The New Wine – January 20, 2019
When Johnny Carson hosted the Tonight Show he interviewed an eight-year-old boy who was asked to appear because he had rescued two friends in a coal mine outside his hometown in West Virginia. As he questioned the boy, it became obvious to Carson that the kid was a Christian. So he asked him what he was learning in Sunday School.
“Last week,” the boy said, “our lesson was about when Jesus went to a wedding and turned water into wine.” The audience roared but Carson tried to keep a straight face. “And what did you learn from that story?” he asked.
The boy squirmed in his chair. It was clear that he hadn’t really thought about it. Then he looked out at the audience and said, “If you’re going to have a wedding, make sure you invite Jesus!”
This story of Jesus and his friends attending the wedding in Cana is not only a popular one but one that demonstrates how Jesus loved to be part of a joyful gathering of people who come together to celebrate and give thanks. This is not a miracle story in the classic sense of those found in all the Gospels.
Historians tell us that the ancient Israelites ate a far richer and more diverse diet than the hummus, falafel, and vegetable diets of modern-day Middle Eastern people. Ancient Israel was renowned for its wine, honey and pomegranates along with its olive oil.
We don’t know what foods were served at the wedding in Cana but I’d imagine it was a rich, sumptuous banquet with lavish food and drink energizing the celebration which typically lasted as long as fourteen days.
If the wine gave out at a First Century Palestinian wedding it would have constituted a social disaster and bring shame on the host and the family.
We find in this story an important pattern in the life and ministry of Jesus: his penchant for meeting different kinds of people in a variety of settings including dinner parties. Clearly, Jesus enjoyed times of celebration with good food and beverage where people are brought together and new beginnings are recognized and celebrated.
There were some jars positioned in the wedding hall to be used for the Jewish rite of purification, set up for guests to wash their hands before eating as required by religious law. I suppose that since they didn’t use forks to eat with wet-wipes would have been a nice addition as well.
When the alarm is sounded that the wine is gone, Jesus doesn’t panic and frantically go looking for more wine. He asks the servants to fill the jars with fresh water that is already available and gives them the best wine they’ve ever enjoyed. He took an ordinary and inexpensive thing like water and gave it new life, new strength, and new pleasurableness.
John the Evangelist calls this miracle at Cana the first sign that Jesus did, referring to these miracles as signs because they offer “new levels of recognition” and direct us to see a new way of life that is presented to us in the Gospel.
In his homily notes, Thomas O’Loughlin, Professor of Historical Theology at Nottingham University, writes: “The key message of John’s first ‘sign’ and one of the very foundations of our believing, can be summed up in ten words: The Divine One is with us and knows our needs.”
The Divine One is with us and knows our needs. There are times in all our lives when the wine gives out. If wine is a symbol of joy and happiness, then we know well how and when the wine of our lives can be depleted. In those times of parchedness, can we recall this Gospel sign and story and ask Jesus to fill the water jars and give us a taste of the new wine that will refresh and restore us?
What is the water at the wedding of our lives? The common and ordinary we take for granted? People we know, opportunities we may get, places we visit? Can we look beyond them to recognize that they may be signs that—by God’s grace—they can be changed into what may be for us the experience of new and excellent wine when the old runs out?
Here in this sacred space, we come together in community to celebrate and give thanks for the ways that God has made known God’s power of transformation in our lives and for what this Body of Christ has accomplished as partners with God in God’s mission of healing, restoration, and making whole those who have in any way have felt fragmented or marginalized by society or its institutions, even by religion. That has and remains one of our principal works as the parish of St. Paul’s on the Green and it is good—more than good wine; it is excellent.
As the recorder of the Cana wedding story, John has a particular interest in highlighting “Kairos moments” – Kairos being a Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment. The Kairos moment of Cana was the abundance of best wine as a sign that God is infinitely generous.
Peter, in just a week you will end your wonderful ministry as Assistant Rector of St. Paul’s. We will gather next week to celebrate that ministry and soon you will celebrate a new beginning in your priestly life.
It is now your Kairos moment—the right and opportune time to experience a continuing transformation of your priestly ministry in another faith community.
You were the new wine this parish needed and recognized five years ago when you entered our doors as a seminarian and you have brought us much new wine through your many, many gifts and energy and time with which you were infinitely generous. And we have seen the fermentation of the new wine of your priesthood over those five years.
It has been an honor and delight to be not just your boss but a colleague and friend.I offer you this slight paraphrase of a benediction by Katie Cook in her Sacred Seasons:
Mat the one who turned water into wine
Turn your tedium into festival, and show you how to alternate between commitment and carnival.
May God’s will be done where you live; may impossible things come to pass.
May you find strength in the journey and joy in the struggle; through the grace of God.
And wherever you go, whatever you are asked to do, whenever you minister, whomever you meet, however you are feeling, whoever embraces you or tests you, know this: The Divine One is with you and knows your needs. Amen.