“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee” John 2:1
Four words from the reading, each beginning with the letter “w” can help us in thinking about the story of the first miracle of Jesus: wedding, woman, water and wine.
“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee”, says Saint John Chapter 2 Verse 1. The wedding was a big occasion in the life of a small community, it was one of those moments when everyone was included, it seems to have been one of those when hospitality demanded that even people who were strangers had to be on the guest list for Verse 2 tells us, “Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.” Is it likely that someone knew all the diverse group that followed Jesus, or is it the case that having invited Jesus they felt his group of friends must also be included? What is important to note is that Jesus was at the heart of the life of the local community. Jesus and his disciples do not go off to be a group apart from everyone else, they do not turn their backs on the ordinary things of the world, instead they are there as full and active members.
What does the wedding at Cana say to us about being members of the church today? Is our church at the heart of the life of the local community, or are we out on the edge of things? Is our friendship with Jesus a private and personal matter that we only mention to other church members? Do we see our membership of the church as something for one part of the week and our membership of our local community as something for the rest of the time, or are we secure in being Christians in the community? The wedding at Cana is a challenge to us as a church and a challenge to us as individual Christians about our involvement with the wider world, it does not give us the option to turn our backs.
The second “w” that we might think about is “woman.” Look at the conversation between Jesus and his mother in Verses 3-4, “When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.'” It seems an odd exchange, abrupt even. Mary does not explain what she thinks Jesus should do and Jesus does not explain the reply he makes. It is clear that the words are part of a conversation that has been going for some time, when we know someone well, they know what we mean, even if we speak only a couple of words; and we know what they mean, even if their reply is very brief. “Woman, what concern is that to you and me?” asks Jesus, and he knew and Mary knew what he was saying.
Jesus and Mary needed only a few words because they knew each other so well. Can we say that our own faith and our own friendship with God is so close that we have such a level of understanding? God knows the secrets of all our hearts, no matter how few words we might use, he understands us, but how much understanding have we of him? Sometimes God may speak to us in many words, but still we do not understand, or perhaps it is that we will not hear. “Woman”, says Jesus, not in an abrupt way, but as part of a long conversation; what conversation are we having with God?
The third “w” is water. In Verses 6-7, we read, “Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.'” The water jars were not there for domestic purposes, they were for religious use and the people seeing them there would have known their use. The water jars would have reminded the people gathering for the wedding feast of the hundreds of rules governing daily life that the religious people tried to keep, they would have reminded them of what a great burden religion could be and how dull it could be. The water that was intended to symbolise purity and renewal had come to represent staleness and stagnation.
Might people see the church today in the way that some people might have seen the water jars in Jesus’ time? Might people see the church as being about rules, about imposing burdens on people? Might even those of us who belong to the church find it wearying at times? Might we feel that there is much that is dull and much that has nothing to do with Jesus? If, like the water in the jars, the church is about us beginning afresh, about us being renewed, then what might we do to make it different?
The final “w” is wine. Verse 9-10 tell us, “When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.'” What did the steward think? Did he wonder about how the bridegroom, at a feast where there had not even been sufficient wine, could afford what was the best wine he had tasted? Did he think that the bridegroom must have secret wealth in order to serve such wine at the end of the feast? Did he wonder what sort of family it was that had gathered? The wine was something entirely unexpected.
What does the wine say to us about the life of our church? Do we think that the life of the church in the way that the steward thought about the wedding feast, that the early part was the best and that now there is only what is leftover? Do we feel, as the steward did about the feast, that there is not much to which to look forward? Dare we ever expect the unexpected? Jesus transforms that wedding feast, do we have the confidence that he might transform the lives of our churches?
Wedding, woman, water and wine: four words to prompt us to think about our lives as Christians and four words to prompt us to think about the lives of our churches.