holy cross sermon for the second sunday after epiphany, year c, january 20, 2013

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

Today’s Gospel speaks to us of the Lord’s first miracle at a wedding in the town of Cana, in Galilee. This story has been cited in the Anglican marriage ritual for almost 500 years. In the marriage ritual in the definitive edition of the Book of Common Prayer – that of 1662 – the priest says to the congregation that marriage “is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee.” We teach therefore that Christ’s presence and first miracle at a wedding renew, fulfill, and make holy the intentional joining-together of men and women in marriage, which God ordained and established in the creation of the world.

This significance of the wedding-at-cana story resides on the surface of Scripture, as it were, and is discerned through, as is often the case, through the lens of the how the Church prays liturgically. That is to say: the hallowing of Christian marriage by Christ is there in Scripture, but reading Scripture through the lens of the Church’s common prayer enables us to see what Scripture means. This is often the way it works.

I would like to talk about three other aspects of the wedding-at-cana story: Firstly as a manifestation of Christ’s power; secondly the role of Mary in the story and what we can learn from her role; and thirdly how this story points to Christ himself, the bridegroom of our souls.

First, the Gospel reading is perfectly explicit that this story relates a miracle: Jesus turns water into wine. But this is not a magic trick, and Jesus is not a magician. Today’s Gospel concludes by saying that by means of this miracle – or “sign” as St. John calls it – Jesus “manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2.11)

Jesus’ sign is a multivalent, prophetic, and poetic thing; and by working this sign, Jesus invites those with eyes to see and ears to hear to believe in him, to understand that he is the anointed of God, who has come to save those who believe in his name. As the text says: he manifests his glory to his disciples.

Throughout the Old Testament, the prophets had used an abundance of wine as a symbol marking God’s promised deliverance, which was to be accomplished by his anointed – “he who is coming into the world” (John 11.27). The Lord speaks through the prophet Joel, saying “you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who dwell in Zion, my holy mountain. And Jerusalem shall be holy and strangers shall never again pass through it. And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine” (Joel 3.17-18); likewise Amos says, “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it” (Amos 9.13).

And so Jesus’ emergence onto the seen, the first manifestation of his glory, is in the abundance of wine foretold by the prophets as a sign of God’s vindication of his people. Those with eyes to see can understand that this abundance of wine is a fulfillment of prophecy, and that these are therefore “those days,” of which the prophets spoke. “…And his disciples believed in him.”

Secondly, we ought also to note who instigates this manifestation of Christ’s glory. The Gospel says “…the mother of Jesus was there… [and] when the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’” (vv. 1&3)  It is Mary who presents the situation’s deficit to Jesus, because of her great faith in the promises of God, fulfilled in her divine Son. And here we should discern a deeper truth: that because Jesus takes flesh from the Virgin – because he takes his human nature from her – it is she who presents to him our brokennesses and deficiencies, in whatever particular form they take in each of our lives. And when we find our humanness depleted, as each of us do from time to time and in a myriad of ways, we should not hesitate to bring our weariness to the Virgin Mother.

Why is this so? Because when we grow weary with toil, when we are hard-pressed with affliction or burdened with sin, there is very often a corresponding temptation to unbelief. Satan whispers in our ear at such times that God does not see, or that he does not care, or that he does not exist. The problems with which we are beset as a result of living a human life in this world are accompanied by a deficit of faith as well. But Jesus said “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and never doubt… [then] even if you say to this mountain, `Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will be done” (Matthew 21.21); “if you have faith… nothing will be impossible to you” (Matthew 17.20).

When we grow weary and our faith falters, we should fly to Mary and ride the coat-tails of her faith, the faith of the one who, as Scripture says, “BELIEVED that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken… from the Lord” (Luke 1.45) – the therefore who brings who presents our broken humanity to God, but who does so with faith in his power to heal.

When we speak the name of Mary with devotion, she speaks the name of Jesus in return. And on this score, we should notice her final words in this Gospel reading – her final words to “the servants”, but also to us: “Do whatever [Jesus] tells you” (John 2.5). We must be not only hearers of God’s word, but doers (James 1.22). So will we bring ourselves to a place where the glory of Christ can be manifest to us and in us as well.

Thirdly, lastly, and most importantly, this is a love story, a marriage story; and as such it points to the reality that conjugal love has represented from the creation of the world: the marriage of divine nature and human nature that took place in the incarnation of the Word, the person of Jesus himself. It was the job of the groom at ancient weddings to provide sufficient wine for the wedding guests. But that is what Jesus does in the story. Therefore, in a sense, Jesus takes the place of the bridegroom in this story – he BECOMES the bridegroom. And this shows us that in the person of Jesus, God took to himself a bride – our broken humanness. In him God loved us. In him God lived and died and rose again for us.

Saint Augustine says, “What marvel, if [Jesus] went to that house to a marriage, Who came into this world to a marriage. For here [Jesus] has his spouse whom he redeemed with his own blood, to whom he gave the pledge of the Spirit, and whom he united to himself in the womb of the Virgin. For the Word is the Bridegroom, and human flesh the bride, and both together are one Son of God and Son of man. [The] womb of the Virgin Mary is his chamber, from which he went for as a bridegroom.”

Therefore let us be friends of the Bridegroom. Let us, with St. John the Baptist, stand and hear him, rejoicing greatly at his voice, that this joy of ours may be full. Let our apprehension of the Lord be accompanied and assisted by the faith of Mary. Let us, at her command, with the servants of the feast, “do whatever Jesus tells us” – that we may be disciples to whom he manifests his glory, empowered to go into the world believing in him; so that as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so may our God rejoice over us (cf. Isaiah 62.5).

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

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About Fr Will

Fr Will Brown is rector of Holy Cross Dallas
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