Good morning and Grace to you and peace and warm wishes from St Michael and All Angels. Actually, I wanted to preach this sermon about the Wedding at Cana at St Michael and All Angels – we have small dispute going on there at the moment about the colour of the wine. The red wine has run out, and those in the congregation, who like their wine to look like blood, say this affects the taste! But it’s good to be here too.
The story of the wedding at Cana, found only in John’s Gospel, is the occasion Jesus performs His first demonstration of power. The miracle is not just a miracle; it is a sign – a miracle with a message.
According to the Mishnah a wedding would take place on a Wednesday if the bride was a virgin and on a Thursday if she was a widow. The bridegroom and his friends made their way in procession to the bride’s house. This was often done at night, when there could be a spectacular torchlight procession. There were doubtless speeches before the bride and groom went in procession to the groom’s house, where the wedding banquet was held. The feast was prolonged, – it could last as long as a week.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is at the wedding – Mary seems to have an active role, perhaps the couple being married are friends, or relations. She is helping with the arrangements, especially serving the food and wine, and she seems to be one of the first to know that the wine is running out. The servants appear willing to take her instructions.
Jesus and His new disciples are also at the wedding as invited guests, suggesting this wedding is someone known to them, perhaps a friend or a relative. Well into the festivities, Mary becomes aware of a most embarrassing situation—the wine has run out! – Either no more wine is available, or there’s no money to buy more wine! Note: the guests seem unaware of what is happening. But If something isn’t done, it’s going to be embarrassing. Some commentators even inform us that litigation was possible in such cases!
Mary tells Jesus, “There’s no wine left.” I don’t think She’s panicking – rather hoping Jesus might do something about the situation. Mary knows Jesus best, but remember Jesus has not yet performed a miracle yet, and we don’t know for certain Mary expects one. But she does seem to expect Jesus to do something about it, perhaps something out of the ordinary. Note: Mary is very careful not to tell Jesus what to do. Jesus refers to His mother as “woman.” The expression is found a number of times in the Old Testament (Judges 11:12; 18:24; 2 Samuel 16:10; 19:23; 2 Kings 3:13; 2 Chronicles 35:21) and a few times in the New (see also Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28). Jesus is not being rude here. He’s using the expression as a way of distancing two parties. It’s like Mary has said, “Jesus, they’re out of wine. We really need to do something!” to which Jesus responds, “Madam, what do you mean ‘we’”? Mary is not offended, or put off by Jesus’ words. She simply turns to the servants and instructs them, “Do whatever He tells you.” She doesn’t argue with Him: she leaves her request in His hands, to deal with as He sees fit. There is a message here for our prayer life with Jesus.
Then we get to the jars. We’re told there were six (6) stone jars there. They didn’t have wine in them – they were for Jewish ceremonial washing, each holding twenty or thirty gallons: that’s a total of around 150 gallons. The Old Testament Law required various washings, but to the Pharisees and some others this was not enough: So, a devoutly Jewish wedding ceremony might have required many ceremonial cleansings – and a substantial amount of water was kept on hand. Jesus instructs the servants to fill each of the six waterpots to the brim. One interpretation of this passage points out that symbolically Jesus replaces the ritual washings of the Old Law with the New Wine of the New Covenant.
Up to this point it seems neither the servants or Mary, or our Lord’s new disciples, have a clue what Jesus is about to do. Six pots are filled, Jesus tells the servants to draw out some of the “water” from one of the pots and serve it to the Master of the Feast. That’s the Head Steward. The servants must’ve thought, “I know Mary told us to do whatever Jesus said, but surely He can’t be serious! Serve this “water” to the head steward? If he finds out where this water came from, we’re really in big trouble.”
Note: Jesus doesn’t wave his arms over the waterpots, commanding the water to become wine. It seems Jesus never even touched the water or the pots! Jesus doesn’t even tell them that the water has become wine, or that it is about to do so. As far as the servants know, Jesus is telling them to serve water, ceremonial cleansing water, to the Head Steward no less!
But the servants do as Jesus says – no hesitation, no words of protest. They serve the wine, starting with the head steward. The Head Steward has no idea where his drink has come from – but the servants know. The Head Steward proclaims this wine to be great—the best yet!
He tells the Bridegroom that the timing is a little unorthodox, but the wine is great. Usually, apparently, the trick is to save the inferior wine until last. When everyone has had enough, or more (literally “have become drunk”), their taste will not be as discerning, and they won’t be able to detect the inferior wine. Any Prospective Fathers of the Bride here this morning, please note! But this wine is the best yet! The bridegroom has outdone himself, saving the very best until last. What looks like certain shame, turns to sudden fame for the bridegroom and the head steward.
This miracle at Cana of Galilee has much to teach us:
First, it’s encouraging that Jesus’s first miracle is about something not essential. God cares about the little things in our lives: God cares about lost car keys, and successful wedding parties.
Second: You’d think Jesus would want everyone to know what He was doing. He could have called for everyone’s attention, announcing to all that He was about to turn water into wine. He could have waved His hands over the waterpots. Been dramatic. But most of the people never even knew a miracle had taken place. Only Mary, the servants, and the disciples were aware of what happened. John tells us that because of this miracle, the disciples believed in Him (verse 11). Perhaps this is the way many miracles occur today: in ways that seem so natural we don’t even recognise them as supernatural. But they are still miracles.
Third: We read this passage this morning because the miracle at Cana is another epiphany event. John tells us: “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.” Us too, of course.