Life of the Party
(Jn 2.1-11) On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
This story is one of the primary texts
that the Church sits in during Epiphany.
Epiphany is this season where we celebrate
that God has revealed himself to the world in Jesus.
But of all the things that we might have expected
Jesus to start his public activity
this isn’t it.
At this point in his life Jesus already has some disciples
(disciples who already believe in him enough to follow him)
and yet this is the first time they see a miracle—
what John calls signs.
This is the first time they taste the miraculous while following Jesus—
and who knew the miraculous could taste so delicious?
The way that Jesus starts his public activity is
he creates around 150 gallons of the most delicious wine imaginable.
That’s the first miracle that his disciples see from him.
That’s the first sign that Jesus gives as a clue
pointing to who he is and what he is like.
That’s a strange thing for Jesus to do.
Weddings were gigantic celebrations in the first century.
In our culture, we spend a ton of money on weddings
and then in the blink of an eye
it’s all over.
We spend months upon months meticulously planning out the wedding day—
from colors palette to flowers to fashion—but then
the ceremony is over,
the reception is over.
And then you’re stuck cleaning up confetti and table-toppers.
The Jewish wedding custom of the first century
was perhaps a bit wiser than us today.
There’s no sense in such a grand celebration vanishing in two blinks.
They had the good sense
to keep a wedding going
for a week.
And this week of wedding feasting and celebrating
weren’t just private family affairs:
Weddings could involve the whole town—the whole village—
and draw in people from neighboring towns.
That’s how Jesus and his mother and his earliest disciples
wind up at this wedding celebration at Cana in Galilee (v1).
During the wedding week,
people would drop in and drop out,
toasting and celebrating the union of the bride and groom.
This is about celebrating of the happy couple, sure, but this is also
about the community coming together and about the family’s honor,
and—let’s be honest—about having a decently good time.
There are few events more joyous, more elating,
more tapping into what life is all about,
than a wedding.
But with this week-long feast,
there’s a lot riding on one person in particular:
During this gigantic wedding week,
the groom was responsible for making sure
that’s there enough wine for all the guests who are dropping in.
Unless he was just independently wealthy with greats vats of wine in his basement
he probably would have organized the wine ahead of time—
getting donations from family and friends.
So when the wedding runs out of wine (v3)
it’s not just that a big party is being threatened—
in a sense, the groom and the bride and their family are being threatened.
Running out of wine at an event like this
would mean bringing shame on the family.
For those who have seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding,
remember how seriously the Portokalos family took their daughter’s wedding.
Now imagine if the whole town has those expectations.
Running out of wine means
way more than the party ending abruptly—
tragedy though that is.
People would be talking.
Could their family not help
them prepare decently?
Did their family not want to help
them prepare decently?
Don’t they have friends or other contacts
who could have helped?
What kind of people are these groom and his bride—
what with their family not wanting to help them
and not being able to make any friends?
This is a bit of a crisis.
A bit of a crisis that Jesus could maybe help with,
hence Mary’s comment in verse 3.
“Hey Jesus, they’re out of wine.
Bit of a crisis, Jesus.
“Maybe this is the moment
when you show everyone
what you can do, Jesus.”
Mary’s comment is a little strange—
it’s hard to know exactly what she’s expecting Jesus to do.
I think she just knows her Jesus—
she just knows her son.
She knows what angels had said about him before his birth,
that his very conception was unlike anything the world has seen,
that she had seen his unimaginable love and concern for people his whole life,
and that one day she expects world-changing things from him.
He’s the guy you go to in a crisis.
And what an opportunity—
if Jesus can handle this rather small-ish crisis,
maybe he’ll start getting the recognition and honor he deserves.
At least the people here at this party
will know and celebrate Jesus.
Jesus’ response is a little strange too.
He says (v4), “Woman—”
(This is actually the same way Jesus addresses his mother
as he’s caring for her from the cross at the end of John—
it’s not quite as rude as it sounds…)
“Woman, why are bringing me into this?
My hour as not yet come.”
That’s a rather cryptic response.
Jesus could just be saying:
“The timing is a little off—you’re rushing me—give me a minute.”
Maybe there’s a level on which he’s saying that.
I mean, after all, he DOES end up doing something about this crisis.
But I think there’s another level too
to what Jesus is saying.
“The hour” keeps getting mentioned (over and over) in the gospel of John—
like chapter 7, verse 30
or chapter 8, verse 20
or chapter 12, verse 27
or the first verse of chapters 13 and 17.
Jesus keeps using this word—
he keeps talking about “the hour.”
At one point in chapter 12,
Jesus says that his moment has finally come—
the hour has finally arrived.
The moment when he is going to be
recognized and honored and known and celebrated—
the hour when he’s going to be glorified.
