A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on January 18, 2004.
Based on John 2:1-11 (Epiphany 2, Year C).
Talk about stealing the bride’s moment! Turning water into wine at a wedding reception is a definite social faux pas. Far worse than wearing a white dress to a wedding. After all, this was the bride’s big day. She’d dreamed about this day since she was a small girl growing up in Galilee. She met the man of her dreams, planned the wedding for months, and then she’s shown up on her own wedding day.
Maybe she should have just had a small wedding in Cana. Nothing fancy. Some friends and family. Maybe she and her husband should have simply eloped. But no, she decided on the full blown marriage rite followed by a wedding feast complete with all the rituals of the Jewish law. Which is why those six large, stone jars were on hand in the first place. Following the ritual purity laws, there would have been a ceremonial washing of hands prior to the meal.
We don’t know much about this wedding other than there was a great feast and for some reason Jesus had been invited. We’re not sure if he sat on the bride’s side or the groom’s side. We certainly don’t know anything about the bride and groom themselves, who they were or what they did. All we know is that they were Jews from Cana and this was their wedding day. And at some point during the reception, Jesus stole the bride’s thunder by changing water into wine.
Miracles don’t always happen at the most convenient times. God’s presence is not always something that manifests itself at times that make the most sense to us. Sometimes God speaks to us at times when we’re just not interested. Times when we’ve got everything under control, thank you very much. Like a wedding day.
But in retrospect, what a wonderful message for that unnamed bride. Long after the dress had been mothballed, long after the thank you notes had been written, long after the novelty of being husband and wife had worn off, the larger message of Christ’s miracle must have endured. And what a wonderful message for you and me. Because things don’t always go according to plan on your wedding day or in your life. We run out of wine. We run out of energy. We run out of answers. But there is always the possibility, if not the hope, of divine transformation.
That’s the enduring message for this particular bride who began a new life on the same day that Jesus performed his first miracle. For a brief moment this woman’s life was intertwined with the ministry of Jesus. And it’s hard not to wonder how this encounter impacted the rest of her life. Maybe she was grateful to Jesus from the start. Maybe she was annoyed that the focus of everyone’s attention left her at some point during her wedding reception. I’d imagine that she was forever changed not just by this important event in her life that was her wedding day but even more so by her brush with the divine.
The disciples in attendance certainly had the course of their lives altered by this event. John tells us that this miracle at the wedding in Cana “revealed Christ’s glory” and that the “disciples believed in him.” I wonder if we can count the bride as a new disciple as a result of this extraordinary occasion? You can make all the plans in the world but ultimately we’re not in control of life. We have free will, yes, we make choices. But we are not the authors of our own salvation. That’s reserved for the divine. It’s a great question for us all: Are you more concerned with your plan for God or God’s plan for you? Are you willing to be transformed?
For this is ultimately a parable of transformation. It is a parable about the powerful possibility of transformation offered to each one of us. Ordinary water is transformed into fine wine. Ordinary people are transformed into blessed believers. We too can be transformed. Through faith in Christ, we can be like the water in those large stone jars. We can be changed into something magnificent. We are human vessels not stone jars but the idea of transformation is the same. We are like those empty stone jars, waiting to be filled to the brim with the grace of Christ’s love for us.
Maybe they would never have run out of wine if they’d set up a cash bar. Who knows? But this very human situation, running out of wine, led to a divine moment. Human ineptitude led to a moment of grace. And as very human vessels, we lead our lives in open invitation to the grace of God being poured into and upon us.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2004