Epiphany 3: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage feast of the Lamb”

“Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage feast of the Lamb”, “These are true words of God”

Words from The Revelation to John.

Over many years the main area of Malcolm’s business was Wedding Photography and often I would tag along, as I would say ‘to look after his equipment’, but in truth it was because I am a sucker to a wedding.  The excitement of the family, the fabulous outfits and the obvious love of the couple for each other. Now of course I have the additional pleasure of being the one who ties the knot and it is a real privelage to do it.

During my first visit to Holy Land and the village of Cana I witnessed a group of several couples reaffirming their wedding vows with another embarrassed group of young single boys hovering nearby.  This made me question what the miracle at Cana was about.

Cana, as we know it today, lies four miles out of Nazareth on the road to Tiberius and there are two churches built there to commemorate the first miracle of Jesus. I remember it being yet another really hot day, and I was pleased to enter the cool of the Wedding church. In the crypt there was a glass cabinet containing a stone water jar similar to those kept during the time of Jesus for the purification of hands and feet. I was perhaps naive when I had imagined these were made of Roman style pottery. This jar was a solid lump of stone that stood at least as tall as I, and it was carved out to contain the twenty or thirty gallons described in the gospels. One hundred and twenty gallons of wine suddenly became a reality, what a wedding feast it must have been.

Looking back into history there was almost nothing in the public lives of first century Jewish people that did not come out of tradition. Throughout John’s gospel we read of the signs and wonders that confirm Jesus as the Word made flesh. And in describing Jesus’ actions John wanted his Greek readers to understand the nuances of God’s message.

We heard this morning that Melchizedek brought wine and food to Abram after the battle. Of Abram’s thanksgiving gift, and of God’s covenant with Abram and his future offspring. We may recollect Isaiah who described the wayward people of Israel as an unfruitful vineyard and of God providing a feast with well-matured wine, as a symbol of salvation. Isaiah also described the Creator as a husband gathering back his abandoned Wife; “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” And so when reading the Bible passages this morning we need perhaps to keep an open mind, because weddings and wine in the scriptures represent much more than weddings and wine.

Let us pause here and reflect for a moment. Just a few weeks earlier Jesus had been baptised by John and been affirmed by God, ready to begin his ministry. In the wilderness Jesus had dealt with the temptation to do things in his own way. He had given himself up to God, and his plan of reconciliation with, and salvation for creation.

At the announciation an Angel had told Mary that her child was of God. She had listened to Simeon and Anna in the Temple affirming her little baby to be the promised one. She had seen the young boy seated at the feet of the teachers in the Temple, holding his own, and speaking with authority. Finally she would have known what had happened at the river Jordan. So when Mary spoke to Jesus at the wedding feast the situation was pregnant with possibilities.

To run out of wine at such a huge public event would have been humiliating. The bride and groom’s families, and very likely, the whole village had been celebrating for three days when Mary noticed the discomfort of the servants and the Chief steward. When we pray desperately for God’s help in an urgent situation, like children we want it right now. Jesus response to Mary “what has this to do with me or you, my hour has not yet come,” echoes his rebuke to Peter at Caesarea Philippi. “Get behind me Satan, my hour has not yet come” both pointing strongly toward Easter and God’s perfect timing. Mary’s instruction to the servants “Do whatever he says” displayed a trust and assurance that something was going to happen.

In the marriage service we are reminded that as a couple grow together in love and trust, their unity mirrors the unity of Christ with his bride the Church. They begin a new way of life made Holy by God. In this earthly life we are reminded that our God is a God of New Beginnings.

In John 10:10 we read that Jesus came to bring us life, not just any old life, but life in abundance. “Fill up those water jars” and pure, clean water, a symbol of life was somehow turned into wine. Not just any old wine but the best wine, and lots of it.

In our Eucharist we celebrate with water and wine, a symbol of Jesus’ blood and an Easter sign of the new covenant between God and his people. The miracle at Cana is not only a story of Jesus being kind and saving the dignity of a new groom’s family, but also a sign of new life, new life for the couple and new life for God’s people, the church.

We wait with anticipation for the freshness of a new beginning in our church. When a new vicar and a new generation at St Mary’s will be able to look with joy at the wonderful work of artists dedicated to portraying something of the glory of God.

So when we come to renew our relationship with God and each other, in the bread and wine, don’t come to the wedding feast of the Lamb with a miserable face, but as Gordon Slater’s hymn suggests,  “Come with joy, a child of God, forgiven, loved and free, the life of Jesus to recall, in love laid down for me” for you, for us all, and for all eternity. Let us come with joy and then take it out into the week ahead showing the love of God in the world. Amen.

The Rev'd Mo Lunn, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 24/01/2021