Saturday, January 19, 2013

Water into Wine

Weddings are, almost by definition, designed to be big, happy occasions. A wedding is, after all, the principal ritual by which a society celebrates its commitment to the next generation and its hope that the human race’ will have a future. Weddings, however, can sometimes be a burden – financially, logistically, and especially emotionally. Several years ago, I read an article by some grumpy twenty-something, complaining about all the weddings those in his age group had to attend and what a burden such marathon celebrations had become. In Jesus’ world, however, as in almost all human societies that have ever existed, one’s family was one’s most important community, and hardly anything could rival a wedding as an occasion of genuine joy and festivity. That is why the wedding celebration has served, for centuries, as such a useful symbol for the kingdom of God. In the Old Testament, moreover, the uniqueness of the marriage bond made it a favored image for the relationship between God and Israel, his Chosen People. Likewise, in the New Testament, Christian marriage became a sacramental sign of the relationship between Christ and his Church.
That said, the Gospel for this Sunday [John 2:1-11] – in the good old days the gospel reading for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany every year - this Gospel about a certain 1st-century wedding at Cana in Galilee, at which the number of guests seems to have overwhelmed the resources of the hosts, is only incidentally about marriage. Of course, there are no coincidences in the Gospels. So the fact that Jesus’ 1st miracle occurred at a wedding is hardly insignificant. Even so, the primary point of the story certainly is what John the evangelist himself said it is, in his own editorial commentary at the end: Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs … and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.
Cana is considered the third of Jesus’ epiphanies – after his manifestation to the Gentile magi and the manifestation of his divinity and messianic anointing at his baptism. At Cana, Jesus revealed his glory – an echo of John’s Gospel that was proclaimed on Christmas Day: and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. No one has ever seen God. The only son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him.
Well, that was Christmas – an eternity of 3½  weeks ago, when the vestments were gold (an appropriate color for glory), not the boring, drab green outfit of this equally boringly named season of Ordinary Time.
Yet, isn’t ordinary time most of the time - the time when most things actually happen? Isn’t ordinary life where most of us actually live, so to speak? For that matter, aren’t most of us really rather ordinary people? The sky may have space for an almost infinite number of stars, but the earth has room for only a few at any one time. Most of us are really rather ordinary people, living for the most part ordinary lives.
Yet wasn’t the point of Christmas precisely that ordinary life in this ordinary world isn’t just ordinary anymore? Into this ordinary world, the invisible God has entered, in God’s visible Son, so that, in the language of the liturgy, he might love in us what he loved in Christ, giving our mortal nature immortal value.
That was what was being revealed at Cana, the invisible God made visible and turning the water of ordinary life into the good wine of God’s kingdom. So, insofar as the Cana story is about marriage, it is about how something so natural and ordinary, something men and women have been doing in some form or other since Adam and Eve, can now become an effective sign – a sacrament – of Christ’s presence and action in his Church, forming the Church in miniature in the family unit itself.
The extent to which that actually happens, at our end, depends upon our following the instructions given in the Gospel – first, Mary’s direction to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you,” and, then, Jesus’ command, “Fill the jars with water.”
With loving care for the bridegroom and his bride, Mary turned to her Son for help & told the servants to follow his command. Mary leads us to Christ, the one and only savior of the world, the one who makes our life complete.
Jesus, in turn, tells us to “Fill the jars with water.” “Fill the jars,” Jesus says. Jesus invites us to make the most of the water of this ordinary life - the gift of life itself, and life’s opportunities for love and work, and the multiple networks of human relationships without which we cannot thrive. Jesus challenges us (if I may borrow from the words of the Paulist Prayer Book) to hear each other’s concerns and help carry each other’s burdens, to grow in our commitment to family, community, and society, faithfully living out our promises and commitments to one another and to our world.
Not only in marriage, but in all the sacraments and through the sacramental life we live together as Christ’s Church, we are meant to experience God animating our ordinary world through Jesus his Son, who reveals God’s glory to us, transforming the ordinary water of our day-to-day lives into the good wine we all hope to drink together in the kingdom of God, beginning right now.

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