And the great moment
of Jesus being glorified
winds up being the hour of his death.
Jesus’ death—and then his resurrection—that’s the great “hour.”
That’s the great world-changing thing
that Jesus is going to accomplish.
Jesus is going to bring untold, unthinkable hope to the world
with the relentless rumor that God himself has conquered death from the inside.
That’s how people what people are going to
recognize and honor and know and celebrate about Jesus.
Jesus’ mother sees that the wine has run out
and says, “Jesus can you do something to avert this crisis?”
And then Jesus responds, “My hour has not yet come,”
and it sure seems like he’s thinking about
what he’s going to wind up doing on a cross one day.
Jesus’ mother doesn’t seem phased by his response at all—
she knows her boy.
She trusts Jesus.
So she says to the servants nearby—
“Do whatever he tells you.”
And so they do.
This is a good Jewish community—a good Jewish family—
and they’ve got (v6) some stone water jars nearby.
Six of them.
That big kind of stone water jars that you use for washing yourself
as a symbol of devotion to God and cleansing from God.
Jesus tells them to fill up all of those stone jars with water.
Each of these six jars holds 20-30 gallons of water—
we’re talking about three standard bathtubs filled to the brim.
Even if they had a few garden hoses,
this is going to take a while.
Filling these things up by hand—
using containers and basins and jars of water
this is going to take a little while.
“Aren’t there better things for us to be doing, Jesus?
“This party is on it’s last legs.
This family is on the verge of profound social shame.
“We should either be brainstorming a way to help
or we should be drinking up the last hours of the party.
“Instead we’re going to be doing neither—
we’re going to be the stupid people
in the corner of the room filling up bathtubs.
“What a mysterious waste of time, Jesus.”
I think this is the way Jesus always is:
If we’re listening to Jesus
sometimes he tells us to do the strangest things.
Things that seem like a waste of time.
Things that seem like a waste of energy.
And yet a few hours later, after these jars are filled—
after this strange and stupid deed has been done—
Jesus asks something even weirder.
Draw out some of that water (v8)
and take it to the master of ceremonies—
to the master of the banquet.
Take some of your silly work—
that work you wasted your energy and time on—
and let wedding coordinator taste it.
Listening to whatever Jesus says
is embarrassment after embarrassment, huh?
Except that it’s not.
Because when the master of the banquet tastes the water,
it’s no longer water.
The water has been changed.
The water is now wine.
One hundred and fifty gallons
of the best and headiest and most delicious wine
that that anyone has tasted.
The crisis has been averted, the party can keep going indefinitely,
because there are vats of the best wine imaginable
that have been saved for last.
And what Jesus did here is the first sign (v11)
of what Jesus is like—of what God is like.
And in case you were confused, in case you were unclear,
in case you thought the life of faith was about abandoning the pursuit of joy,
in case you thought God was a cosmic killjoy,
let Jesus set the record straight.
God isn’t interested in killing the party.
God is the life of the party.
God is the Life, period.
The source of all joy,
the source of all celebration,
the source of everything good,
the source of the best wine.
God has come among us
and he’s a walking winery.
Wine is the great symbol of joy in Scripture.
There were three dietary staples in the ancient world:
bread, oil, and wine.
Bread would nourish and sustain life.
Oil would comforts and heals and enrich life.
But wine—wine is the great symbol of joy.
Wine is where you celebrate life.
It’s a fine line because—to be sure—
drunkenness is consistently and universally
condemns by Scripture as a stupid, sinful waste of life.
God’s good gifts can be misused and mishandled.
God’s good world can be abused in endless ways.
But the misuse and mishandling
of God’s good gifts and God’s good world
never scares Scripture away from the image of wine.
Scripture consistently uses wine
as the great symbol of joy.
We could go countless places to see this,
but the end of Amos is particularly stirring:
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman
and the planter by the one treading grapes.
New wine will drip from the mountains
and flow from all the hills,
and I will bring my people Israel back from exile.
“They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them.
They will plant vineyards and drink their wine;
they will make gardens and eat their fruit.
Amos is filled with dire warnings about rebelling against God,
and sobering images of God’s discipline and wrath and justice.
But God is not interested
in killing the party.
God intends that the mountains would drip with wine,
that the hills would flow with wine,
that people would drink deeply
of his goodness.
Jesus’ first sign wasn’t
to create loaves of bread.
“I want to keep you alive—
here are your rations of bread
so that you have the strength to endure life.”
Jesus’ first sign was to create absurd amounts of wine—
to create absurd amounts of vintage joy.
Jesus’ first sign was to bringing the joy of heaven—
bringing the wine of heaven—
to people in crisis.
