Readings for Second Sunday after the Epiphany 14th January 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Second Sunday after the Epiphany Textweek

Second Sunday after the Epiphany 14th January 2007

Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; I Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

Once upon a time there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee…. For many and for many years this delightful story has been understood within the broad genre of fairytales. It tells of the first miracle of Jesus-Superhero, the boy-king who grew up to be the Saviour of the World. But is this what the Gospel writer John intended when he included this, the first of his signs that revealed God’s glory? My guess is, John was not writing fairytales. So if we look again at the story, not as a fairy tale but rather, let’s look at it as a sacred text, because then we hear it in a different context and we hear it in a context that is alongside other sacred texts: there is a fuller understanding of the wedding feast at Cana that is illuminated by the abstract, the almost poetic oracle that we heard first from Isaiah.

If you look back to Isaiah, he seems to be talking about the land, about place and about places – Zion and Jerusalem: ‘For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give you. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, you shall be called My Delight Is in Her.’ At the same time and within those same words, Isaiah speaks of a marriage, of a becoming – a becoming is not the same as, but it’s like a birth, it’s an event that warrants a new name, and Isaiah illuminates the activity of creation in verse 5 when he says, ‘as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you’ – a marriage between creator and creature, a marriage between divinity and humanity. And isn’t this the same symbolic union that is operative in the first sign that’s recorded in John’s Gospel? John, like the other gospel writers is not attempting to record a day in the life of Jesus, rather what these sacred texts seek to do is to bear witness to the incarnation as evidenced in Christ. With that in mind you can see that it’s quite possible John has created this event, an event in the Jesus story in order to recall, to recreate and to retell of the divine marriage that Isaiah first speaks of.

And if we look once again at the Gospel reading, with Isaiah as a backdrop, read through it again, not as fairytale: ‘On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee…’ It doesn’t start ‘Once upon a time’, but it starts ‘On the third day’: the third day speaks of a significant event, a significant time, a significant movement. ‘A wedding’: having read the Isaiah reading, we can see John’s significance in omitting the names of the bride and the groom, they are yet to be discovered as we read through the narrative. ‘A wedding in Cana of Galilee’ – the place is named, so this is a sacred text that is grounded, it is in place, it is therefore with us. ‘The mother of Jesus was there’: there’s already a distance that’s created, a distance from the familiar Mary to now ‘the mother of Jesus was there’, and for us, we can actually appreciate very much that distance. This is a new voice, this is a new telling; this is not a continuation of the Mary and Jesus story that we’ve been contemplating over Christmas: if it was a continuation we would have Mary and Jesus still in the picture – ‘the mother of Jesus’, ‘the mother of Jesus was there’.

As we move on, verse 3, ‘When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said, "They have no wine." They have no wine in Baghdad, they have no wine in Darfur, they have no wine in the Centrelink queue, they have no wine in the refugee camps. The story continues: ‘Jesus said to her, “Woman, my hour has not yet come." The impersonal address of ‘woman’ is quite important – it tells us that this is not a personal story, this is not a story, a tale about Jesus and his mum, rather this is a dialogue, between humanity - ‘woman’ - and divinity; it is the same dialogue, the same space from which Isaiah has spoken. The significance of ‘My hour has not yet come’, we might appreciate more fully when we look at the sacred texts of Easter and to another event that occurs on the third day.

When we get to verse 5, ‘His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Mother, like Mary in Advent, once again has an orientation towards the future and a knowing of how the future will unfold: “Do whatever he tells you.” She also addresses the servants, the lowest of the oppressed: the geometry of tomorrow is voiced by the bearer of God, just as we had in the Nativity. The bearer of God gives voice to tomorrow, and in this narrative we find that the divine word made flesh is directly linked to the lowest, to the oppressed, to the servants. Verses 6, 7 and 8 then centre on the water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, vessels filled to the brim, metaphors perhaps for ourselves, empty vessels waiting to be filled with divine fullness.

John has captured here the process and he illustrates the process of the early Christian church; this would have been familiar stuff – purification, baptism, celebration and abundance. It’s a movement that John’s captured just in the image of those jars. By the time we get to verse 9 we are then introduced to the steward; the steward is the one in control, the one in authority. Tellingly, he ‘did know where it came from’.

As we read the text as a sacred text we can see that there are many, many strands in it, strands that tell an eternal story and that draw us towards an eternal truth. Jesus and his disciples have been invited to the wedding - not a Canaanite marriage, this was not ‘someone’s wedding’. This text speaks of my marriage, my marriage and your marriage; Not the individual ‘me’, the personal, self-centred, ego-centric ‘me’, but the ‘me’ that knows itself only and forever as part of the ‘we’.

‘For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.’

Peter Humphris