Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


The Wedding at Cana
January 26, 2012, 4:59 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Blessed are those invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.
Melchisedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High.
On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee.

It isn’t hard, is it, to see how these three readings overlap and illuminate one another. The story of Cana is one of the three great Epiphany manifestations:

“Manifested by the star to the sages from afar;
Manifest at Jordan’s stream, Prophet, Priest and King supreme;
And at Cana wedding guest, in thy Godhead manifest;
Manifest in power divine, changing water into wine.”

“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.” Nonetheless, it is possible that if we had been there we would have noticed nothing out of the ordinary, barring some whispering among the waiters and then some unexpectedly good wine. The sign was there, but only for those who knew where to look and how to look: Mary, first of all, and then the little group of disciples.

If you compare John’s Gospel with Mark’s (the one we shall mostly be hearing this year), you feel the difference straight away. Mark is full of incidents, described quickly and immediately going on to the next. In fact the opening chapters are punctuated by “and immediately”: and immediately Jesus did this or did that. John’s Gospel has relatively few incidents, but each one is told at length and reflected upon. Mark’s is the first Gospel, full of anecdotes about Jesus for new disciples who wanted to know what he was like. John’s is the last Gospel, with no need to repeat well-known stories, but more concerned to ponder more deeply upon some typical examples, but again to help disciples understand what Jesus was like. “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.” Nevertheless the signs were there. John wants us to see them.

Can it be an accident that at this “first sign”, and at the last, when blood and water flowed from the side of Christ, and John is at pains to stress the reliability of his witness, the Mother of Jesus is present? There was a marriage, and the mother of Jesus was there; and when the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” Standing by the cross of Jesus was his mother. In the first sign, water was transformed into abundant wine; in the last, water and blood poured from the side of Christ, his very life poured out for the salvation of the world. “He who saw it has borne witness- his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth- that you also may believe.” “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana of Galilee… and his disciples believed in him.” Sign and belief are the two poles of revelation: God gives the sign, faith recognises it.

The signs Jesus gave were not intended as knock-down proofs of anything. In Mark, he often tells those he has helped not to say anything about it (but they do). When some Pharisees asked him for a sign, he asked why they could not perceive the signs he had already given. He chided the disciples for being so slow. The implication is surely that you need the right eyes to see, the right ears to hear. You have to be receptive and perceptive to get the point.

Young John saw the signs, old John gave us the fruit of his meditations on them. Water and blood, bread and wine, the symbols that he repeatedly holds before us are sacramental. “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” Last Sunday evening, as it happens, the second Lesson at Evensong was the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews in which the author muses on the words “a high priest according to the order of Melchisedek.” Melchisedek, as we heard in our first reading, was the priest-king of Salem, the later Jerusalem. His name (possibly it was in fact his title) means “King of Righteousness”, or “Righteous King,” and he brings gifts of bread and wine. In the account, he has no father named, and no mention of his fate. As a literary figure, he has no beginning or end: no wonder early Christians saw in him a prophetic foreshadowing of Christ; especially as Psalm 110 also refers to the Messianic King as “a priest after the order of Melchisedek.”

The author of the Book of Revelation may or may not be the same John as wrote the Gospel, but his mind works in the same way. At the close of his vision, as he sees the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down from heaven prepared as a bride adorned for her husband, he hears an angel crying out, “The marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready: blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb!” Did he, at that moment or afterwards, remember the simple country wedding at Cana of Galilee, at which Mary was present and the disciples of Jesus were invited? It is easy to get sentimental over weddings, but there are implications in the Scriptural texts both for our understanding of Jesus and our understanding of marriage. The Marriage Service of 1662 gets it right:

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God… to join together this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony, which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee.”

The union between Christ and his Church, between Christ and each believing soul, is one of love and fidelity, permanent and unbreakable on his side, intended to be creative and fruitful, however unfaithful and failing in love we may be. It is the marriage of his divinity with our humanity, in which by sharing our weakness he enables us to share his strength, transforming (if we will let him) our watery selves into divine wine. Pope John Paul called marriage “the primordial sacrament”, because it existed before all the others as an effective sign of God’s love for humanity- as the Prayer Book says, “instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency”. In today’s Gospel we see how Christ further adorned it by the first sign of his saving mission, manifesting his glory. May it bring us to believe in him, as did those first disciples. Amen.

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