us to read the entire Bible in worship during a three-year period.
What I appreciate the most about the lectionary is that it forces us to go deep into God’s love story for us. This is essentially what Scripture is. It is the story of how much God loves us and what it means for us to love others in response. When we pick and choose our favorite texts to read, we run the risk of it becoming our story in where we see God the most.
Currently, we find ourselves in the season of Epiphany, which focuses on the fact that Christ’s light has come into the world and continues to shine forth through the mission of the church and followers of Christ. This season, the lectionary gives us amazing stories from Jesus’ initial days of public ministry. These stories tell us how his ministry began, how it was received, and how others began to see that Jesus might be the person they had hoped for.
Many of the the initial stories of Jesus’ early ministry are familiar to us, such as last week’s story of Jesus’ baptism and this week’s tale of Jesus at the wedding in Cana. This morning, we find Jesus as an invited guest, along with his disciples, at a particular wedding near his hometown. We’re not told whose wedding it is and why Jesus might have been there. All we are told is that Mary, his mother, is there and it is possible she might have been responsible for the food and beverages. Why Jesus was at the wedding or who was being celebrated is not our concern. The wedding is insignificant and only serves as the background to a more important interaction.
What is important is that Jesus performs his first sign, or miracle, by turning water into wine. In doing so, Jesus saves the day. Had the wine run out before the week-long celebration had ended, the hosts would have been humiliated. I don’t think that is Jesus’ concern. He even says as much when Mary asks for his help. There is a deeply significant reason for Jesus’ participation in this act, and it goes beyond rescuing a party. What is that reason? What can we take from this miracle, which is the first of seven found in John’s gospel? What is Jesus saying to us through this act of changing water into wine?
If Jesus isn’t interested in saving the wedding from disaster, then what is his purpose in taking six jars, which would have likely contained about 150 gallons of water, and turned it into wine? The reason is found in what the jars represent and what Christ is trying to express. By changing the water into wine, Jesus gives us a taste of his glory, his nature, and his mission.
We have to work through a lot of symbols to see how this plays out. The jars Jesus asked the servants to use had a specific purpose. They were likely purification jars. The jars would have been used as part of the purification ceremonies that were part of the worship of God in those days. In Jesus’ time, one of the key aspects of worship were rites of purification. These rites focused on cleansing a person, especially of their sin, before they were able to come before the Lord. This was a time in which sacrifices and other acts of worship from the Law of Moses were central to their relationship with God.
Jesus approaches this way of worship and understanding their relationship with God. Once again, the symbol of the jars is key. He asks the servants to fill the jars to their brims. It may seem like Jesus is just trying to get as much wine for the party as possible, but he is making a very specific statement. This act, for Jesus, signifies that the era of ceremonial acts and sacrificial worship had reach its fullness. It had served its purpose and had led the people of Israel in worship, but nothing more could come out of it. He wasn’t denouncing the old ways. He wasn’t saying they weren’t good enough. Jesus was simply making an act to say that the old ways of worship and approaching the Lord were appropriate for a time, but now needed to be met with something else, something deeper, and something richer than what had been known before.
What might that deeper way of life and worship be and where might it be found? Again, the symbols are rich with truth. With words that allude to Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman in Chapter 4, where he proclaims that he is the living water, Jesus tells the servants to take some of the water and give it to the master of the party. The master takes a drink of the wine and realizes it is like nothing he had ever tasted before. This wine was the absolute best, which was completely unexpected, because the best was usually served first and the lesser quality served later when everyone had had a few glasses.
The wine is symbolic of Jesus’ ministry and the work he came to do. Jesus came into the world to bring forth a deeper way to approach the Father. His purpose was so that all people would be able to experience a relationship with God in a new and personal way, to know Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and to be transformed by that relationship. This best wine is an expression of God’s love for us, and truly the entire world.
Jesus came, not to replace the ways of old, but to give them new life and meaning that would bring us all to the depths of God’s love. Note that the wine comes out of what was old. The old water wasn’t replaced, but merely transformed into something greater and more meaningful. All of history had anticipated this moment when Jesus entered the world and brought to fruition all that had been promised through the prophets and the forms of worship of that time. Our worship today is a continuation of what was expressed before and continues to be said today about our love of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We are invited to drink of this new wine of a life in Jesus Christ. It is not a one-time thing, but a daily act of being renewed and led by the reality of Christ’s living presence at work in us and through us. I think this says something to each of us in our personal walk with Christ, but also to us collectively as we seek to serve the Lord here at Antioch and at Mackville.
To drink of the wine means to allow the Lord, through the Holy Spirit, to do a work in us. It is a work of renewal and transformation. When we allow Christ to be at work in us, we become like the water inside the purification jars. We become transformed into something new. We are still the person we were, but we become a new person with a new hope, love, and desires that reflect God’s love for us. Romans 12:1-2 speaks to this act of renewal. It is a daily act of giving of ourselves to God and allowing the Lord to work in us so that we might reflect God’s character and hope.
I want this for each of us on our journeys with Christ. As we said last week, we are on a journey of faith that seeks to grow closer to the Lord. It is through deeply connecting ourselves with the mission and desires of Christ that we can experience all God has for us. When we do, I promise you in time we will see something new and different in our lives. It is a life that takes where we were and gives it a new meaning and purpose to love God and love others.
The same is true for our communities of faith in the local church. Just like we are called to drink of the wine Jesus has offered us, we are called as a community to be continually renewed by our participation in the ongoing work of Jesus Christ through the church. We do this by allowing God to tear down our agendas and our understandings of why it is that we come here or why we do the things that we do, but to allow God’s mission, purposes, and desires to be at work in our lives and through the lives of this congregation so that we might seek the lost and share the greatest gift of love that the world has ever known. We can only be the church that is effective in our mission and purpose if we are the church that seeks to drink deeply of the “new wine” offered in participating in what Christ has done and continues to do. It is truly through saying, “Lord, your ways, not mine.” By doing this, we take where we are and become shaped for the mission God is calling us to today and tomorrow.
For any of this to become real for us, we must recognize that the new wine of our participation in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ is being offered to us today. It is offered to us every day. We call that sanctifying grace, which is the free gift of God’s grace that is with us as we live in the world. My prayer is that our thirst for a deeper life and richer communities of faith will be quenched by what Christ has offered us. For Christ’s ways are mighty and powerful. They are full of love. They are full of hope.
What would your life be like if you took a taste of what Christ has offered you? What would our churches look like if we collectively drank daily from the life of Christ and his purposes for our communities of faith?
As we say in the communion liturgy, my deepest prayer is that we will truly come and taste and see that the Lord is good.