Gospel Reading

John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (Revised Standard Version)

Reflection Points

The following reflections are based on the Gospel reading for the First Sunday after Theophany:

Background

The wedding in Cana is the setting for the first of seven signs (miracles) performed by Jesus in the Gospel of John, which ultimately point to the truth that the Kingdom of God dwells among us in the person of Jesus Christ. After this one miracle, which inaugurates his visible ministry, Jesus’ life would never be the same.

The needs of the people are so vast, numerous, unique to each person, that his time would now be occupied with preaching, teaching, and healing. He would become loved, hated, tested, a controversial threat to the system. With that risk in mind, without his disciples yet chosen, he yields to his mother’s request to remedy the situation of running out of wine.

Consider our own failures and disappointments. Does our ministry as individuals, as a parish, reflect the kind of risk to cross a line from which we can never return? Are we known as and considered to be a source of healing and forgiveness? When people meet us or hear about our parish, do they associate us with the same person in Cana who had compassion and gave enough attention to the situation at hand to meet the need of the hour?

Transformation

The wedding in Cana is replete with sacramental themes of transformation and transfiguration. The jars of water for purification remind us of baptism. The wine, of course, reminds us of the Blood of Christ in Holy Communion.

The banquet and Badarak

In fact, the wedding is a foretaste of the final Banquet, the same Banquet in which we participate in the present during every Badarak (see Matthew 22:1-14). Interestingly, in Armenian iconography, the Wedding in Cana is depicted as an image of the Badarak.

Jesus is shown at the head of the table (far left), fully present to fulfill our lack. Mary the Mother of God is seated to his left. In the center of the image are the crowned bride and groom, and to the far right is the host of the wedding celebration. A chalice is prominently located in the center of the image drawing our attention to the Eucharistic aspect of Jesus’ first miracle.

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready. (See Revelation 19:7)

The Old Covenant fulfilled

Jesus came to inaugurate something new. The old covenant, everything that was spoken of in the Old Testament, was to be fulfilled with the coming of the Messiah, gathered up in the person of Jesus Christ.

The water of purification was to be replaced with the waters of Baptism, which Jesus redeemed in the previous chapter (John 1:29-34). And Jesus came to fill us with the divine wine of himself, his own blood. About this new work, St. Ephrem the Syrian writes,

Those jars were for the purification of the Jews, but our Lord poured his teaching into them, so that he might make it known that he was coming through the path of the Law and the Prophets to transform all things by his teaching, just as he had transformed water into wine.

To be filled with divine life

Jesus wants to fill us with divine life, abundant life (see John 10:10). His desire is to transform us, to have us become a people zealous for good deeds, to love like he loves. We experience this transformation through baptism and sharing Holy Communion, by living out our Baptism and allowing the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ to transform us.

Holy Communion is not a magic pill that we passively take to cleanse us from moral infractions, but the Divine Life of Christ that is shared among those who are baptized into God’s family. His Body and Blood unites us with God, if we allow it to take root by not resisting what it means to live and love like Jesus.

In other words, the Body and Blood of Christ transforms us provided that we open ourselves up to his grace and live our lives accordingly, not living a life that opposes his grace and salvation; provided that we realize the presence and immanence of Christ in this very moment of our lives – the here and now.

Unity with Christ through baptism

As baptized Christians, we have the full ability and power to do that. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul talks about our unity with Jesus Christ through baptism:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:3-7)

Two chapters away, he reminds us that the same Spirit who raised Christ dwells in us:

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you. (Romans 8:11)

Salvation, then, is an active participatory life in Christ, not passive as if nothing else is required of us. And through us, our abundant life flows out to meet the needs of others.

Jesus fills every moment

Jesus’ first miracle was performed quietly with no theatrics. In the same way, Jesus meets us in the hour of our need in unexpected ways, perhaps missed if we don’t look for the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Like the wine running out, he sees the empty jars that disrupt our joy and he fills them with himself. His life fills every moment – the mundane, the tragic, the ordinary, the extravagant, and the s0-called dull. What attitude, ideology, theology, addiction, distraction is blocking our sight from experiencing him this moment, even in our suffering?

Running out of wine would have brought shame to the married couple and the hosting family. Our lack, our suffering, weaknesses and fears, is precisely Jesus’ occasion to perform miracles, to remove our shame and to fill us with his divine love. St. John Chrysostom writes,

At that time, then, Jesus made water into wine, and both then and now he ceases not to change our weak and unstable wills. But let us bring those of such disposition to the Lord, that he may change their will to the quality of wine.

When our joy runs out

How appropriate that Jesus’ first public miracle takes place at a wedding. It is an explicit reminder of the implications of the Incarnation. Jesus is the wedding of heaven and earth, the marriage of divinity and humanity. He is the bridegroom and the Church is his bride. The intimate union between God and his creation in the person of Jesus Christ is a cause for celebration! A life lived in union with God, as members of his Body, the Church, is marked by joy, exuberance, delight, and thanksgiving, the symbol of which is wine!

