Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, 2:00pm Service for the Atlantic Ministry of the Deafadmin | 23 January 2011
“They have no wine”
Mary’s statement describes in a simple phrase our human predicament. We lack the means for our true joy, for our true blessedness. In the background to her remark there is an ancient Jewish saying: “without wine there is no joy”. “They have no wine” means, we may say, they have no joy. But ‘they’ are ‘us’. We have no wine, no joy.
The deeper point is that we have no joy in ourselves. We lack, we might say, the wine of divinity, the source and the occasion of all joy, the wine that truly gladdens and rejoices the heart and soul. To know our lack, however, is saving knowledge. To know our limitations is to be alert to the possibilities of their being overcome – not by us but by the grace of God for us and in us. To know our lack is to be alert to the real presence of divine grace in our midst.
In the Gospel, Mary’s simple statement is made to Christ. Her next, equally simple statement is made to the servants. Yet it extends, really, to all of us: “whatever he tells you, do it.” In between her two simple statements, there is Christ’s rather curious and seemingly dismissive remark: “O woman what is that to thee and to me? mine hour has not yet come.”
What can it mean except that the fulfilling of our needs cannot just be at the dictate of our demands? As if God were some sort of Genie let out of the bottle to do our bidding! As if everything must be done according to our will. To the contrary, it has to be according to the word and will of God, according to the purpose of his coming. In him we find the true measure of our desires. In him we find what is most to be wanted, namely, “thy will be done.” The cost of that is to be found in the meaning of his hour. His hour refers to his death and resurrection, to the miracle of all miracles, of which this miracle at Cana of Galilee is but the “beginning of signs.” The fullness of its meaning is to be found in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What transpires in this “beginning of signs” tells us something profound about the purpose of Christ’s coming. Epiphany season is the season of teaching. The miracles of Christ which “adorn and beautify” this season all teach us something about the truth of Christ. They all manifest – make known – his essential divinity. But they also teach us something else. They teach us something about what God wants for us.
God seeks what is best for us. That is why this first miracle, as John presents it, is a miracle about the superabundance of God’s grace. He gives more than either we desire or deserve. He gives more quantitatively, we might say, and he gives more qualitatively: the best wine has been saved until the last. But beyond that, he gives what is best absolutely and supersubstantially from himself. Even more, in the reference to his hour, we are to understand that he is giving himself.
There is an inescapably sacramental character to this Gospel reading. Through Christ’s Incarnation, the simple things of this world are made the vehicles of the great things of heavenly grace.
This means, too, that there is an integrity to the things of this world in their unity and difference. There is “male and female” as the God-given categories of the understanding of our humanity in creation which, in Christian marriage, become a sign of Christ’s love for the Church. There is “bread and wine”, themselves gifts of creation transformed by human labour, which become, by God’s grace, something more, namely, the effective signs of Christ’s sacramental presence.
This story emphasizes a fundamental aspect of Christian teaching. God teaches us about himself through the sensible things of this world. The teaching is, we might say, sacramental. Something is conveyed to us through these signs which effect what they signify. They do what they say. The grace lies in what he wills to give us. What he wills to give us is nothing less than the very best. It is himself. In the miracles of Epiphany “we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
We behold what he makes manifest for us. Our joy, our good, our truth, our blessedness is found in the company of the one who has come into our midst. It is to be found in his hour, in the purpose of his coming. He comes to give us what we lack. Our humanity is utterly incomplete without God. We lack the wine of divinity. But Christ is our wine, the wine of everlasting life. In him we have all that we need. “According to [his] word”, and not otherwise, may we enter into what he has provided for us, both now and at the hour of our need.
”They have no wine”
Fr. David Curry
AMD, Jan 23rd, 2011