Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:

https://soundcloud.com/hapearce/reflection-for-february-22-2021

John 2:1-11

Jesus Changes Water to Wine

     On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2

 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

     4 “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

     5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

     6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

     7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

     8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

     They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

     11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

I don’t know what your experience of the faith has been like, but personally, I’m finding that there are certain passages of scripture that are becoming more powerful to me each time I come back to them. Maybe that’s one of the beauties of the lectionary, which is a schedule of readings that lead us to come back to the gospel readings – and lots of others, too – every two or three years.

It’s probably mostly that each time we come back to readings, we have another two or three years of reflecting and life experience. So ideally, our perspective on the readings is a little deeper and broader – our understanding of the things of the faith allows us to see nuances in the readings that might have escaped us before.

But it’s no doubt also true that we come to these readings in a different time and a different cultural context. Two years ago, when we last based a Reflection on this passage, none of us expected that at this point we would be – hopefully, at least – emerging from a year of global pandemic and a divisive political situation that has shown us just how cancerous the politics of resentment and grievance can be.

So in a sense, we’re completely different people as we read this story of turning water into wine in the year of our Lord 2021. And maybe we’re people who need the gospel message this passage has for us – need it more than we ever have before.

So what is the “gospel message” we’re supposed to get out of this story?

Well, let’s start with the fact that this is one of the ‘miracle stories’ from the life of Jesus. And many times in the gospels, when Jesus performs a miracle, it’s described as a “sign.” In fact, if you look at the last verse of our reading, you’ll see that John uses the word sign in this case. And it’s important to stop and think about what that means. A sign is something that points beyond itself. Something that has a meaning beyond itself. If you’ve read or listened to many of these Reflections, you probably know that we accept the understanding of many Bible scholars that Jesus’ miracles are signs of the Kingdom of God – that they’re meant as ‘previews’ of what that kingdom will be like when it’s brought to fulfillment. The sick will be healed in the kingdom. The blind will see. The dead – at least the dead in Jesus – will be resurrected in the kingdom. Those who are hungry in this world will be fed in the kingdom. And so on.

Of course, at first glance, this story doesn’t seem like it fits with that scheme. Why would making water into wine be a preview of the kingdom of God? But think of it this way: Those who struggle with scarcity in this world will find abundance in the kingdom of God. Those who are forced to settle for the poor and the cheap in this world will experience richness and quality in the kingdom. And what’s more, in the Bible wine is often a symbol of joy. So maybe at heart, this miracle is meant as a sign that in the kingdom of God, those whose joy runs low in this world find it abundantly replenished.

Which is where this story lands with special power at this particular point in history. Because after a year of pandemic and discord, many of us are finding our joy running low. Many of the things that refill our joy under normal circumstances have been taken from us this year. Weddings. Family Reunions. Happy dinners with friends. Hugs and handshakes at worship. The sense of stability and order in our national life.

But this story seems to me to bring home once again the gospel message we mentioned above. It’s a message of good news that the God we love and serve understands our need for joy – and takes that need seriously enough to want to fill us with joy when our supply runs low. I can’t help suspecting that Jesus was a much more joyful person than we usually imagine. In fact, he promised his joy to his followers as one of his continuing gifts to them. And today, this story seems to carry the promise that soon we will be able to find joy once again in the good things of this life – like the celebration of a wedding.

Don’t forget that Jesus says in Luke 15 that there’s a celebration in heaven each time a sinner turns back to the Father. Statistics suggest that worldwide, something like 2,000 people a day become followers of Jesus. So celebration would seem to be a major activity going on in heaven. Maybe if we’re serious about helping God to bring about his kingdom “on earth, as it is in heaven” we should make it a habit to foster joy in ourselves.

And for that matter, maybe it’s a reminder that loving our neighbor includes helping them to renew their joy in times when it might be running low. We tend to think our responsibility to those in need includes only what we consider “the necessities” – basic food, clothing and shelter. But maybe our Lord considers joy to be one of the necessities, too – for us, and for those who may be in need around us.

And after all, joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit.

Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for the promise that those who struggle to meet their needs in this world can expect abundance in your kingdom, and that those for whom joy is in short supply will experience that abundantly in your kingdom too. As we join you in the work of bringing about your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, let us be agents of abundant joy and blessing in the lives of those around us. Amen.

Grace and Peace,

Henry