Holy Trinity Church

Anglican worship in Geneva

Sermon on Sunday 29th January 2023

The Wedding at Cana

January can be a grim month, particularly here in Northern Europe. All the joys and excitements of Christmas are over; the festive food and wine finished and in some cases, the penitential diets begun; we realise we’ve probably overspent in our desire to celebrate well and offer gifts to loved ones; and to cap it all, the sky is a continuous grey, the wind howls and spring seems a very distant prospect.  Remember the last time you were really warm?

It’s not surprising in a way, that it’s a time we can feel quite low and find it hard to rustle up enthusiasm and energy for all that lies ahead in the forthcoming year. Add to that, problems we may be experiencing at home, work or just a sense of helplessness when we look at just some of the entrenched and bitter conflicts and issues we face in the world at present, and we can end up feeling very low indeed.  

Yet the truth in the midst of all this is that precisely because it is such a challenging time, that is may help us to see that we are not being asked to cope with everything alone. God is there if we will only allow Him into our lives.  What is more, He isn’t just there, but offers the possibility of transformation in our lives and how we live. Today, we’re going to look at how this is the case and to God’s gracious invitation to us.

As a starting point, we’re being asked today to change how we think about God. We’re often inclined, particularly at times in our lives which feel grim and challenging, to project onto God our own sense of gloom, austerity and fear.  Thus God becomes in our minds, a rather grim figure of judge, who calls us to a standard of behaviour to which we usually fall woefully short and then condemns us to further gloom and austerity as a consequence.

Yet today we’re in for quite a surprise and all through the medium of a wedding – traditionally a truly joyful occasion. This one in the village of Cana in Galilee, is no exception and we can imagine that by the time Jesus rocked up with his very new band of disciples, the festivities were well under way and the wine was flowing fully.

And it was except for one problem.  It had run out – probably one of the worst possible things to happen at a wedding celebration. The one who notices is Jesus’ mother Mary, who perhaps as an older woman was helping to organise the party and to ensure all went smoothly. When she tells Jesus, he appears to dismiss her concern – “My hour has not yet come”.  Yet something very significant then happens. Without further comment to Jesus, Mary then instructs the servants to “Do whatever he tells you”.  And they so, filling the great stone water jars used for purification which had also run low in the course of the wedding feast. Then Jesus tells the servants to draw some of it out and take it to the chief steward.  They do so and we know what happens next – the chief steward is amazed and delighted and goes to share with the bridegroom his amazement, that as, for as he can see, the bridegroom has bought the rabbit out of the hat and brought out the best wine at the very last minute.

Although of course, he hasn’t.  The servants know this although neither the chief steward and bridegroom do and this is just one of the intriguing details of this extraordinary miracle which St John describes as the first of the signs performed at this wedding feast in Cana of Galilee.

Running through this story like a leitmotiv is the extraordinary generosity of God. For as Jesus performs this miracle we see two things.  First of all, the kindness of God as revealed by Jesus- whereby the very first miraculous act of Jesus, as recorded by St John, takes place in a midst of a wedding. Through the new wine which the couple and guests receive, the joy or the wedding feast doesn’t end suddenly like a damp squib, but is transformed into something more glorious. Second, we get a glimpse of the generosity of God – which wells up and overflows at this wedding feast – not just one jug or two of wine, but gallons and gallons of the very best wine. If we take nothing else from the story today, remembering God’s generosity, His longing for us to share and enjoy the very best, may help us to reorientate ourselves from dark January gloom to something far more hopeful.

But of course there is far more for us to take and now I’d like us to reflect on this story and also our Old Testament story today about the prophet Elijah in the context of our own lives to see what they may say to us.

I said at the start of this sermon that one of the good things about our January blues, although we may certainly not appreciate it at the time, is that they force us to realise that our batteries are running low – those water jars of our own lives are nearly empty and our wine, in many cases has certainly run out!  It’s at this point we need to say to Jesus, “Fill up the jars”.  This can feel like a difficult step – as human beings, we often pride ourselves on our self-sufficiency that we can cope alone and to do anything else is a confession of weakness.

Except that we are in God’s world, not ours. And, as we heard in our Epistle today, God makes foolish the wisdom of the weak and God’s weakness is stronger than our human strength. Turning to God – asking him to fill up the jars of the emptiness and dryness of our lives is the wisest, the very best thing we can do.

But it takes courage.  Here I think we can reflect fruitfully on the role which Mary took at this wedding feast. We often applaud her powers of observation – is probably Mary who first noticed the consternation between the chief steward and servants and then perhaps even amongst the bridegroom and bride themselves – “The wine is running out”! But what is even more significant, after her conversation with Jesus, are her subsequent words to the servants “Do whatever he tells you”.  For in saying this, Mary was in effect, handing over her authority – an authority which she had exercised since he was a baby and would have been more significant since the death of Joseph.  She has glimpsed something in her son, something since his baptism and return from the desert which leads her to take this radical act of handing over her authority. “Do whatever he tells you”.  Something new is breaking in.

So for us, the first step is for us too to hand over to God – to ask Him to fill our dryness our emptiness. But often we feel that we have so little to offer God – that our wells have run so low. Yet the truth is that this miracle at Cana shows us how God can take whatever little we can offer, which often may feel pitiful and inadequate, and transform them   to something wonderful and transfigurative. There is a wonderful collect which we say during this season of Epiphanytide which reminds us of just that, in which we pray:

“Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new. Transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace” (Collect for Epiphany 2)

We can see this in the fact that Jesus took water – the most basic and humble substance of our everyday lives and used this to transform it into the richest wine. It points us to see how with our cooperation – our opening ourselves to God, He will transform what may feel like the pitiful offering of our lives into something wonderful in His kingdom.

And of course, if we think about water too, we realise that although it is the most basic substance, it is also the foundation of life itself. Life emerged from water, we are made very largely of water, and it is essential to life.  So Jesus’ miracle at Cana also shows us that there is nothing in our world including us, which is not holy in God’s eyes and capable of being transformed by Him for glory.

One of striking features of the John’s account of the miracle at Cana are the little details – apparently small yet each a gem, pointing us to a deeper truth that draws us further into what Jesus is doing here.  At the start of John’s account, he begins with the words, “On the third day, there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee”.  A little detail to add colour we may think, but in fact these words are deeply significant.  For St John is helping us to see the link between this, the first “sign” which Jesus which first revealed his glory to the disciples and that final sign he will give at the climax of his earthly ministry when he will offer himself and be poured out for us on the Cross. In this final act, he will transform our fallen human natures and reconcile us to God.  He will also offer himself to us, as a daily source of new life and transformation, which is why we say the words, “feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving”.

Finally, as we reflect how Jesus in poured out for us and offers us each day, the opportunity to come to Him to be filled and transformed by his grace, so he calls us to offer ourselves to be poured out for the world.  The new wine of the kingdom which Jesus brings into being is not intended to stay in some enclosed spiritual wine cellar of our own lives.  Instead, Jesus calls us to be radically generous as God is radically generous towards us, and allow ourselves to be poured out to bring transformation and hope in the world.

So as we look to the week ahead, let’s pray that, inspired by the generosity of God, shown in this miracle at Cana, that we may have the courage to offer ourselves to Him, just as we are, to be transformed by him.  May we in that spirit of generosity and transformation, be, through God’s grace, an answer to the prayer of someone this week as we are in turn, our poured out to reveal God’s love and mercy.