“I want to do more than keep you alive—I want you to feel alive—
to drink deeply of my goodness, of the goodness of life.”
This is Jesus’ first sign
because this is what Jesus is always like.
Jesus is walking winery
who’s always bleeding joy
into the world around him.
That’s the epiphany of the Wedding in Cana—
that’s what God is like.
Two quick reflections from this story
as we come to the table.
First, very few people realize when they’re tasting a miracle.
It’s amazing how many people here
had no idea that a miracle took place.
When the master of the banquet
brags about this wondrous wine (v10),
he doesn’t know he tasting a miracle.
And evidently the bridegroom and the bride and most of the guests
don’t know anything about the miracle either.
They’re all tasting
the goodness of God,
the generosity of God,
the creative genius of God,
and they don’t even know it.
Almost nobody recognizes that they’re drinking a miracle—
that they’re tasting the wine of heaven.
This is wine at God’s expense—
and nobody knows it.
I’m so glad we’re not like that.
I’m so glad that we recognize and appreciate
the miracles that we all taste on a daily basis.
“Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine – which was, after all, a very small miracle. We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes.” (Wendell Berry)
I think Berry is right—
the miracle of vines turning water into grapes
is just a miracle we take for granted.
Where is the wine you’re taking for granted?
What would it look like to recognize and celebrate
that God is already pouring you glass after glass of the miraculous?
What would it look like to practice being grateful for that?
How might that change your attitude day to day?
How might that change your outlook on life?
Second, when the wine runs out,
we’re invited to keep trusting Jesus.
As far as celebrations go,
it doesn’t get better than a wedding,
but all our weddings are going to run out of wine.
No matter what kind of joy and celebration
we’re experiencing right now,
the wine will go out.
There will be moments and seasons where we can’t celebrate—
where depression blocks the sun,
where the career dries up,
where relationships get rocky,
where our body isn’t healing,
where loved ones die.
That’s the reality of the world as it is right now.
The life of faith isn’t about denying that the wine has run out.
The life of faith is about
learning to admit when the wine runs out
and learning to trust Jesus anyway.
Learning to trust that eventually—at some point—
our groom will provide us with wine.
Central to following Jesus
is learning to admit that we’re out of wine.
We’re out of wine, everything is a disaster,
and there’s nothing to be done.
That’s when the work of Jesus can begin.
Jesus just doesn’t jump into a crisis
and solve it as quickly as we want.
At this wedding crisis,
hours and hours go by with the servants doing the silliest of things—
something that don’t look like they’re going to help at all.
And yet Jesus transforms their simple obedience.
Jesus takes their simple obedience
and quietly transforms it—quietly transfigures it—
into something miraculous and wonderful and beautiful.
And especially when we’re out of wine,
we’re invited to keep following him—keep obeying him—
in our simple, silly, everyday lives.
What we’re all invited to simple obedience—
to things that often don’t look relevant or connected at all.
Serving the people around us, loving the people around us,
doing our everyday work in faith that God will transform and transfigure it.
We’re invited to keep entrusting our lives to him—
even when God gives cryptic answers,
even when God isn’t immediately solve our crisis,
and trust God is saving the best for last.
Despite our circumstances, God is saying:
“Don’t worry… you haven’t tasted what I’ve got.
I’m saving the best wine.”
And he is.
Our bridegroom is going to flood the world with wine one day.
God is drawing us to a wedding that never runs dry—
where the mountains drip with the wine that we all thirst for,
where we finally taste eternal joy and celebration,
where we are embraced by unlimited, unimaginable life.
That’s where God is taking us.
God is the life of the party—this table reminds us of that.
And this table reminds us that God’s wine comes at a cost.
Christians are the people
learning to gratefully recognize
that our joy cost God something.
“The hour” is never far from Jesus’ mind
and it should never be far from ours.
It’s the groom’s responsibility to provide the wine
and that’s what Jesus does.
Jesus gives us the wine of heaven—
his own blood, his very own life—
by drinking what’s already in our cup.
Jesus drinks our death
and gives us his life.
Jesus drinks our pain
and gives us his joy.
That’s what Jesus does for his bride.
That’s how much Jesus loves his bride.
That’s how much Jesus loves you.
In just a moment you’ll be invited to come and receive from this table—
receive a bit of cracker, dip it in the juice, and then return to your seat.
We celebrate an open table.
If you’re willing to admit you’re out of wine—
that you’re thirsty for life of heaven—
then this table is for you.
This table is the place where we remember
that God is already pouring out glass after glass of miraculous.
This table is the place where we anticipate
what God has in store for the world—
that there is vintage joy untasted and untapped.
May God grant us tastes of this joy in the present,
and prepare us for our wedding day
when heaven and earth are finally one.