May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your eyes, O God.
The best wedding receptions are the ones that are roaring good parties. In my life, I’ve been part of weddings from a lot of different vantage points. I’ve been the maid of honour at a same sex wedding, I’ve had the honour of reading the Ketubah, or marriage contract, at a Jewish wedding. I’ve been a member of the catering staff, and I’ve also been a bride myself. My favourite part of any wedding is the one where the lights are low and all the aunties are dancing in a circle to “Rivers of Babylon” by Bony M or “Jump Around” by House of Pain and it’s about the time when the caterers pack up the bar. At my own wedding, my new husband and I tried my mother sorely by dancing until about 2 am. Respecting her cultural traditions, she wouldn’t leave until we, the newly married couple did, no matter how we encouraged her to go on up to bed. We were ecstatic in the joy of our new marriage, and we danced till we couldn’t dance any more. The memories of these wedding days highlight for me the care, community, and love that made them possible.
These elements are the themes of the readings set before us today. The first, from Isaiah, is a like a trumpet blast, a prophetic shout for a discouraged people. It leads those who feel forsaken and desolate into the splendor of a royal wedding, in delight, rejoicing, and tiaras.
In Paul, we read that the Spirit, shining forth differently through each person, is given for the benefit of all. Different spiritual gifts are bestowed on members of the community, not to be hoarded up, but to be shared, so that everyone will be richer.
The climatic, final, reading is the story of the wedding at Cana, Jesus’s fabulous party trick. This is Jesus’ first miracle, and the beginning of his public life. And it’s kinda weird, right? It’s almost a little bit embarrassing, it seems a little bit low-key for Jesus to start his ministry by magically transforming water into wine to keep a party going.
It seems probable to me that Jesus had more dignified plans with which to begin his public life, like the story we’ll hear next week which plays out in the synagogue. Jesus reads out a passage from Isaiah and makes an on-the-record statement about himself as fulfillment of the prophecy. That seems an appropriately dignified and dramatic beginning for a radical, revolutionary, spiritual leader. But here we find ourselves, in the catering kitchen of a wedding reception with Jesus’s mom Mary elbowing him in the ribs, urging him to use his powers for good. You can practically hear her rolling her eyes when, sweeping aside Jesus’s peevish objections, she speaks directly to the staff “Do whatever he tells you”.
This gospel can be problematic for us as contemporary listeners. Was Jesus really the sort of person who hung out at parties where they drank the bar dry? And then provided more alcohol? How does this square with what we know about the devastating effects of alcoholism, and addiction?
I was at a meeting at Church of the Redeemer last week, and the director of outreach services, Angie Hocking, said, “The more I work here, the more I realise the root of all addiction is trauma. And what we do in our outreach work, in our drop-in program, addresses the root cause of that trauma. We start to heal with care, community, and love.”
This community, Church of the Holy Trinity, is in the process of making difficult decisions about how best to live out care, community, and love, in the short term and the long term. To these decisions, a multitude of gifts and perspectives are being brought. When offered in good faith, each of these is vitally necessary and important. Everyone has been endowed by the Spirit with unique gifts for the benefit of all, and we owe it to each other to bring them forward. This means that we may not always agree. It means that we may sometimes have radically different views of how best to proceed, and it may be a struggle to go forward in love. The temptation to blame, to diminish, or even to stay silent may be strong at these times. I urge us all to have courage, to have patience, and to seek always the unique and different gifts someone we disagree with is bringing to the table. To be a loving, caring, community, we must hold each other in highest compassion, and practise radical empathy. In these times of tension, we remember the prophetic words of Isaiah: we are not forsaken, nor are we desolate. We rejoice in the passion of the community, we delight in the promise of a refreshment of vision and execution.
The story of the wedding at Cana is not one about addiction and devastation. It is about Jesus’s care for his community at a celebration of love. In our religious tradition, a lot of focus is placed on Jesus’s agonizing death. Today’s gospel encourages us to focus on Jesus’s life, and the life of the community he lived within. This miracle seems minor. Awkward. Silly. I think this is exactly the point. God is with us just as truly in the catering kitchen as in the synagogue.The face of Christ is revealed in party girls as in bishops. Jesus didn’t just come for sanitized Sunday mornings amongst “right-thinking” people, he came for sweaty, messy Saturday nights and everything that goes with them.
The gospel ends by saying “This event at Cana in Galilee was the first of the signs by which Jesus let his glory be seen; and the disciples believed in him.” Much traditional commentary focuses this revelation on the miraculous transformation of water into wine. But I think there are other levels to this testimony. What if Jesus’ glory was revealed in obedience to his wise mother, who knew he was ready even when he didn’t want to admit it? What if it was revealed in Jesus’ caring for the joyfulness of his friends and neighbours as they celebrated the love of a newly married couple? What if it is about Jesus’s humbleness, his ordinariness, his enjoyment of nice wine at a party? Maybe Jesus’s disciples got on board when they saw how he honoured his mother, loved his friends, and rejoiced in happy occasions.
At the very end of John’s gospel, the same writer who brings us the story of the wedding at Cana, Jesus’s disciples recognize him by another intimate miracle. There’s Jesus, on the shore with a little charcoal barbecue going, and he calls out to the disciples in their fishing boat, “Hey kids, the fishing isn’t going well, is it?” Yes, he instructs them to cast their nets over the other side and they catch so many fish it’s hard to bring the boat in, but this is only how Peter recognizes Jesus. Everybody else catches on when he says “Come and have breakfast”. They recognize this guy with the little charcoal barbecue as their friend, their rabbi in the simple generosity of the meal he’s cooked and shared. John’s gospel doesn’t end at Jesus’s death. It doesn’t end at Jesus’s resurrection. It ends with Jesus performing his last miracle much like his first: a communal meal, a celebration of good fortune, taking care of the needs of the people in his immediate community.
God is surely with us here today, in our immediate community. The Divine is with us in our minutiae and in our big questions. God is with us in our disagreements, and in our common goals. God is with us in our cups of coffee and our sacramental wine. God’s sacredness illuminates and transforms the profane, and God’s profanity is so beautiful that we can only hope to be half so ugly. We are not forsaken, we are not desolate. God is with us, and we will rejoice.