Scripture Readings Song of Songs 4:9-15 and John 2: 1-12
Weddings have been fraught businesses these last couple of years – I know several folks in this congregation have had family members need to delay weddings because of lockdowns, or have spent the weeks leading up to the nuptials nervously trying to avoid getting COVID. Many here know that my sister got married last year, and when I think back on 2021 I can’t believe that she managed to sneak that in between lockdowns (and in such a way that her bridesmaids from QLD and Vic were also able to fly in to be there).
I was imagining a COVID version of this story from John’s gospel, where the multi-day wedding ceremony is at risk because the family is running out of rapid antigen tests, so Jesus turns q tips into tests and everyone can stay longer at the wedding…. Not the best adaptation, but I thought there was something there.
This is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in the gospel of John. It is his first “sign” (which is the language John prefers for miracles – those acts of Jesus that signify who he is as the Eternal Word of God). Jesus and his mother have a little disagreement about whether it is his time to begin – which is often read as being a kind of grumpy/meddlesome interaction, but I think it is just as possible to read it playfully – where Mary says, “Jesus you should help them, and Jesus enjoying the party looks up with a smile and says ‘mum, I’m not on call today’. However we read it, Jesus does indeed perform the sign, because sometimes mothers really do know best.
It really is a perfect time and place for Jesus to begin his ministry, to perform his first sign – it is such a material, domestic, joyful act; it is small in its own way – it doesn’t change the world, it doesn’t raise the dead, it just brings joy to his small community and family and allows a party to keep going. It also serves as a reminder of the locality, simplicity and intimacy of much of Jesus’ life.
When we read at the beginning of John’s gospel (as we did last week, that the word became flesh and lived among us), we can be struck by (and stuck in) the cosmic scale of such a thing. It can be easy to just consider the universal implication of God made flesh, of the Eternal Word become part of humanity. And yet, for the bulk of Jesus’ earthly life, what it looked like for the word to take flesh was not marked by the cosmic battle against the powers of sin and death, or his confrontation with imperial Rome, or his miracles and his teaching and his death and resurrection. No, the bulk of his life was lived in a small village among the same group of people who would have known him well. Jesus life was marked – like many of our own – by the various social events and rites that organise our own days. He would have marked various religious rites (circumcisions, holy days, feasts), he would have prayed and sung with his family and friends, he would have celebrated good harvests and lamented weak ones, he would have mourned at funerals, and rejoiced at weddings, his life was lived among other lives and his was intertwined with theirs. And so, here he is at a wedding, with no greater purpose than to celebrate the kind of love and passion and intimacy as is celebrated in the reading from the Song of Songs, and – out of an unexpected and ultimately mundane need – begins his public ministry by ensuring that the party could continue, that the celebration could prolong, that the family hosting the wedding would be commended and the couple rightly honoured.
And while this act is small, simple, and in many ways mundane… while it is domestic and local, in it is the full truth of the nature of Christ and his mission as the one sent by God. Jesus said that he came so that we may have life and have it abundantly. The Father sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world may have life in his name. And this life, this abundance, is for all and it is for now – it is foretaste and completion. And so Jesus transforms water into wine so that those in his company on that day, at that wedding, might experience (even for just a few more hours) life in its abundance. Might experience celebration, joy, and fellowship, might experience a moment on earth as it is in heaven, might experience a moment of the kingdom of God – itself so often compared to a banquet or wedding feast!
It is also the perfect place for Christ’s public ministry to begin, because it is where so many of us as Christ’s ministers abide. Some Christians, in their pursuit of Christ and his justice and love, end up performing signs of that commitment and faith that are *big* (that change the world, that alter the lives of many) hallelujah and thanks be to God. But for many of us, the work we do in imitation and pursuit of Christ and his kingdom is the small work of joy, love, care, and community that is exemplified in this first sign of turning water into wine. It is the work we do within our local communities, that which creates openings for the experience of abundant life, that will occupy most of our activity as disciples. It is in the noticing of need, and the pushing past that voice that can sound up from within saying, ‘it is not the right time’ that we too begin, that we too take up the path of Christ.
The Word became flesh and lived among us – and in that living sought to give life and life in abundance to those who drew near (often and especially to those whose lives were marked by anything other than abundance!). As we who have been found in Jesus, who have heard the word of grace and committed to follow after him and his way, may we also be a people found “among” – may we also be those who seek life and its abundance for our neighbours, may we also be those who live in joy, and love, and care for those around us. May we be a people who celebrate the intimacy and meaning and joy that is found when people gather together to mark the moments of this life we have been gifted. In a world marked by scarcity and division, may we be those who see the work of God in the small acts that make life in community pleasurable and plentiful, foretastes of the eternal life of God that resembles a great feast and bottomless barrels of wine.
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