4th Sunday of Epiphany
“Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”
In northern Europe, late January can be a dark and depressing time, but occasionally there is a day when the sun comes out and the world is transformed by the brightness. On a day like this we may feel joyful, and thankful for the life-giving warmth of the sunshine, which lifts our spirits. We may even exclaim, “What a glorious day!”
“Glory” is one of those words that can be difficult to fully grasp. But when we say, “What a glorious day!” we are expressing thankfulness for the sun’s glory. Similarly, it is God’s brightness, splendour and majesty that inspires our joy, thanksgiving and worship when we sing, “Glory to God in the highest”.
In today’s Gospel we hear the story of the wedding in Cana and we are told that Jesus performed this first miracle – or rather, sign – in order to reveal his glory.
Three days after his baptism, Jesus attends a village wedding with his family and friends where the wine runs out. This is potentially a social disaster for the hosts. Mary tells Jesus about it, but to begin with he seems reluctant to do anything. He says that his hour has not yet come. Nevertheless, he produces wine, but more than that, he produces far more than is needed and it is of top quality. Surely this is excessive, given that the guests have already drunk a great deal. This wedding feast is some celebration!
At the time of Jesus many people were expecting God to send the Messiah to intervene in history and establish a new covenant with God’s people. God would symbolically “marry” Israel, and there would be a lavish wedding banquet with an abundance of fine wine. The wedding was seen as a symbol of the Messianic age, which is also known as the kingdom of God, and this is probably why Jesus used a wedding as the setting for at least five of his parables.
This story is a sign that the kingdom of God has arrived. God’s generosity is overflowing and the people are in a joyful and festive mode. Seeing this, the disciples believe that Jesus is the Messiah. But although this passage is placed right at the start of Jesus’ ministry, John also slips in references to the end of the story. He knows that his readers already know what will happen to Jesus, so he doesn’t need to spell it out too clearly, which can make it easy to miss. The passage starts with the words: “On the third day”, and of course the resurrection on the third day springs to mind. And then Jesus says to his mother: “My hour has not yet come,” which hints at the crucifixion. The wedding feast at Cana marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry by revealing Jesus’ glory to the disciples, but John also reminds us that this pales into insignificance when compared with the glory of the resurrection.
One of the Common Worship prefaces for the Eucharistic Prayer introduces the Sanctus with the words: “In the water made wine the new creation was revealed at the wedding feast. Poverty was turned to riches, sorrow into joy.” This sign is about so much more than the miracle – far more than the old Sunday school trick of pouring water into a jug with a small amount of red squash in the bottom! It is about the overflowing joy of the resurrection.
Today’s Gospel reminds us of God’s love and generosity. God provides in times of sorrow – as indeed we also heard in the Old Testament reading – and provides abundantly. Jesus’ death and resurrection are demonstrations of the lengths to which God’s love extends. This is truly a cause for celebration, and indeed something we do celebrate, Sunday by Sunday. In the Eucharist, we are reminded that we are citizens of the kingdom of God as we share in that wedding feast.
So, when we come to the Eucharist, let us allow ourselves to feel the joy! It may not be easy, you might be having a bad day, but remember that God can turn that sorrow into joy if we allow it, and if that’s too difficult today, well, God understands that too.