When our joy has run out, i.e. the joy of life, the delight and wonder of the moment, we can recall this miracle. What took place at the wedding in Cana was not just an event restricted to that time and place. The jars have been filled! The temporal joy provided by temporal wine, a life lived devoid of union with our Creator, does not satiate.

Thankfully, the world, creation, each one of us, by virtue of the Incarnation, by way of our baptism, have been divinized, transfigured, made one with God, sharers in his divine being. When we allow his grace, i.e. his holiness, his life, to flow through us, the result is a life lived according to our true nature – holiness, gratitude, eternal life, knowledge of God in the sacredness of the present moment.

It is God’s will, action, presence that sustains us in this very moment – allow that to inform how you live that moment. As an 18th-century Jesuit priest wrote, do what you are doing, suffer what you are suffering, enjoy what you are enjoying, but act, suffer, and enjoy in a holy manner, conscious of God’s presence. Why? The joy, the wine that ran out has been, is replaced with the divine wine, his intoxicating love, joyfulness, forgiveness, and peace. This is good news no matter our circumstances. Joy is always available; his wine is never exhausted. This, of course, has absolute connection to the life-giving sacrament of Holy Communion in Holy Badarak.

Opposing God’s grace/life

Has participating in Badarak and sharing Holy Communion become a mere, and hence boring, ritual or custom, or are we fully open to God’s grace to transform us through his Body and Blood? Perhaps we attend Badarak for our own edification or to get something out of it, rather than to give thanks and celebrate what God has already given us – union with him through the Incarnation of his Son, through baptism, and through Holy Communion.

As baptized members of the Body of Christ, given the gift of union with God, are we living up to name “Christian” which we have been given at Baptism? Or do we oppose being filled with his holiness by not living up to and leaning into the vows made at our baptism – at the door of the Church, at the font, while being anointed with holy muron, and at the holy altar?

And although I promised and made a covenant to please you, I did not adhere to my vow, but again turned it to evil. ~ St. Gregory of Narek, Prayer 5.5 (trans. Terian)

As a parish community, do we do anything, even in our service to God and the Church, in opposition to God’s grace?

Marriage, the Great Mystery of God’s Love

When we come to the New Testament, we find that marriage is elevated to a level not even known among Jews. John, in his Gospel, tells us the famous the story of Jesus at the wedding in Cana.

As the wedding celebration is moving along, something disastrous takes place. The wine runs out! But Jesus rescues the situation. He instructs them to fill six large jars with water, then draw some out and take it to the host. That party not only resumed, but was dignified, and not with just any wine, but an exquisitely fine wine.

Marriage is a sacred mystery

Jesus’ presence at the wedding in Cana affirms marriage as a good thing, a holy thing. When the wine runs out, it is Jesus who perpetuates the celebration! Furthermore, it’s notable that Jesus chooses a wedding as the occasion for his very first miracle, which underlines the importance, beauty, and centrality of marriage from a Christian perspective. By changing common water into the finest wine, Jesus elevated marriage from a common, utilitarian practice, a civil affair into a profound sacrament – a sacred mystery.

In fact, marriage is the only sacrament of the Church that is referred to as a “sacrament” in the Holy Scriptures. In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul refers to marriage as a great “mystery.” The word mystery— khorhoort—means “sacrament.” (Traditionally, the Orthodox Churches refer to Sacraments as “Mysteries”).

Marriage is Holy Communion

The marriage of a man and a woman is nothing less than a reflection of God’s love for his people, a force that is so potent its end result is unity, oneness. In that same passage from Ephesians, which we read at every Armenian wedding service, St. Paul explains that the mystery of two becoming one flesh refers to Christ and the Church.

When we celebrate the crowning of a man and a woman, we celebrate Christ’s marriage to the Church. So marriage is a Holy Communion. In other words, Holy Communion is not just something placed on your tongue during Badarak. It’s the essence of the Gospel: “Emmanuel, God with us.” And that is to what the miracle at Cana points.

The Church is the Bride of Christ

Jesus wedded himself to humanity, and so he himself is the unity of heaven and earth, the marriage of divinity and humanity. God has come to earth in the person of Jesus Christ as the bridegroom to wed his bride, the Church. The Kingdom of God is here, present, in a person, in whom and with whom we become one – and also with each other, the Church, the Body of Christ.

How can God’s relationship to the Church help us understand the holiness and goal of marriage? Is marriage something that can help us draw closer to God and come to a better knowledge of him and his Church?

Perhaps we know of an example of a marriage that points us to Christ. Do we understand marriage as companionship, as spending the rest of our lives with a best friend, or as something more, as a sacred union? Do we understand it as salvation, as life-giving, as drawing us closer into life in God, thus choosing a spouse accordingly?

By Dn. Eric Vozzy