On a normal day, at some point after 4:00 p.m., I have a glass of wine. By then I am home from work and any homework that needed assistance or checking has been completed. It’s not yet time to start thinking about dinner and any assistance that I need to provide in helping to get things ready. Instead, for twenty or thirty minutes I can sit down and relax. I enjoy sipping a glass of wine while catching up on the news, looking at social media or browsing through a train book.
I used to drink white wines, but along the way – I think it was about ten years ago when we arrived in Marion – I shifted to red wines. I enjoy a Merlot, or a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Shiraz. One thing that has not changed is that I drink relatively inexpensive wine. We usually buy the large 1.5 liter bottle, and I am not going to pay over $12 for it.
Now I am certainly no wine connoisseur. I am perfectly content drinking the wine that we buy. But once in awhile I get a chance to drink something better. My parents have similar, reasonable purchasing habits when it comes to wine. However, when there are special family occasions, like when everyone is home for Thanksgiving, they like to splurge and buy something better than normal.
It doesn’t happen very often, but on those occasions when I get to drink more expensive wine, I am reminded that there really is a difference. Better wine tastes … better. In this case, it is more expensive for a reason. And I have found that it would be really easy to get used to drinking it if finances allowed. As it is, we will stay with the $10 to $12 1.5 liter bottle and focus instead on sending our kids to college.
In the Gospel lesson for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany the man in charge of a wedding feast tastes some wine that has been brought to him. He recognizes that this is good wine – better than what had been served thus far in a wedding feast that was well under way. This is a source of great surprise to him because the best wine has not been served until everyone has already drunk freely. Yet he doesn’t even know the real surprise. The wine itself is part of sign that is revealing the glory of the Son of God who has become flesh and is dwelling in this world.
We are in the season of Epiphany. The word “Epiphany” is derived from a Greek word that means “to appear.” During Epiphany, we are celebrating the fact that the saving glory of God appeared in our world through the incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. As I described in my newsletter article this month, originally four events were often viewed together as appearances – “epiphanies” – of this saving glory. The early Church grouped together the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the visit by the magi, the baptism of Jesus and the miracle of turning water into wine at Cana. Continuing in this tradition, three of those were mentioned in our processional hymn this morning – “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise.”
We celebrated Christmas on Dec. 25. On Jan. 6 we celebrated Epiphany – the visit by the magi to the Christ child. And then last Sunday we celebrated the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. Today, we take up the fourth of these, the miracle at Cana.
We learn in the Gospel lesson that there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited. While they were there, disaster struck the celebration – the people putting on the wedding feast realized that they had run out of wine.
This summer Brittany Drury will be getting married. Imagine how all those involved in the wedding would feel if they realized that they didn’t have enough champagne for all of the guests at the wedding reception to take part in the traditional toasts. They would certainly be upset and somewhat embarrassed. Yet the situation at Cana was a far more embarrassing and humiliating event because of the importance of the wedding feast and the expectations about celebrations in the ancient world – there had to be wine.
Jesus’ mother said to Jesus, “They have no wine.” Mary knew who Jesus was and that he would help. Yet Jesus replied, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” The tone of Jesus’ answer probably surprises us. But the thing we really need to pay attention to is the reference to his “hour.”
In John’s Gospel, the “hour” is when Jesus is crucified. Jesus is carrying out the saving mission given to him by the Father, and this mission is following a specific timetable. On several occasions we learn about how people want to seize Jesus in anger, yet each time they are unable to do so because John tells us, “his hour had not yet come.” It is not yet Jesus’ hour. But we soon learn that the event at the wedding in Cana points forward to this hour.
Jesus did, in fact, take an interest in the situation. He had servant fill six large stone jars with water. Then he told them to draw some and to take it to the master of the feast. When he tasted it, the water had been turned into wine. And in fact, it was better wine than had been served thus far at the wedding!
Then at the end of our text John adds this crucial statement: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” John calls the event a “sign” and says that it manifested Jesus’ glory.
John has begun his Gospel by saying about Jesus, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John tells us that Jesus is God in the flesh. He is true God, begotten of his Father from all eternity, and is also true man, born of the virgin Mary. In this miracle and others that follow Jesus begins to reveal his glory. He begins to reveal who he is. And he moves towards the goal of his mission when he will be glorified. As Jesus said during Holy Week, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
In John’s Gospel Jesus’ glorification occurs in his crucifixion. But it is not limited to this. Instead, it includes the cross, enters the tomb, and then leads out of the tomb in the resurrection and on to the Father in the ascension. So John can say about the event of the entrance to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.”
John describes the miracle at Cana as the first sign that Jesus did – a sign whereby he manifested his glory. We begin to learn here that Jesus’ saving glory is fully revealed at the hour of his crucifixion. During Holy Week Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." And then John tells us, “He said this to show” – literally, “to sign” – “by what kind of death he was going to die.”
Jesus did this because we live in a world of darkness. He did it because we were trapped in this darkness – a darkness of sin and death. Our Lord said, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” Jesus offered himself on the cross as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And then he rose on the third day as the One who is the resurrection and the life.
In his death and resurrection Jesus has been glorified as the One who gives forgiveness and eternal life. John tells us that the miracle at Cana was the first sign that revealed his saving glory. You and I weren’t there to see it. But John wants us to know that we are not therefore cut off from this revelation. Instead at the end of his Gospel he writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
We see the signs that evoke and support faith in the words of John’s Gospel. In fact, it is the Spirit who reveals Jesus’ glory to us through these words. Jesus said to the disciples, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”
Jesus worked a miracle at a wedding feast that involved wine as he manifested his saving glory. And now Jesus continues to work a miracle in our midst that uses wine – a miracle that points to the marriage feast of the Lamb in his kingdom which has no end. He uses bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar to give us his true body and blood, given and shed for you. He reveals his saving glory – he gives you the benefits of his cross here and now so that you will also share in the glory of his resurrection on the Last Day. As Jesus said, “For whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day.”
This is what Jesus is doing through his Means of Grace. This is what Jesus wants to do. Yet for this to happen, it is something that must be used. It is something that must be received. Only in this way do we receive the signs that reveal Jesus’ saving glory. Only in this way are we sustained in faith that leads to eternal life.
And only in this way can we be what Jesus intends for us to be because of him. At the Last Supper Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and then he said, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”
Jesus loved and served us so that we can love and serve others because of him. He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." You don’t have to look in order to find the people you are to love and serve. They are right next to you in these pews. They are right next to you at the dinner table at home. Their head is on the pillow right next to you in bed each night.
Jesus works a miracle this morning in our Gospel lesson. He turns water into wine – a sign that manifests his glory. It is a sign that points to his death and resurrection for you. And now in Word and Sacrament the he continues to give you signs – signs that reveal his saving glory here and now as he gives you forgiveness and eternal life.