Sacramental Wine

TL 1-20-2019 YC E2

Scriptures: John 2:1-11

Let us pray:

Gracious Spirit, illumine these scriptures that they might bring us life-giving messages to share. Amen.

Once again we are graced with a passage from John’s gospel. In this most enigmatic of gospels, the “signs” gospel, as it is often called, we are given a glimpse of an entirely differently viewed reality than the more often prosaic synoptic gospel accounts. John’s gospel was composed much later; its’ final redaction, or compilation and editing, well over 100 years after Jesus walked the earth. What we have is a window into the life of our Lord with a hindsight riddled with interpretations of events not understood or even seen closer to the time of their happening.

I suggest we look at this first passage in chapter two, and the first sign described by John’s gospel as one which “revealed his glory,” with a keen eye to layers of meaning we can appropriate for our contemporary journey of faith. It will assist us if we keep in mind that the entirety of John’s gospel is a chiasm, that is, working front to back and back to front, we find corresponding passages on each end, like book-ends, with its central revelation in the very middle of the gospel. Within that greater pattern are smaller chiastic patterns as well. Let us examine closely this story for meaning and application.

We begin with 2:1. “On the third day there was a wedding.” Traveling to the end of the gospel of John, we find this passage in 20:1 “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark….” According to John, Jesus was laid in the tomb on the Jewish day of preparation, which we would understand as Friday. The first day of the week would have been Monday. Friday to Monday is three days. Next we read, “in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.”

Travelling to the back of John, we find in 19:25 “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”

It might be important to note that in Biblical times, marriage for Jews was normally the only means of survival for women. Alone, they were unable to own property, and were generally only known, as was this aunt of Jesus, as the “wife of” someone else.

A funny story: consequently, when Presbytery of the Cascades met at First Presbyterian Church in Newport a couples years back, I braved the keepers of the historical records to look up one of my ancestors. Sure enough, even down to her present age, she was listed in their ledgers as Mrs. Walter Walrad, not Jessie Hazel Walrad, or “ Grandma Jennie” like her grandchildren did.

Back to John’s gospel: here has singled out three women, one of whom has been present from the beginning and is there at the very end: the mother of Jesus.

Next, she approaches Jesus with a problem: the wine has run out at the wedding. Jesus tries to dodge responsibility for it, but Mamma Mary pins him to the ground with her commandeering of the wedding hosts’ servants. She tells them, “Do whatever he tells you.” So they turn expectantly to Jesus, apparently now vested with the authority of acting host for the tail-end of the party. He gives them specific directions: fill these six ceremonial purification jars with water, draw some out, and take it to the chief steward. Now, why such specific directions? I suspect the first was two-fold. 1. Ceremonial purification jars are used for nothing else but the rites of purification. These symbolize the old order of things, whereas Jesus represents a new way of doing things within the old religion. 2. Jesus instructs the servant to draw some out and give to the chief steward – a person employed by the bridegroom to make sure the party goes smoothly. Naturally, the steward turns to the bridegroom to make his pronouncement – thus Jesus has deflected the true origin of his involvement, since it is “not yet my time.” Jesus repeats this phrase throughout the gospel until 17:1 when he prays, just before his arrest, “the time has come.”

What do these connections tell us? First of all, in John’s gospel, Jesus was self-aware the entire time of his ministry on earth. He knew who he was, where he was going, and what his purpose on earth was to be. Another entire layer to these passages is an eschatological layer – the layer having to do with temporal life as we know it on this earth and an eternal life omnipresent but also yet to be. So what is the point of this passage, and how are we to interpret it for us?

“The purpose of Jesus’ miracles, or signs, is to reveal the person of Jesus. The result of the sign will be that some who see the sign will understand it and some will reject it.”[1]

The steward, the guests, and the bridegroom all did not know or understand the importance of this sign or where, even, it came from. The servants of the household, whom Mary knew and commanded, and Jesus directed, did know. And so did the disciples, silently watching everything that happened from the background. Now, at the end of our passage, they make their second book-end appearance for this pericope in 2:11 “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

John chronicles six more signs of Jesus, which we will discover in time, each of which corresponds to one of the others, even as John’s gospel slowly begins to unfold for us its concentric structure, a brilliant masterpiece orchestrated by the Johannine community that carefully noted those signs of importance to them and meditated deeply on their meaning.

For us, 1900 years later, one central question we can ask ourselves from today’s reading is this: do we, like the disciples, believe in Jesus? If, when we can answer in the affirmative, then we will have begun our own labyrinthine journey to the center of faith, the center of God’s will, the center of our life, the center of it all.

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ; Amen? May it be so.

[1] Linda Mckinnish Bridges, “Exegetical Perspective, John 2:1-11” in Feasting on the Word – Year C, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

Questions for Reflection

The Holy Spirit enlivens each of us with unique gifts that nurture faith
and serve the common good. To identify those gifts we can ask ourselves such questions as: When do I feel most alive? What do I love to do? What things, tasks, or actions fill me with a sense of purpose? What am I doing when time seems to stand still? These questions help us discern the Spirit’s movement in our lives. Created in the image of God, each of us is uniquely gifted to reveal divine likeness. When our deep joy is united with meaning and purpose, vocation is birthed. How or where is God calling you?

Household Prayer: Morning

Enlivening God, 
each morning I am awakened by your goodness nudging the earth to life.
 I am filled with wonder.
 Your steadfast love extends to the sky,
 your constancy reaches to the clouds.
 How precious is your steadfast love! It shines like the dawn,
 and dews the desolation of my soul. 
Manifest in me the gifts of your Spirit
that I may rejoice in you
 as I delight in serving your world this day. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

As evening falls and darkness shutters the day, do not forsake us, O God.
 Crown the sky with jewels of light that your salvation may burnish the heavens and illumine the earth, and all find refuge in the shadow of your wings. Amen.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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