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“He Thus Revealed His Glory” – Reflections on Jesus’ First Sign by Norman Knowles

January 23, 2013

Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen

A small boy was asked by a visiting relative if he attended Sunday school. When he said he did, he was asked, “What are you learning?” “Last  week,” came the reply, “our lesson was about when Jesus went to a wedding and made water into wine.” “And what did you learn from that story?” the relative inquired. After thinking for a moment, the lad answered, “If you’re having a wedding, make sure Jesus is there!”

You know, that is pretty sage advice. It is a good thing to have Jesus at our wedding ceremonies, indeed it is good to have Jesus everywhere that is of significance to our lives.

The gospel today [John 2:1-11] about how the wine ran out at the wedding in Cana – and how Mary asks Jesus to do something about it – and he does – ends with these words: “This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.”

He thus revealed his glory – and his disciples put their faith in him.

The gospel of John speaks often about signs and about faith. Signs point to something – for those with eyes to see – they testify to something that is greater than they are – and it is that greater thing we are meant to grasp – and not simply the sign itself.

The first sign that Jesus did points to many things about himself and what he was about.

Paolo Veronese

First – Jesus’ turning water into wine is itself a picture of all that he came to do. Jesus takes what is and shows us that it has the possibility to become something more. What is – that which is tired, worn out, devoid of joy, empty, and lacking purpose – can be transformed.  It can be turned into something rich, fragrant, and ripe with the fullness of joy through his presence, through his care.  

There is a lot of gospel in that for all of us. Jesus can bring new life. He can fill the emptiness in our lives – he can take whatever it is that we bring to him – no matter how little – or how much – and utterly remake it – giving to it a savour – a taste – the is beyond the best that we ourselves are capable of providing.

Second – John notes that the wine came from the huge thirty-gallon jugs that stood full of water at the front of the house, vessels that were used by observant Jews to fulfill the rules on ceremonial washing. Even a wedding feast had to honour the rituals of cleansing. Jesus transformed those six jugs, ponderous symbols of the old way, into wineskins, harbingers of the new. From the purified water of the Pharisees came the choice new wine of a whole new era. The time for ritual cleansing had passed; the time for celebration had begun.

Third – the Gospel story emphasizes the abundance of Jesus’ provision of wine. The wedding guests went from having no wine at all to having almost enough to swim in. Now, the age of the Messiah was long expected to be one of abundance – one in which the wine of joy – the cup of salvation – would always be full and overflowing.  Thus this miracle is a sign, for those who have eyes to see, of Jesus’ Messiahship. He is the long-awaited deliverer of Israel. He is the one who will purify Israel and all people. He provides more than is needed.

Fourth – the miracle takes place at a wedding feast. Marriage has long been a symbol of the relationship between God and the people of God. We can notice that in this morning’s reading from the Book of Isaiah, where the prophet tells us that at the time of Israel’s restoration and vindication, God will take delight in them and their land will be married.  As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.  

The fact that the first sign that Jesus did – was at a wedding would not be lost on people. It was their belief that at the time of salvation that God would provide a table for feasting for his servants and a cup that would never run dry. That imagery is in fact present in the twenty- third Psalm whose final verses say “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I  will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”

Louis Kahan

Fifth – in this, his first sign, Jesus also stresses the place of his mother, Mary, in the work of redemption. It is Mary who triggers Jesus’ first act of public ministry by saying to him: “They have no wine.” It was a simple request showing that she trusted that her son would immediately respond and help. Jesus’ response to her seems slightly brusque. He said, “Woman, what is that to me and you; my hour has not yet come.” The only other place where Jesus calls his mother “woman” is at his passion as she stood beneath the cross. Then he handed her over to the care of John and made her the mother of all of us. Our original mother was the “woman” Eve. In calling his mother “Woman,” Jesus seems to be saying, “You are the new Eve. As it was promised to her that her seed would crush the head of the serpent – so through you I have come to do that which has been promised – I have come to overwhelm sin and death with righteousness and life.” 

The miracle at Cana is, among other things, a preview of the last Supper, the hour when Jesus transforms not water into wine  but wine into blood, his blood shed for all humanity. By telling Mary “my hour has not yet come” Jesus links what she is asking him to do with his sacrifice on the cross. 

The best wine is saved for the last – the wine of salvation – a salvation won for us completely by Jesus when he gave up his life for us, – a salvation that is not just for one day, or the one week during which a wedding is celebrated, – but forever.

Mary tells the servants in today’s reading to “Do whatever Jesus tells you.” That is what faith is all about, responding to the words of Jesus, trusting that his word will be fulfilled, trusting that as he transformed the water of purification in the wine of joy, so he will transform us and lead us into the kingdom where the best is not only saved for the last,  but where the best lasts.

As we receive Communion today, may we open our lives anew to God’s gifts of grace.

Isaac Fanous

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The words in this posting are the sermon that the Reverend Dr. Norman Knowles, our Assistant, preached at our January 20 Services. Many thanks to Norman for graciously allowing them to be reproduced here.

The images in this posting are, in order from top to bottom, depictions of the Wedding in Cana by Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen (c. 1530); Paolo Veronese (1563); an early 14th century mosaic in the Church of St. Saviour in Chora, in Istanbul, Turkey; Louis Kahan (1949); and an undated work by Isaac Fanous (1919-2007), the founder of the Modern Coptic school of iconography. They will all enlargen if you click on them.

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