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)
Based on the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday (First Sunday after Theophany), the following are suggested themes for sermon topics:
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 has dwelled 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 for others? 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?
The wedding in Cana is replete with sacramental themes of transformation. The jars of water for purification remind us of baptism. The wine, of course, reminds us of the Blood of Christ in Holy Communion. 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, 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 (See Revelation 19:7).
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.
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. As baptized Christians, we have the full ability and power to do that (see Romans 6:1-7). Salvation 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’ 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. Running out of wine would have brought shame to the married couple and the hosting family. Our lack, our 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.
Has participating in Badarak and sharing Holy Communion become a mere ritual or custom, or are we fully open to God’s grace to transform us through his Body and Blood? As baptized members of the Body of Christ are we living up to name “Christian” which we have been given at Baptism? 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.
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. 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”).
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 that 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. Jesus himself is the wedding, marriage, unity of heaven and earth, 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? Perhaps we know of an example of a marriage that points us to Christ. Do we understand marriage as spending the rest of our lives with a best friend, or as something more? Do we understand it as salvation, as life-giving, as drawing us closer into life in God, thus choosing a spouse accordingly?