A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on January 14, 2007.
Based on John 2:1-11 (Epiphany 2, Year C).
Turning water into wine. In some ways it’s the classic miracle story. An act so beyond human comprehension that “miracle” is the only way to describe what took place at that wedding in Cana. Turning water into wine defies the rational. And any attempt to explain it just leaves us more befuddled. Nothing we experience is comparable. Well, for me, it might be the morning miracle of turning water into coffee. But that’s less of a miracle than a divine gift to the sleep deprived.
If we set aside the immediate miracle, the story of the wedding at Cana is ultimately a story of transformation. The transformation of water into wine, of course. But because this is Jesus’ first miracle, his first foray into his public ministry, the transformation of water into wine takes on greater significance. It speaks of the transformation of humanity; the transformation of simple fishermen into disciples; the transformation of outcasts and sinners into the beloved of God; and it points to the transformation of the cross from an implement of death into the instrument of salvation.
The story is also ripe with eucharistic symbolism. In the same way that water is transformed into wine, each week at this altar ordinary wine is transformed into the sacramental blood of Christ, into a substance that allows us to encounter the resurrected Jesus. We don’t need to speculate on the specifics of how this transformation takes place (although countless pages have been written on the subject and people have been burned at the stake for their beliefs). Here’s a secret: it doesn’t really matter – what matters is that the presence of Jesus makes this possible. That’s the indefinable miraculous mystery of the sacramental life. The account of the Wedding at Cana doesn’t dwell upon precisely how the water became wine; John skips over this. All we know is that suddenly the water has become wine. Just as on Sunday mornings ordinary wine suddenly becomes a sacramental window into the divine presence of God.
As we reference the sacramental imagery of this passage, we can’t ignore the parallel sacramental meal of John’s gospel. If this wedding provides the wine, the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 with five loaves provides the bread. Both point to the sacramental meal of the eucharist that will be instituted by Christ at the Last Supper. Bread and wine; body and blood.
Central to both of these miracles is their sheer abundance. John tells us that even after feeding 5,000 people, there were 12 basketfuls left over. And, let’s be clear: Jesus turned a lot of water into wine. Six stone jars each holding 20 or 30 gallons. Even if this was the “society wedding” of the year, that’s an awful lot of wine. Up to 180 gallons of wine. Which is the equivalent of 900 bottles of wine (I did the math). And this wasn’t the ancient Palestinian equivalent of Thunderbird or Mad Dog 20/20. This was the good stuff. And it all parallels the fact that in Jewish tradition, an abundant amount of good wine was a sign of the joyful arrival of God’s new age. With the arrival of Jesus and the beginning of his ministry, God’s new reign is ushered in
So this story is about more than just a miraculous saving of face for an ill-prepared host. We all know that running out of booze breaks the first law of entertaining. And Jesus wasn’t just showing off; he wasn’t trying to show up the bride on her big day. This first miracle was a tangible sign that the Messiah had arrived. And in the abundance of it all, it was also a wonderful sign of God’s abundant love in sending his son into the world. A sign of God’s abundant love for all of humanity.
But not just a sign of God’s abundant love in the abstract. This miracle is a sign of God’s abundant love for you. There is so much wine that that there will be plenty left over. Just as God’s love is so abundant that there is always enough left over for you. Even when you don’t think you deserve it or want it or even need it.
In a sense we are like those empty stone jars, waiting to be filled to the brim with the grace of Christ’s love for us. That’s the transforming miracle of abundance. Allow yourself to be the vessel, the stone jar if you will, of God’s abundantly transforming love.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2007