The wedding banquet was an important part of culture in the 1st century AD (even more so than now!), and was frequently used to help people picture the coming of God’s Kingdom. So, when Jesus performed his first ‘sign’ at a wedding banquet, he was making a significant point about himself and his ministry. This is a slightly edited version of my sermon.
Wedding banquet Readings: John 2:1-11; Revelation 19:6-10
When we got married we wanted to do it as cheaply as possible. So, amongst other things, we decided to do the catering ourselves. And when I say ourselves, I mean my mother-in-law. As part of that my parents-in-law used their holiday in France to stock up with boxes and boxes of wine. They came back with most of the back seat loaded down with wine boxes, so much that they lasted through the whole of the wedding reception, and were still being used months later!
So, there were no problems with wine running out at our wedding. But, then, we weren’t having a week-long celebration like the family in the reading were probably having. Weddings then were the major celebrations involving the whole village, and people from a few nearby ones as well. So, running out of wine would have been very embarrassing. It would have been more than embarrassing though, it would have been a major social disgrace, the shame of which the couple would have had to live with for a very long time.
Weddings were such major celebrations, involving everyone, that when people thought about what heaven would be like, they thought of wedding celebrations. They thought of the parties to which everyone was invited, at which everyone could celebrate. In the same way that the wedding couple could celebrate their love for each other, so everyone could celebrate God’s love and care for each one of them.
So when Jesus used the huge stone jars that were used for ceremonial washing he was not only being generous, helping the wedding couple out of their possible social disgrace, but he was also doing far more than that. By using those ceremonial stone jars he was showing God’s generosity, God’s love, and God’s involvement in the everyday. He was showing that God’s generous, overflowing love was present in the wedding celebrations, and present in him.
Jesus was also making a significant point about who he was and what he was doing. As the reading from Revelation reminds us, as Christians, we are all invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb, of Jesus the Messiah. Jesus’ first sign being at a wedding made a point about who he was. That was one of the reasons that the disciples were so amazed.
The visions in the book of Revelation of God’s glorious future for us are not photographs of the reality to come, but more like impressionist paintings. A few years ago now there was a big exhibition in London of one of the leading impressionist artists, Monet. And we travelled down for the day to go and have a look at these paintings. We queued up and jostled with all the other people standing in front of the first painting and eventually got as close as we could to it, so we were actually standing in front of a real, live Monet painting. And it was a serious disappointment! There were blobs and streaks of paint, you could see the individual brushstrokes, but the painting was somehow flat and lifeless. So, I turned round to get out of the crowd and happened to look across at the painting on the far wall. And that was fantastic! It shimmered, it was alive, it drew you in!
To truly see an impressionist painting you have to stand back and catch the vision of it. Get too close, all you see is brushstrokes. And it is the same when we try to describe God and his future. All our language is metaphorical and fragmentary. We don’t get a detailed map or a precise photograph but an impression, a vision of something about what it will look like.
We are invited to the wedding banquet of the Lamb, whatever that will actually look like. God takes the ordinary, the physical, and transforms it. This is powerfully shown in the Incarnation of Jesus, where Jesus takes on our humanity and transforms it. In the gospels we read that Jesus’ resurrected body was physical. He could touch, he could cook fish, he could break bread. His wounds were still visible. And yet this physical body was also unlike our physical bodies. It was somehow transformed.
This transformation as a sign of what will happen to the whole of God’s creation. Jesus’ death and resurrection have decisively brought God’s rule to earth. And through the Holy Spirit we are commissioned and equipped to put that victory into practice. We are made in God’s image and so we are to carry on God’s work here on earth. God’s heavenly rule is breaking into earth, to transform it into his heavenly kingdom.
God takes ordinary, physical things and transforms them. In baptism ordinary tap water becomes a sign of God’s transforming grace in people’s lives. In communion ordinary bread and wine become the signs of God’s broken body and shed blood through which we can enter into his presence. The work of human hands becomes a means of drawing closer to God. The final transformation won’t take place until Jesus returns, to finally bring the fullness of heaven to earth. But, in the meantime, we can catch glimpses of heaven on earth, and we can work towards that day.
Jesus spent a lot of time at parties and meals and feasts. He knew the importance of eating together, of sharing in people’s lives, of caring about the everyday, the seemingly ordinary. We can sometimes struggle with remembering that, of acting like that. But the example of God shows us, reminds us, to value the small things, and to seek to see God in the ordinary, and to seek to show God in the everyday.
The miracle at the wedding at Cana shows that Jesus is bothered about what happens to us, that Jesus wants us to celebrate all the good that is in our lives, and that he will be with us in the difficult times as well. Jesus stepped into a wedding of good friends and fixed a simple, but serious, problem. They’d run out of wine and they were going to be in social disgrace unless help came quickly. Is Jesus really interested in the everyday events of our lives? Does Jesus really care about what is happening to us day-by-day? His actions at Cana tell us the answer is yes. The promise of Jesus is that, if we invite him, he will be with us at all those times, in all those situations, helping us, transforming us in the same way that he transformed the water into wine. The challenge of Jesus is for us to seek to bring Jesus into those everyday events and problems that we encounter, and to seek to show his concern and love in those everyday things. And the invitation of Jesus is to that great heavenly banquet of which wedding receptions are but a foretaste, where we can celebrate God’s overflowing love for us forever. Amen.