Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 6, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Song of Songs 4:9-15+Psalm 45:6-10, 12-15+(1 Corinthians 9:1-10)+John 2:1-12

When we think of Jesus’s miracles, we think about the great feedings of multitudes, physical healing and casting out demons, walking on water, coming back from the dead – that sort of thing. But here near the beginning of John, Jesus is doing something that seems utterly frivolous. I mean, who really needs a couple of hundred gallons of Lafite Rothschild anyways?

And this is not just any old miracle; it’s the first of his signs, and the text tells us that it “revealed his glory, and the disciples believed in him” (John 2:12).

What is going here?

Like the other gospel writers, John knows the history of his people. The sacred scriptures and the words of prophets. John and Matthew especially use the Hebrew scriptures to support their claim that Jesus was the Messiah.

At the end of the book of the prophet Amos, we read about the coming Day of the Lord. In this particular prophet, that Day is not necessarily something to look forward to. It’s when we will all be called to account for trampling on the poor and oppressed, but here, near the end of Amos, we read

The time is surely coming, says the Lord,
   when the one who ploughs shall overtake the one who reaps,
   and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
   and all the hills shall flow with it. (9:12)

Also, in another prophetic writing, the book of Isaiah, there is a portion known as the little apocalypse, and it says

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
   a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
   of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear. (25:6)

Anyone reading about this making wine from water would have been given a signal that Day of the Lord is here. In ancient Israel, a new king would throw a great feast with the finest of wine and food, and John is telling us, here he is. This is the new one whose reign is of God.

But what of this odd little exchange between Jesus and his mother? Mary comes to tell Jesus that the wine has run out, and he says, in effect, “So what? What’s that got to do with us?” adding, “My hour has not yet come” (2:4).

Like anyone who has raised a kid for 30 years or so, Mary knew her son. She knew he was going to do something. So she says to the servants standing there, who were probably terrified that the head of the household will have their heads for running out of wine, “Do whatever he tells you.” This is such a moment, such a human moment. Mary knew that Jesus would not let the party end badly, would not let the servants suffer, and maybe that Jesus couldn’t help himself. Maybe he always took it upon himself to do something.

Whatever the case, he does do something, telling the servants to fill the jugs with water, and the next thing you know, it’s the finest of wines.

Jesus’s hour may not have come, but he is willing to point toward it. The fulfillment of God’s promise to redeem the world is a few years down the road, but when Jesus is exalted and glorified, oh, what a feast there will be. Just as Isaiah described. Just as Amos promised on the Day of the Lord. The finest of wines, poured out for all.

I want to take just a moment here to point out that wine was the beverage of choice in the Ancient Near East. Grapes were plentiful; water was not. Of course, a great feast was going to have a lot of wine. Maybe not the finest, but wine to enjoy, to wash down the food. Water was for washing, for purifying. For many people today, all this talk of wine is problematic. We in the Church have a complicated history with alcohol consumption, ignoring at our peril the harm that it can cause. So, if alcohol is a problem for you, I hope the distinction between then and now is clear, and even if alcohol is not an issue for you, the implication that life cannot be enjoyed without it, as advertisers so regularly tell us, is nonsense. And it’s damaging.

Okay, back to Jesus.

Did you hear the first part of the reading?

It opened with “On the third day.” Those words should be familiar to anyone who has heard the Easter story, of Christ’s resurrection from the dead on the third day. In Jesus’s time, a wedding could last a week. This is another reason there needed to be plenty of wine. But John is combining a narrative that says the fulfillment has come, hearkening back to kingship of old and the promised Day of the Lord, and looking ahead to the crucifixion and resurrection. It’s quite brilliant, actually.

And finally, don’t forget Mary. We don’t hear a lot from her or about her specifically in the gospels. In John, she appears twice but is not named. If you’re curious, Luke has her only in the infancy narratives ; Matthew has her only once (13:55) outside of a few mentions in the infancy narrative; and Mark writes of her by name once (6:3) and mentions her two other times without naming her (3:31, 32). It’s astonishing given the honor and attention given her in the centuries since these events that Mary has such a minor role in these, our sacred texts.

Anyway, don’t miss this significant moment when Mary says, “Do whatever he tells you” (2:5). Did she know he was going to work this wonder? I don’t know, but she trusted him to do what needed to be done so that the celebration could continue. Later in John, Jesus will say, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (10:10). This scene at the wedding at Cana is a foreshadowing of that, as well.

Do what Jesus tells you, and abundant life follows. That does not mean an endless party or riches or success or anything else. It does mean that you will know the joy of a life filled with God’s love, never leaving or forsaking. And we get a foretaste of that heavenly banquet right here, every time we gather at this table.

So, maybe Jesus knew what he was doing right here at the outset, making sure everyone knew what abundant life awaited them. It did not mean a life free from sorrow or pain, but it did and does mean life eternal in the presence of God.

ASEPSermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 6, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas