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Grand Opening

 
Old Mystic, January 17, 2010
John 2:1-11

Summary

The story of the Wedding at Cana portrays the experience of a community to which the joy of the glory of God in Jesus Christ is revealed. God’s presence was in their midst as it is among his people across the ages when they are gathered as a community in celebration.

Sermon

I was recently doing some research in the Internet about how to make wine—homemade wine, that is. I was born in a country with a long tradition in winemaking and with some of the largest vineyards in the world so I have been familiar with some very general descriptions of the process. Yet, how about making some at home? To my chagrin—I should have know better—it takes too long, it requires special equipment, and it is a rather tricky process. First, the flavor (juice) needs to be extracted, then sugar and yeast added—the yeast will transform the sugar in alcohol, plus two stages of fermentation, a detailed and careful sterilization of all the containers and—last but not least—four to six weeks of waiting. That is too long for our culture of instant gratification.

Wine cannot be made in a matter of minutes, even if the juices are ready and the equipment is at hand. Much less, it definitely cannot be made out of water. Of course, Jesus’ production of wine at the wedding in the Galilean town of Cana was a miracle, the kind that wine lovers often joke about. As a miracle, well… we may have a hard time to believe it. Yet, beyond discussions about the factuality of the biblical stories, metaphors, and parables, the turning of water into wine, as told by the evangelist, is a sign pointing to something greater than the miracle itself. If we just stay pondering Jesus’ powerful deed we may miss the point completely. This incredible sign brings light into Jesus’ presence in the lives of the families of the groom and bride, of the guests, of the disciples, and even of Jesus’ mother in a different way. As john puts it, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

This story was placed by the evangelist right at the beginning of this gospel to declare that the gospel is good news and that this good news is about the glory of God, the joy of his presence abiding among his people. And the story is about a wedding, the most important moment in the lives of some families and the acknowledgment of their friends and neighbors. A wedding was one of those times when some of the crude facts of the lives of Galilean peasants could be set aside. It was a moment to forget for awhile of their poverty, the oppression of both the domination system of the Roman Empire and the legalism of the religious system. A wedding lasted seven days, there was plenty of food and wine, and it was a time of rejoicing. It was in this context that Jesus revealed himself as God’s presence; a glorious and joyful presence. The wine had run out—a real embarrassment for the hosts—but Jesus prevented that from happening so that the joy would continue.

I would like to point out two aspects of the context in which Jesus’ glory is manifest. First, God’s glory is powerfully revealed in the context of a gathered community. In a small town like Cana it could have been an event that involved the whole population. In seven days of celebration, people would show up on different days, yet it is perhaps safe to assume that there was some sort of community gathering at all times throughout the whole week of the wedding. People knew that that experience of community was the best they had; they knew that it was an opportunity to have the time of their lives; to have real joy.

To say that we experience that kind of celebration when we gather as a Christian community could be in some cases an overstatement. In fact, in many contexts, Christian gatherings seem to be more the assembly of individuals as the sum of the parts than a community gathered as a whole. It appears to many more like attending an event that being part of a body. We seldom say “I’ll be gathered in community” on Sunday; it is more common to hear “I’m going to church.” Yet, God calls us to be that joyful community where we do not ignore each other’s pains and sorrows—in fact, we support each other in our sufferings. He calls us to be his people among whom God’s glory becomes especially manifest.

In this age of rugged individualism, we relish on our right to privacy. There is no question: God will be with us in the privacy of our homes or in the secrecy of the room where we go to pray. God’s presence and his glory may touch us deeply as we meditate in solitude or ponder the magnificence of creation. Yet, there is such a joy when we gather with friends and family and experience God’s glory. And God will surprise us in the ways he provides for each other’s needs when we have that sense of belonging to one another; of being God’s community.

Second, Jesus’ glory reveals in the context of celebration. A wedding is a celebration of life; it is like saying “life is good;” it is a celebration of the good things lying in the future; of the hope of life together in love and harmony. And all those things are worth celebrating. In Cana, they were not celebrating personal, professional, or economic achievements. They would certainly celebrate all the Jewish feasts, especially the Harvest, a reminder of God’s provision. Yet, they were celebrating love together with God in their midst. In this context, the sign becomes powerful. Jesus is in their midst and seems to be saying, “I’m here and I guarantee that the joy will continue and that God’s presence is permanent.”

I personally love the celebratory mood of Christian congregations—unfortunately not necessarily found everywhere— that understand worship as celebration. In fact, worship should be prolonged beyond the meager sixty minutes that many of us are ready to offer. The celebration should continue in conversations, meals, committee meetings, business meetings, and any encounter we may have as God’s people. When we gather in his name he is here in a special way and the joy is enhanced as we celebrate that presence and our lives together. I believe that Christian communities need to recover that sense of celebration. Is it the main thing in our lives? After all, in my reading of the passage, the Glory of God, God’s ineffable presence, God with his loving, caring, and healing touch is with us when we joyfully gather as a community to celebrate our lives, lives with God.

Please, don’t bring jars of water to church expecting to be turned into wine on Sunday morning! Yet, there are many transformations that can take place when we are gathered in Christian celebration. Above all, tears can be turned into joy. I can’t help to see wine as a symbol of joy. I see Jesus saying to the people of Cana gathered at the wedding and to humanity at large: “I’m here; I’m among you; God is with you! I’m the good news and let the joy continue in spite of the harsh realities of this world. I want to be your life.”

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