Epiphany Time Travel

Epiphany 2 Year C – 16 January 2022

Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:6-11; 1 Cor. 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

The Very Rev’d Bertrand Oliver, Dean and Rector

Sermon on YouTube

‘Your Love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens,
and your faithfulness to the clouds.’

We are all experiencing this time of pandemic in different ways, depending on whether we are working or studying or freer to use our time as we wish; whether we are required to work in person or are able to work from home; whether we can have peace and concentration when working from home or whether we also need to be juggling with children trying to study online or others working remotely, all vying to share space, computers and a sometimes unstable internet connection.

All in all, our inability to plan with any great certainty, the ongoing disruptions in the patterns of what we expected normal to be, and the impossibility to know what the outcome might be, are having a toll on our collective mental health, as we all strive to do our best in conditions that are unprecedented for our generation, and for which at present we cannot predict any outcome.

However adaptable we all might be, the run of zoom events and focus on a small screen for everything, as well as the cancellation of events which had been scheduled to be in person, is playing havoc with our sense of time.

The church season of Epiphany – when we hear the stories of the manifestations which reveal the divine nature of Jesus – is of course like that too.  We started at the beginning of the month with the visit of the wise men to Jesus as a baby in Bethlehem; moved swiftly on 30 years to Jesus’s baptism by his cousin, John the baptist at the river Jordan. Today, we hear of the third epiphany when Jesus attends a wedding.  And next week hear of Jesus’s intervention in the synagogue in Nazareth, before the feast of the Purification – or Candlemas – when we will time-travel back to Jesus’ first visit to the temple after his birth, when as a baby he is recognised by Simeon and Anna.  It is a little like back to the future.

Each of these events are essential as they disclose to us something of who Jesus really is, even though these disclosures themselves are couched in symbolism which can sometimes make it even more complicated to understand.

The story of Jesus’ attendance at a wedding in Cana is one which – on first hearing – is a rather jolly account of a cheerful event.

After all, what is not to like in the fact that this next miraculous disclosure of the divinity of Jesus takes place – not in a somber and austere religious building or temple of learning – but instead at a party.  And the miracle in question is not something immediately recognisable as a worthy thing to do, but instead an act of extreme generosity which allows for the best wine to continue to flow at this nuptial reception.

Not what would come top of mind for the son of God, but of course the whole point of Jesus coming to us was to disrupt our sometimes stultified thinking and try to wake us up to a new understanding of God’s generous and unconditional love for us.

Of course, we can’t help feel sorry for the host of this wedding reception: to run out of wine or food when entertaining guests would be a great breach of hospitality at any time and in most cultures.  I am personally terrified of this and my tendency to over-cater knows no bounds…

But for wine to run out at a wedding would have been a very bad start to a new common life indeed.

When Mary spots the situation, she brings it to the attention of her son.  She already knows that it is in his power to do anything, though it may feel like a cheap trick to ask him to provide for an unprepared host.

And Jesus’ initial response hints at that.  ‘What concern is that to you and to me?’ We don’t know whose wedding this is and whether Mary’s family honour is at stake here, but it certainly feels like a curt answer to his mother.

And the next – ‘My hour has not yet come’ – could be construed as rather self important and uncaring, in the same way that Jesus responds later to the Syrophoenician woman who begs for the healing of her daughter and challenges him.

Here, Mary does not challenge Jesus – in her deep faith in his divine destiny, she just expects that he will act decisively for a resolution, and instructs the servants to follow his instructions.

A double-bind for Jesus who now does not want to be seen to challenge his mother further, and so – perhaps even with an eye-raise – does come to the rescue.

What happens next is of course rather different from summoning up an instant delivery from SAQ.  We know that the Evangelist John is one who favours symbols to convey a greater meaning, and so there is plenty to reflect on in the way the story unfolds.

Jesus asks for large water jars that were empty to be filled with fresh water, and then for some of the water to be taken out to the Chief Steward for tasting.

What was water is no longer water, but instead wine.  And not just any wine, but better wine than what had been served before.  The Steward is amazed and goes to say so to the Bridegroom.  The story does not record the response of the Bridegroom nor what he might or might not think of this extraordinary situation.  But we can hazard a guess that he will have been relieved beyond belief.

Meanwhile, for Jesus’ newly gathered disciples, this is the first sign that Jesus does in public that confirms to them what they had heard – that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one.

In the narrative chronology of the Gospel of John, this passage takes place on the third day.

For us looking back, there is symbolic significance in the third day, as it immediately evokes for us Easter and the day of the Resurrection.  The third day is a day on which events foundational for our faith take place, and this is the case here at Cana, even though we could easily miss them.

Because it is not the changing of the water into wine which is significant, but it is how this transformation happens.  In an instant, and in the presence of Jesus, things move on from the past to the future, acknowledging and valuing what has been – the old wine – and the items necessary for a particular living out of faith – the stone jars – towards a new spring of living water – the filling of the old jars – and an unexpected wine which is not only new but even better than the old one.

For those who were able to see, this was a momentous day, and one which solidified Jesus’ disciples faith in him.

For many of us, these past two years may have been a test for our faith. The pillars of our religious and spiritual lives were shattered by the constant change required to comply with public health rules, and the patterns which sustained our connection with God were put under great strain.

It was a time during which some of us might have felt the old wine running out – and we may have been left with a sense of hopelessness and emptiness, a yearning for more, for a renewed connection with God, for a knowledge of God’s presence with us, for a tangible sign of God’s unconditional love.

Today, like the bridegroom and the bride of the wedding at Cana, we can feel relief.  The relief that this feast at which Jesus is present can continue, that the old foundations that we had have served us well, but have also served their time, and that in the signs and miracles of Jesus, we know that our spirit is replenished, we can look to new beginnings, and our soul can continue to sing.

And despite the travails of COVID, we are called to continue the work of building the kingdom of God to which we committed at our baptism – at a time when our planet and our human institutions are under such challenges locally and globally.

In his letter to the people of Corinth, the apostle Paul reminds us that contribute to this task in so many ways, as the spirit of God calls us.

Wisdom, knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues and interpretation of tongues – many gifts which we hold in community and which the spirit assigns as the Spirit chooses.

So at this time, when your metaphorical wine may feel like it is running out, rejoice. Rejoice that God’s love reaches to the heavens, and God’s faithfulness to the clouds. Rejoice that God in Christ is bringing out a new wine to refresh you and fill you with the spirit, that you may rediscover your divine purpose – and that you shall no longer be termed Forsaken nor Desolate, but instead know that God will rejoice over you.


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