by Rev. Collette Broady Grund
John 2:1-11 The Wedding at Cana: The First Sign
To follow the theme for this season of “emBodied” into the gospel of John seemed a daunting proposition at first. This is most dualistic of the gospels, with it’s flesh versus spirit and light verses dark. Jesus is the most perfect in this gospel, with his inexhaustible peace and resignation as he moves toward his own death. Yet, here in chapter two, in the first of his signs, Jesus is decidedly earthy. He’s at a party, which in this pastor’s experience, is always a place ripe with opportunities for ministry!
I also love the conversation he has with his mother about whether or not he’s going to do anything to save the day. Now I know that “woman” was a traditional way to speak to a female in his time, but his own mother? Other commentators might resist interpreting this as attitude, but as a mother whose own son has called her “woman”, I can’t hear it any other way. In my hearing, there’s always a “Geez” before the “woman”. Even though she only stated the facts of the day, “They have no wine.” Jesus’ resistance to doing something about the problem is what makes him human in this text. Maybe he’s thinking this moment is too small for his great unveiling, maybe he’s wishing he had more time before IT begins, maybe he was just having a good time with his disciples after finally getting away from that obnoxious John, who keeps pointing at him and yelling, “BEHOLD! THE LAMB OF GOD”.
But his dear mother knows who he is, what he is, and will not take no for an answer. “Do whatever he tells you” she says, and you can almost hear Jesus’ eye roll as he accepts that this actually is his hour, and the wine actually is his concern.
In a gospel short on details so far, John spends an inordinate amount of space covering the extra proportions of the jars, the amount of water and Jesus’ instructions. He wants us to pay attention to the concrete details, the tangible facts of this sign. Twenty or thirty gallons, six times over, empty jars filled to the brim. If you hear eucharistic echoes in this story, connections to both to the conversation with the woman at the well and the feeding of the 5000, that’s intentional. Though there’s no last supper in John, the superabundance of God’s fullness is everywhere. Jesus is the good wine, he is the water of life gushing up to eternal life, he is the bread of life which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
Mysterious as this sign may be, and frustrating as his roundabout answers in John’s gospel are, Jesus is nevertheless present most clearly in the simple things of life: wine, water, bread. But in Jesus, the superabundance of these simple things points beyond them to the greater reality of God’s reign, God’s own self taking on human form, finite things which contain the infinite.
For preaching, there are two possible directions that appeal to me. First, the focus on Jesus’ resistance to this first sign, and Mary’s quiet insistence that he do something. There are countless times in our following Jesus where an opportunity arises unexpectedly, maybe even at a party just trying to have a good time, and we feel our own resistance to the work of God rise up. “This isn’t the time to talk about serious things.” “That’s none of my business.” “I’m not on the clock.” In those moments where we resist the inbreaking of God’s work, who are the ones to help us see that the hour is NOW, and that God’s concerns and ours are one and the same? Who are the ones that call us to action when we’d rather look the other way?
Second, the superabundance of wine calls to me. It’s hard even to imagine 120 or 150 gallons of wine. It’s an excess, embarrassing to the bridegroom and his family, wildly inappropriate to the occasion. Yet Jesus does it, quietly as if it’s no big deal, and walks away without comment. Think about that: such a huge quantity of excellent wine, worth thousands of dollars today, is not even worth commenting upon in the greater view of God’s reign! Is there anywhere in our lives that we experience such superabundance? Is there anywhere in the church?
My recent ministry with the people of my community has been to open a homeless shelter that rotates a week at at time between seven congregations. As little as a year ago, this seemed a completely improbable dream. Yet, everywhere we have turned, God’s abundance has appeared. Literally every day I walk into my office to a pile of donated coats, hats and blankets, to checks from those the Spirit has moved to generosity. Every night, twenty five people show up at one of our churches to a warm bed and copious amounts of food prepared by volunteers. This kind of hospitality can only be God’s work, as it far outpaced my expectations months ago. It’s not gallons of wine in this sign, it’s piles of fleece tie-blankets under which the bodies of Christ’s body finally have a warm place to sleep this winter.