This is a wonderfully extravagant story – not just water into wine but lots of water into best quality wine! If you are going to have a miracle it might as well be a big one and a wonderful one. Jesus began his public ministry with a miracle so extravagant, celebratory and shocking that we can be in no doubt as to how much we are loved, desired and invited into a life so deep and real and completely re-ordering that only the image of marital union comes close to expressing the magnitude of God’s love for us. (RCL Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; and John 2:1-11)
John is the only gospel to tell this story and it is a really different way to start the story of Jesus’ public ministry. According to John, Jesus was baptised, tested, came out of the wilderness and called the disciples and then this is the very next thing he did. Not curing the lame or giving the blind sight – he did that later according to John – but turning a wedding into a celebration that was so abundant and outrageous that it was worth remembering for two thousand years! It’s not a bad way of beginning your ministry.
Now John’s gospel is thought to be the last to be set down in written form and is therefore highly polished and theologically considered so there are no casual details here. All is significant and symbolic and important. Much of which would have been very obvious to first century listeners. But we need a little help translating. What might John’s community have seen in this story? Both the nature of the miracle and its location were important for images of banquets - and often wedding banquets at that - were well established images of salvation and the fulfilment of God’s creation at the end of time. The promise of a banquet at which all the faithful would meet and eat and drink good things to be provided by God had sustained the people of God through many a year of exile and struggle. And just in case we didn’t pick this up in the gospel story ourselves the lectionary writers have introduced this with the reading from Isaiah with it’s imagery of marriage as evidence of God’s enduring loving kindness to us. The Psalm also picks up that image of God as the source of the river from which we drink. And Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminds us that there is one Spirit that feeds all our gifts. And of course there are hints of the Eucharistic meal both in the provision of wine and Jesus’ response to his mother “my hour has not yet come.” A sobering reminder that Jesus would be the meal itself not only the provider of good things.
So given all that, what does such a wonderful but different to our life situation story mean for us and our spiritual journey? I suggest that there are at least three things. Firstly that we are invited into a life that is intended to be abundant and celebratory. Now a wedding in those days, as today, was not just a private moment between two people, but a celebration of community and the two families concerned. The abundance we are invited into is for us and everyone, not us at the expense of others. In the light of what we now know about the interconnectedness of all kinds of systems – human, environmental , economic and political - this means that this is a more nuanced sort or abundance than us winning the lottery where there are only one or two winners. It is an invitation into a juicy, generous, celebration of life that hums and flows with the goodness of the creator through all creation.
Secondly, and almost in contradiction, we are invited on a journey that leads us into life through death. There is no getting away from the Eucharistic images of “eat my body, drink my blood.” The disciples have only just started their journey but here is the warning – follow me and you will need to consume me and be consumed for me. These two if not contradicting each other certainly are in holy paradoxical tension that can only be resolved by the third point.
We are called into relationship with the divine that can best be described in the passionate language of marriage: erotic union with the other; committed relationship to the great other; fidelity and faithfulness; and the tenderness and passion and daily reality best evoked in the imagery of marriage. “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married.” Can we let that in, the news that our pet name, the endearment by which God refers to us is “My Delight is in You”?
What about your human to human relationships – where do you need to allow some abundance to flow into your relationships and through your relationships to others? And where does the death of false hopes, the futile demands of the ego, your small and large preferences need to be allowed to die in order that there might be new life in your relationships. Is pride or fear or overly romantic ideas about relationship damaging or limiting the real relationships in your life? What needs to die, to be let go of?
What about your finances – where can the purse strings be eased so some abundance can flow to you and others? And what about where you need to stop the small short term comfort of acquiring more than you need? How are your everyday purchases and expenditures and acquisitions expressions of your relationship with God?
What about your relationship with our environment? Where do we need to pause in gratitude for the abundance of the earth and the ocean? And where do we need to face the dying of our planet and the catastrophic out workings of our decisions and impacts? What do we need to be doing and how do we need to be living differently if we are in union with our environment, if our land is to be married?
Jesus began his public ministry with a miracle so extravagant, celebratory and shocking that we can be in no doubt as to how much we are loved, desired and invited into a life so deep and real and completely re-ordering that only the image of intimate faithful life producing union comes close to expressing the magnitude of God’s love for us. In the language of marriage we are invited into forever committed faithful daily life with the source of all life and love. Nothing less.
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, come and gather us up into your extravagant love.