Epiphany 3

John 2:1-11 – Full to over-flowing

When I was due to take my driving test, many years ago, long before there was a theory exam to sit, the thing that really worried me was when the examiner opened his highway code book and pointed to the signs and asked what they meant. Some of them were easy..

Some of them though were a little tricky…

Being a driver means that many of the signs are essential. I have been known (on occasion) to become lost so direction signs are important. Some signs, if ignored, can get you fined, points on your licence or even a course to attend…

Other signs, although not mandatory can be a bit of a nuisance if you disregard them…

Signs are everywhere and not only on the road. This sign is particularly helpful on occasion!

Some signs are a legal requirement…

And some signs don’t even need a signpost because just the way they look tells people what it is. Our churches, for example.

A sign is something which points beyond itself to something else.

In our gospel reading from John we have heard about the first of Jesus’ signs. The sign took place right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry at a wedding in the little village of Cana in Galilee. 

A marriage, by its very nature, is symbolic. We think of marriage and the first thing we think about is love. It suggests celebration and of new beginnings. It is a happy occasion when we look forward in hope of this new phase in life.  

In Jesus’ time a wedding was a great community occasion and the feasting would last for a week. People would come and go and food and wine would be plentiful throughout. So, there they were at the wedding… Jesus and his newly chosen disciples. And then disaster happens…the wine runs out. This was guaranteed to bring shame on the bride’s parents. They wouldn’t have had a Co-op or a Booth’s nearby with shelf after shelf of various wines to choose from.

Jesus’ mother intervenes and told Jesus of the problem. To us, Jesus’ response may seem a bit abrupt and disrespectful, a bit like saying ‘So what!’ What are you telling me for? In Jesus’ time and culture, the term woman was a title of respect and it is the same word that was used on the cross to address Mary as he left her in the care of John. 

Then Mary speaks directly to the servant and says, “Do whatever he tells you.”  I can just imagine her, full of pride and thinking something like “do as my boy tells you”! We don’t know what she thought he would do but she expected him to do something out of the ordinary.

We are told that there were six stone water jars each holding twenty or thirty gallons. The jars were used for the Jewish rites of purification.  Jewish law stipulated a ritual cleansing in order to make themselves pure. We can only imagine what the servants were thinking when Jesus asked them to fill the huge jars up to the brim with water.

No one could imagine what was about to happen. Jesus doesn’t pray over the water. He doesn’t touch it, he doesn’t even tell anyone what he has done. No, he simply tells them to draw some out and serve it to the chief steward. As far as they know, Jesus is telling them to serve water. When the water was drawn out, it had become wine.  Not just any old wine but a far superior wine to that which had been served by the host so far. 

This was the first miracle that Jesus performed in the presence of his disciples. They saw the message beyond the sign. And we are told that it revealed his glory and they believed in him.

It was a pivotel moment in time, a turning point in history when God was revealed through Jesus.

It was a new beginning.

We saw a moment in history just this week with the inauguration of President Joe Biden. Did you watch it live on TV on Wednesday? I did, along with 40 million people around the world. After 4 years of Donald Trump, the whole feeling was one of new beginnings – a fresh start and a new direction.

Like many of you, I was watching on the BBC News Channel. It was good viewing. Lady Gaga sang her heart out and what about Amanda Gorman, the poet and her poem “The Hill We Climb”…just brilliant!

We watched Trump fly off to Florida, accompanied by Sinatra’s “My Way”, we watched the vice president sworn into office, not only the first woman vice president but the first black and Asian American, to be vice-president. And of course, we watched Joe Biden become the 46th president of the United States. It was a moment in history, a new start…

And yet, being the BBC news channel, throughout the entire broadcast, there was that red strip at the bottom of the screen flashing up the latest news headlines. And as it did, my heart was sinking as we learnt that covid deaths reached their highest number in the UK.

Every day for nearly nearly a year now, we have been given the figures of those who have lost their lives due to covid-19. Every single loss is heart-breaking. All of this was a stark reminder to me that we may have new beginnings, fresh starts and celebrations along the way but there is no guarantee that the future is plain sailing.

Yes, the inauguration was a great occasion bringing hope of a more stable future, not just for his country but for the world. Yes, it is part of history but I wonder whether it will be talked about in 20 years time…or 100 years time……or what about in 2000 years time?

The story we have heard about from John’s gospel this morning happened over 2000 years ago and it is still being talked about today. It was that pivotal moment in history when God’s glory was revealed in Jesus Christ. It was that moment when the direction changed and Jesus’ actions showed us that he was in this with us. Complete with the pain and suffering of human life, the downs as well as the ups. The heartaches as well as the joys. This moment in history was the first of Jesus’ signs and his disciples had their first taste of the new wine.

We may have moments where we have glimmers of God and when we feel his presence. But… I think that we all have times too when we run out of wine. More so at this very difficult time of living through the pandemic. You know what I mean? Those times when something happens that knocks us for six and we have no energy to deal with things.  

  • illness
  • unemployment
  • a broken relationship
  • depression
  • loneliness
  • isolation
  • pandemic
  • floods
  • death of a loved one.

The reading from John is a sign to us that at those difficult times in our lives we can do something about it to help us through. We can turn to Christ. He understands what we are going through. He’s been there and he is the strength we need to help us to face the down times in our lives.

Jesus longs to offer each one of us new wine. When Jesus turned water into wine, it wasn’t just to top up the supplies or just enough to see them through. Now…I’m no mathematician but I’ve worked out that with a gallon being 8 pints. If each jar holds 30 gallons…that’s 240 pints to each jar. There are six jars which makes 1,440 pints.  I think!  That’s a lot of wine.

Jesus longs to offer us that new wine…not just to the brim but full … to overflowing. Not just something to put us on but something to sustain us and to draw on throughout our life …until that time when we can meet him face to face.

Until then, we need to constantly look for God’s messages behind the signs. So that we too may believe in him and may glorify his name.

It may even be our Epiphany moment!

Revd Julie

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