Isaiah 62:1-5 – The fortunes of Zion will be restored. The land will be married to God, who will rejoice over Zion like a bridegroom rejoices over a bride.
Psalm 36:5-10 – Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
1 Corinthians 12:1-11 – There are varieties of gifts, but on Spirit. Nine gifts mentioned.
John 2:1-11 – Jesus turns water into wine, the first of his “signs” in John’s gospel.
January 18-25 – Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
Water to Wine
John is the only gospel writer who conveys this story about Jesus at the Cana wedding. This Sunday is the only time this story appears in the Revised Common Lectionary, Epiphany 2C. We will not read it again until 2019.
John’s gospel can be divided roughly into four parts:
- Chapter 1 – Introduction
- Chapters 2-12 – The Book of Signs
- Chapters 13-20 – The Book of Exaltation
- Chapter 21 – Epilogue
This story is the first of seven signs or miracles that take place in the first half of John’s gospel. All the signs occur in the second part, chapters 2–12. The seven signs are:
- Changing water into wine in John 2:1-11
- Healing the royal official’s son in Capernaum in John 4:46-54
- Healing the paralytic at Bethesda in John 5:1-18
- Feeding the 5000 in John 6:5-14
- Jesus’ walk on water in John 6:16-24
- Healing the blind at birth in John 9:1-7
- Raising of Lazarus in John 11:1-45
Cana is mentioned only three times in the Bible, all three of them in John’s gospel. We don’t actually know where it is. There are three candidates in Israel (Kafr Kanna, Kenet-al-Jalil, and Ain Kana) and one more traditional candidate in Lebanon (Qana).
St. Augustine (Tractate VIII) points out that God turns water into wine every year. Rain water grows grapes which eventually ferment into wine. It is so commonplace we have lost our amazement. This miracle reminds us of the everyday miracles of life. Later, in Tractate IX, he says the six jars of water represent six fruitless ages without prophecy (the inter-testamental period?) until Christ came.
Luther also sees allegory in the text. “Galilee signifies…” he says. The six stone jars of water signify six days of labor before the sabbath. They also are of stone, Luther says, like Moses’ stone tablets of the law. The gospel renders the law delightful. The drawing of the wine and passing it to the guests signifies the preaching of the gospel.
In one of his 1525 postil sermons (sermons for the entire church year that Luther wrote to be preached by other pastors), he uses John 2 to preach a sermon on marriage. He says Jesus’ presence at the wedding indicates his high regard for marriage. He also says the miracle indicates Christ is ready to supply any need arising in marriage, even turning a distasteful marriage into a joyful one. Furthermore, this text shows Christ approves of lavish receptions:
Here too Christ indicates that he is not displeased with a marriage feast, nor with the things belonging to a wedding such as adornments, cheerfulness, eating and drinking, according to the usage and custom of the country; which appear to be superfluous and needless expense and a worldly matter; only so far as these things are used in moderation and in keeping with a marriage. For the bride and groom must be adorned; so also the guests must eat and drink to be cheerful. And such dining and doing may all be done in good conscience; for the Scriptures occasionally report the like, even the Gospel lessons mentioning bridal adornment, the wedding garment, guests and feastings at weddings. Thus Abraham’s servant in Genesis 24:53 presents ornaments of gold and silver to Rebecca, the bride of Isaac, and to her brothers; so that in these things no one need pay attention to the sour-visaged hypocrites and self-constituted saints who are pleased with nothing but what they themselves do and teach, and will not suffer a maid to wear a wreath or to adorn herself at all.
The phrase, “sour-visaged hypocrites and self-constituted saints” makes me smile. Self-appointed saints are not in short supply these days. Luther goes on to critique gluttony as well, but his heart in this has already been made clear. In any case, a sermon on marriage might be a good thing.
There is much allegory in the stories of John’s gospel:
- In John 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again. Nicodemus asks how someone can be born again from his mother’s womb, but Jesus is speaking of a spiritual rebirth.
- In John 4, Jesus asks the woman at the well for water, and after some conversation, offers her water that will quench her thirst forever. She replies, “You don’t even have something with which to draw water.” Jesus, however, is speaking about quenching a spiritual thirst.
- Later in John, Jesus heals a blind man and talks about the Pharisees being blind. The Pharisees balk, but Jesus is speaking of a spiritual blindness.
If this is the pattern in John — Jesus moving from the ordinary physical things to extraordinary spiritual things — then what are we to make of this sign in John 2? Perhaps the very first sign lays out the pattern for us. Water represents the physical and wine represents the spiritual. In John 3 Jesus will say, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. (John 3:5-6)
Jesus turns that which is ordinary into something extraordinary. I find it interesting that the water that is used is in the large stone jars used for the rites of purification. Purification laws came from the Levitical codes. Washing was required for a hundred maladies and after a number of everyday events (see Lev. 14-17, Num. 19, et al). Could this also be Jesus turning the law into gospel? Could it be Jesus changing the waters of the law into wine with spirit and life? There are some interesting theological overtones here. The law does not pass away. Jesus does not get rid of the water; he simply transforms it into something more. It would not be unlike the writer of John’s gospel to be making a point several layers deep: Jesus has come to transform the religion of his day, based on laws and rituals, into something with some Spirit, some… Life, to use one of John’s favorite words.
This first of Jesus’ miracles reveals his “glory,” John says, but I believe that glory is much more than doing a few magic tricks. These “signs” have much deeper meaning. The real trick for Jesus, and for us, is the transformation of lives. In this sermon I might like to explore how faith transforms life from a drab going through the motions into something with purpose, joy, meaning, and life! It might be interesting to distinguish religion based on the law from religion based on faith: trusting God’s promises. John’s Jesus says, “I have come that you might have Life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) Psalm 104:15 says that wine, “Gladdens the human heart.” How has Christ gladdened your heart? How has Christ brought joy and a sense of purpose to your life?
In every congregation I have served there have been those who would say they would not be alive today if it wasn’t for Christ, faith, and the church. What if we allowed them to tell their story? In every congregation I have served there have been those who could speak eloquently of how faith in Christ had transformed their life, saved their marriage, or impacted their career choice. Let these folks speak during a “Temple Talk” or write their story for others to read. Collect these stories and create a Lenten devotional book, or email them out each day in Lent. It might be interesting to allow the people to carry the good news and share how Christ has turned water into wine in their lives.
The preacher may also consider telling the congregation’s story. How has the wine of the gospel transformed the life of your congregation? How has it transformed the community around you?
One final possibility is a stewardship sermon. We often approach life and ministry with a scarcity mentality. Jesus approaches this and other situations, like the feeding of the 5000, with an abundance mentality. Life is not a zero-sum game. God provides enough of the basics and maybe even enough of the goodies, like wine.