Saturday, January 16, 2016

A Wedding in Galilee

Because of the Paulist Visitation and the Paulist Appeal, I will not get to preach this Sunday - sadly, since the gospel is the story of the Wedding at Cana, which represents the third Epiphany mystery, after the Magi and the Baptism of Jesus by John. In the old liturgy, that gospel was read every year on this second Sunday after the Epiphany, but now we hear it still on the same Sunday but only every third year - all the more reason to highlight it, if not in the pulpit then at least here! (The image at left is of an early 14th-century fresco of the Wedding at Cana by Giotto in the Scrovengi Chapel in Padua.)

It won’t quite compare with Lady Mary Crawley’s splendid aristocratic wedding to Matthew Crawley, heir presumptive to the Earldom of Grantham. The wedding of Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes, if and when it finally happens (and regardless of where), will just be a wonderful binding together of a man and a woman who have lived and worked side-by-side for so many years.

Weddings are, almost by definition, designed to be big, happy occasions. Almost miraculously, a wedding unites two separate individuals (and all the familial and personal baggage they bring with them) and creates a new social unit. Above all, a wedding is the principal ritual by which a society celebrates its solidarity through the commitment of the current generation to the next generation and our collective hope in the human race’s future.
Weddings, of course, can sometimes also be sources of stress – as Matthew and Mary’s wedding was almost right up until the last moment, as Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes’ complex pre-nuptial negotiations have been. In Jesus’ world, the world of this Sunday’s Gospel [John 2:1-11], where family was what mattered most for most people most of the time - as has been the case in almost all human societies that have ever existed - hardly anything could rival a wedding as an occasion of genuine joy and festivity. That is why the wedding celebration has served so long as such a useful symbol for the kingdom of God. In the Old Testament the uniqueness of the marriage bond made it a favored image for the relationship between God and Israel, while in the New Testament, explicitly Christian marriage became a sacramental sign of the relationship between Christ and his Church.

That said, the familiar Gospel account 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 can hardly seem 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.

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.

Of course, that was Christmas – an eternity of 3 weeks ago, when the vestments were gold (an appropriate color for glory). As today’s boring, drab green vestments suggest, the glory of Christmas has been stored away and we are back in Ordinary Time.

But, then, 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 our lives, day-by-day, year-after year? 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 loves in Christ, making eternal our human mortality [Ordinary Time Preface VII and Christmas Preface III].

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 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 and told the servants to follow his command [Cf. Preface of OL of Cana]. 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 relationship and the multiple networks of human connectedness without which we cannot hope to thrive. Jesus challenges us to hear and help each other in family, community, and society, faithfully living out our relationships with one another and with 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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