The Miracle at the Wedding in Cana
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Epiphany 2C 2004 John 2: 1-11
Years ago when Johnny Carson was the host of The Tonight Show he interviewed an eight year old boy. The young lad was
asked to appear because he had rescued two friends in a coal mine outside his hometown in West Virginia.
As Johnny questioned the boy, it became apparent to him and the audience that the young man was a Christian. So Johnny
asked him if he attended Sunday School. When the boy said he did Johnny inquired, "What are you learning in Sunday School?"
"Last week," came his reply, "our lesson was about when Jesus went to a wedding and turned water into wine."
The audience roared, but Johnny tried to keep a straight face.
Then he said, "And what did you learn from that story?" The boy squirmed in his chair. It was apparent he hadn't
thought about this. But then he lifted up his face and said, "If you're going to have a wedding, make sure you invite
The little boy might just have been on to something, despite his young years and innocence. (1)
And it was at the wedding in Cana where one of the more famous signs that Jesus was divine as well as human took place.
Signs. Signs have more influence on us than we know until we stop and think about it. Coming back from Atlanta last
week I stopped in North Carolina overnight in Rocky mount at a Hampton Inn some distance and several turns off the Interstate.
The Rocky Mount I remembered from 20 years ago the last time I was there was a sleepy little cross roads town near Interstate
95. Its still near I-95 but the highway is inside the town now it seems.
Anyway, leaving from Rocky Mount to head on home the next morning before dawn, I became hopelessly lost for about fifteen
minutes. The signs back to I 95 seemed to direct me back on my route but instead I wound up on another road that looked like
the Interstate but was not. U turns were impossible and after winding in what seemed like circles I finally saw a familiar
red white and blue Interstate 95 sign and directional arrow and was finally back on the right path again.
I suppose the lesson from that experience with signs -- road signs, anyway -- is that apparent signs can lead one astray
easily as to the right path.
But as I thought more about it, I began to wonder about the nature of road signs. A road sign is a directional aid but
in its very essence a road sign is a symbol of the road one wishes either to follow or avoid.
Assuming, of course, that the sign is correctly placed to help and not to confuse. During World War II in Europe, after
the breakthrough at Saint Lo the Allied Armies raced across northern France toward the German border. They outran their supply
of military maps and had to rely on standard tourist Michelin road maps hastily requisitioned from French shops in their vicinity.
What made the situation even more confusing is that the retreating armies of the Third Reich would sometimes turn road
signs around and send Allied troops dashing off in the wrong direction. Units would run into each other, traffic jams would
slow the advance, and it took time to sort it all out.
Signs can change. I had been here five years and had finally stopped being lost on the back roads of the two counties
when E911 came in. As you know, E911 is a standardized road and residence marking system designed to help emergency and police
vehicles arrive at their destinations without being lost. If you dial 911, the computer tells the dispatcher exactly what
address you are calling from.
And suddenly, old familiar numeric road numbers were supplemented by a profusion of road and street name signs an entirely
new language that I needed to learn to find my way around. As Yogi Berra famously put it, it was déjà vu all over again.
Signs are very helpful in our lives. Who among us, traveling with our young children, hasn't felt the joy on a long days
drive, of seeing the familiar sign of MacDonalds Golden Arches at meal time after an hour or so of hungry calls from the back
seat? Just as that Hampton Inn sign at Rocky Mount was a joyful sign to me after a long days drive from Atlanta, a symbol
of a place to rest for the night away from the hazards and weariness of the road.
Signs as symbols. In our Gospel lesson for today we have a profound intersection of sign as symbol. It was at this wedding
in Cana that our Lord Jesus Christ did the first of his signs, using two powerful symbols, water and wine.
If you ever go to London or go again -- and visit the Roman Westminster Cathedral, in one of the Chapels there is a
beautiful mosaic that symbolizes these two symbols, as it were. It is a symbolic representation of this first sign of Jesus,
representing the miracle at Cana, when Jesus changed the water into wine.
The picture in the mosaic is a man pouring water from one stone jug into another. The water pouring in a stream out
of the first jug is a clear and bright ocean-blue. But as the stream of water nears the mouth of the second jug, it turns
a wine dark deep shade of purple. As you look at the mosaic, the water seems to be turning into wine right in front of us.
A symbol of the sign of Jesus first miracle at the wedding in Cana.
A man named Jim Forest has written that, until he had seen the mosaic, it had never occurred to him that "this
first miraculous sign of Jesus -- a miracle of transformation -- is a key to understanding everything in the Gospel. Jesus
is constantly involved in transformation: water into wine; blind eyes to seeing eyes; withered limbs to working limbs; guilt
into forgiveness; sorrow into joy; Crucifixion into Resurrection; death into life." (2)
Signs and symbols. Signs and symbols are not the ends in themselves. As in the mosaic, signs and symbols are used to
point to something or someone else beyond the sign or symbol itself, used to reveal something more, to lead us to a deeper
understanding, to teach us something profound. In this case it was about our Lord Jesus Christ that he was not just fully
human but also fully divine, with power over nature and power over the rational laws of physics and chemistry.
The miracle of water into wine at the wedding in Cana is more than just a story about Jesus. It is a sign of things
yet to come, a brief physical taste of the Kingdom of God not yet come. This sign was a miracle story by means of which
we can learn about who Jesus really was and is.
The first thing to understand in this event is that it is a sign of Jesus' power. It is a sign that leads us to a
deeper understanding of the reality of divine power over all creation and the laws humans have discerned about nature in the
Creation. It transcends the theological speculation about transubstantiation, consubstantiation, Real Presence or Real Absence
the subjects of academic debate before, during, and after the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century.
The miracle at Cana was more than a sign that Jesus could do exciting things that seemed like magic. The deeper message
of this sign is that our Lord possessed in himself the power to change the relationship between the people of Israel and their
God. The power to create something new.
The purification rituals that had been kept for thousands of years were now set aside.
We know how difficult it to change; especially in two thousand year old institutions like the church. The changes that
Jesus brought were earth-shattering. No wonder the religious leaders were soon hounding him!
The second thing to understand is that the miracle at Cana is a sign of the concern of the God who loves us for his people.
We get a glimpse of the concern of Jesus with ordinary people, whether it is the host at a wedding where the caterer has
fallen short, or an untouchable of the day like the tax collector, or a leper shunned by his neighbors, or any outcast who
needs Gods love, mercy, and grace.
And finally there is the sign of the coming Kingdom of God. Throughout both Old and New Testaments one of the most consistent
symbols for the joy of the coming kingdom is an abundance of wine. "Behold, the days are coming," says the LORD
in the book of the prophet Amos, "when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the halls shall flow with it." (9:13-14a) And even the often dour Saint
Paul wrote his young friend Timothy that a little wine was good for the stomach. And at almost very meal Jesus and his disciples
and friends, both old and marginal new, celebrated the joy of restored fellowship as they shared food and wine together, especially
at the Last Supper. (3)
It was impossible for the wedding party at Cana to drink the 180 gallons of wine Jesus created out of water on top of
what they had had already. But that's not the point. The deepest understanding of the miracle at Cana and the abundance
of wine is that Gods love, grace, and mercy are equally superabundant. Amazing grace abounds all around us. We are awash
in it all our lives even as we are surrounded by profound miracles and signs that are so abundant we have come to think of
them as ordinary.
1. Esermons Illustrations for 18 January 2004 at ChristianGlobe.com
2. Ocean Blue to Deep Purple, Sunday Sermons
3. Adapted in part from Daniel J. Behnke, A Sign of Things to Come, on SermonMall.com