Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C
16 January 2022
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Perhaps the parking spot prayer is the most infamous of all prayers. Not that it would not be handy to find a parking spot at the right time, especially when it’s as rainy as it’s been. The problem with the parking spot prayer is that it elevates my will and desire higher than it should be and thereby disconnects me from the needs of others. And if God will hear my prayer for a parking spot, how come that other, more important prayers, for healing, for peace, for relationship, for justice go unheard?
There was a fellow student at seminary who never missed a game of his beloved professional soccer team. He talked much about the team, their games, players, and so forth. But when one of us asked him whether he prayed for his team to win, he answered with a definite “no”, and that he would never go that far.
And then we have the first sign that John reports in the Gospel of John. A wedding party Jesus attended as a guest had run out of wine and, though not immediately, Jesus turns 600 litres of water into the best wine.
Our wedding liturgy recalls this story in its prayer of the day:
Eternal God, our creator and redeemer, as you gladdened the wedding at Cana in Galilee by the presence of your Son, so by his presence now bring your joy to this wedding. Look in favour upon this couple and grant that they, rejoicing in all your gifts, may at length celebrate with Christ the marriage feast which has no end.
The new worship book gives other options as well but this is my favourite because I see this act of Jesus as a sign that God rejoices when we rejoice and that our lives matter to God.
And yet we know that in John’s Gospel things are always more than they seem, which is why John refers to Jesus’ miracles as signs. They point to more, they are about more than a particular moment, though that moment also matters.
I have been to many weddings, as you may imagine, and to a few wedding receptions. Not all of the marriages at which I presided lasted. At one of the first weddings at which I presided, the couple was quite young, the celebration elaborate, and it all lasted but a year. I was newly ordained and had little experience then, though I take no responsibility for failed marriages. The truth is that by the time a couple comes to see the pastor, their minds are made up and all you can hope for is to provide a few tools for them to take along.
On my internship we lived next to a photography studio and on Saturdays we could see wedding parties come and go. Some with what we considered tasteful attire and some not so much. Sometimes large wedding parties, and others small.
At the end of the day none of that matters. What matters is the commitment to one another, in good times and in bad, until death do us part. And the privilege of the pastor is to be right there when the couple exchanges their vows. It is a sacred moment when two people commit themselves to the full extent of their lives.
John, who at the end of his gospel tells us that many more things could have been told about Jesus includes the story of the wedding at Cana at the very beginning of the story of Jesus. In doing so John makes use of the image of the wedding banquet as a metaphor for a restored relationship between God and the world. In Isaiah we hear of the feast God will make for all peoples, a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines (Is 25:6), in Amos we read of the time when the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and God will restore the fortunes of God’s people Israel (Amos 9:13-14). And the same theme can be heard in other ancient Jewish literature (1 Enoch 10:19, 2 Baruch 29:5). And the image of God and Israel as marriage partners is used frequently throughout the scriptures.
Sign of a good marriage is that the partners are present to one other. From time to time my wife will speak to me and I will grunt something in acknowledgment of the fact that she is speaking without actually hearing what she says. Then after a moment, I will stop what I was doing and will ask, “Honey, what did you say?” Or she will interrupt her speech and ask me whether I was listening and whether I know what it is to which I just grunted my agreement.
Of course, being present to one another requires more than physical presence.
In the scriptures God’s presence is the gift given to God’s people, in the tent of meeting, in the pillar of cloud and fire, in the tabernacle, and finally in the temple. The temple symbolized the marriage of heaven and earth.
Here at the beginning of John’s gospel, immediately before Jesus cleans the temple and speaks of the destruction and rebuilding of the temple in three days, Jesus is present at a wedding banquet. Jesus is present. And he instructs the servants to fill the jars meant for water for purification and that water becomes wine for the wedding feast. It is a sign that in him God is present. The temple is no longer necessary because Jesus is the temple. It is in him that heaven and earth will be reconciled.
And so John lays out, at the beginning of his gospel, what is to come. Jesus’s hour has not yet come, even though he instructed the servants to fill the jars, and the quality of the wine embarrassed the groom. His hour will come when the hour of his passion comes, making it possible for the church to drink from the cup of salvation.
In our first reading Isaiah speaks of God’s marriage with Israel. Of course, God loves the whole world, but it is through God’s loving and faithful relationship with Israel that this love becomes manifest and is then able to ripple out to all of creation.
A favourite scripture reading for weddings is Paul’s ode to love in 1 Corinthians 13. It goes like this:
1If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. … 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Can we imagine that Paul is not actually singing the praise of romantic love? After all, only a few chapters earlier Paul advises against marriage.
Further, could it be that Paul is not singing the praise of love as a principle of ethics and of life? But rather that in 1 Corinthians 13 love is another word for Jesus in whom God’s love has been made manifest? We may recall that it is in the first letter of John that we learn that God is love. (1 John 4)
That is what is laid out in the story of the wedding at Cana. The love of God is made visible in Jesus and the world will never be the same again.