Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, January 20, 2019 – The Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Isaiah 62:1-5 – Psalm 36:5-10 – 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 – John 2:1-11


Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:11)

Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony. The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people.[1]

The first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Were there ever more beautiful words? I’ve heard these read and said them myself more times than I can count, and today, the source of them is our appointed gospel reading.

We are in the season of Epiphany during which the identity of the one born in Bethlehem is revealed. Last week, a voice from heaven proclaimed him God’s beloved at his baptism. This week, we get the stupendous creation of fine wine out of ordinary water. Next week, we hear him read from the Isaiah scroll and pronounce that the ancient prophecy has been fulfilled. This is a season of manifestation – who is this Jesus?

The gospel of John is all about who Jesus is, and who Jesusis, for John, is very much the son of God, the Christ. The first 12 chapters of John are known as the Book of Signs. He doesn’t call the wondrous things Jesus does “miracles,” he calls them “signs,” as in “signs of Jesus’s true identity.” (As a point of information, the last 8 chapters of John are called the Book of Glory as the inevitable – for John at least – revelation of Jesus as Messiah comes to fruition in his death and resurrection.)

So, the first sign at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, as lovely as it sounds, is really not about a wedding at all. I mean, there is no mention of the bride or bridesmaids. No wedding planner. No mother of the bride. No bridal party. It isn’t really even about changing water into wine. It’s about who Jesus is.

Whenever this reading rolls around, the focus is, more often than not, on the status of Jesus’s mother, who is not even named, and his seemingly harsh words for her. The second focus is on the miracle itself – that he could take ordinary water and turn it into about 150 gallons of really fine wine. 

As to the first, that his mother was not named and that he called her “woman:” the word he uses, gunai, is not really the harsh rebuke it seems. The Greek noun can imply affection, too, and Jesus, good and observant Jew that he was, would probably not have broken the fifth commandment to honor his parents. That she has no name here is not Jesus’s fault; it’s John’s, but we’ll have to save that for another day.

It’s important to note that Mary was invited to this party, even if she isn’t given a name. And she apparently had enough stature to give instructions to the servants. So, it isn’t really as dismissive of Mary as it might seem to our ears.           

The other thing to note is that in this culture of Jewish life in the first century, to bring shame on oneself or one’s household was unspeakably destructive. Had the wine run out at this party would have brought shame on this family and ruined this great life celebration. It would have been a signal that the abundance of this household was limited, that God’s blessing had run out. What Mary did in asking Jesus to attend to it was to help the father of the house save face, to not be publicly shamed. And in that time and place, this was extremely significant.

But Jesus didn’t stop at just enough wine to last for what remained of the three-days-long marriage feast. This was generosity of magnificent proportions – abundant and overflowing, something like 1,000 bottles of the finest wine. This is what God’s grace looks like. Enough for everyone and then some. And this message of abundance is the one that we’ve most ignored, most missed, because we are all so afraid that we’re going to run out, run out of whatever it is we most fear being without. And here John is launching Jesus into his earthly ministry with a message: there is enough for everyone.

Now, Mary, you might have noticed, doesn’t tell the servants what to do other than to “do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). And what Jesus tells him is to fill the jugs and then try it. And they do. So not only are Jesus and Mary looking out for the celebrating family, they are also allowing the lowest of those in attendance – the servants – the first glimpse of this sign, this miracle.

And the miracle isn’t about wine. It’s about resurrection. A celebration that might have ended in shame has been restored to life and joy for the couple, the family, and all the guests. The witnesses to this were the lowest ranking people around. Kind of like shepherds and the blind and the lame and the fishermen that Jesus always seemed to have around him. The lowest of the low have been raised up. The last shall be first, he is known to have said. That isn’t just about lining up for a show. It could be the difference between life and death for those on the margins.

John’s project is very clear in this story, and he gives some serious clues about it. This second chapter of John begins with the phrase “On the third day” (2:1). Does that sound familiar? The resurrection on the third day is foreshadowed in this very phrase. Jesus, the son of God, is a worker of the miraculous to display the glory and power and majesty of almighty God which will be most fully evident on the third day – the day of resurrection. The sign isn’t about wine, and it isn’t about a party, it’s about new life.

We live in a world much in need of such signs and wonders, and as I have often said, if I truly believe that God is who I believe God to be, that God became incarnate in the person of Jesus, the the Spirit that hovered over creation from the beginning continues to move in and through us, the Church, and the world, then I continue to stand firmly on the side of hope. 

I believe that the Jesus who turned water into wine can change hearts filled with hate;

…that this Jesus can change minds set on destruction and violence;

…that this Jesus who died and rose again has the power to transform not only our church but our world;

…that this Jesus can continue to bend that moral arc of the universe toward justice.

But don’t forget that Jesus does not do this work alone. If we are, as Teresa of Avila claims, the only hands and body and feet that Christ now has on earth, then we have work to do. And how do we know what that work is? Well, as Mary said, “do whatever he tells you:”

….repay hatred with love;

…respond to judgment with grace;

…speak truth to power;

…pray for our enemies and those who persecute us;

Can the Jesus who turned water into wine perform miracles of resurrection even now?

I’m willing to bet my life on it.


[1]Book of Common Prayer, p. 423.

ASEPSermon for the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, January 20, 2019 – The Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas