Rev’d Stan Pilbrow
John 2:1 – 11
I’m sure we’ve all got our wedding stories. They may be our own, that of family or friends. These stories may be funny, tragic, poignant and sad or horrific.
I belonged to an organisation whose formal dress was a kilt of the Blackwatch tartan. A very noble tartan. The groom and his guests were all dressed in kilts, and of course, we were all dressed ‘appropriately.’ The bride was terrified that ‘incidents’ were going to occur with these men dressed ‘appropriately’ and asked the groom to ensure that measures would be taken by his friends to ensure their dress was ‘modified’ to a more decorous and restrained standard. Some complied. It became obvious when the dancing began that some had not.
A wedding in a Jewish family in the time of our reading was a very important affair. Peasant or royalty, correct rituals would be followed and both families would be at pains to show off on the day. After separate feasting and celebrations there would be the dressing of the bride, and her parade with family through the streets to the groom’s house. At the groom’s house would be the wedding ceremony, a further parade through the streets as a married couple and then more feasting.
Rituals included having water available for purification…for washing prior to eating. There was also the requirement for wine…lots of wine as a host was required to provide to ensure a good time. This is not about everyone being highly intoxicated. In fact it was proper to water down wine slightly. The aim was to provide plenty of healthy liquid to help digestion and encourage interaction.
So let’s look at this wedding. We know nothing of the circumstances – no identities of the major players, no back story. We know that, “…the mother of Jesus,” was there which gives a reason for Jesus to be there and by extension, the disciples. The presence of, “The mother of Jesus,” sets the stage for their brief exchange and the first miracle of Jesus. Notice I keep saying, “the mother of Jesus.” In the gospel of John, she is not named by the writer. I could not find out why.
We could also raise an eyebrow at the way Jesus seems to rebuke his mother. In our day and age to refer to someone in this manner, calling them ‘woman’ may seem less than acceptable. However Mary’s response – talking to the servants, indicates that she does not acknowledge Jesus’ tone at all. She is not concerned. Jesus will fix the problem.
I spoke earlier of there being lots of wine. Converting the amounts gave me a maximum of 656 litres or 875 x 750ml bottles, ie 73 cases of wine. That is abundant wine. In the Old Testament, abundant wine, oil and milk was a sign of the age of salvation. So when a request comes from your mother, Jesus could not make a token gesture, it had to be worth it. For me this first miracle is a way of announcing the Kingdom of God, the time of Salvation has arrived. Jesus shows his power to his disciples and evokes their belief.
In the Jewish culture of our gospel reading, wine was also a symbol of joy. Not because of the effects of the alcohol, but because it was an essential item at festive occasions, liked a cup of tea, or the wedding cake. So, we have a wedding that runs out of joy. Mary sees the problem and asks Jesus for help. He indicates that this task isn’t all that important, that bigger things are to come. Yet Jesus does it and does it well, and brings the joy back to the occasion. This wine is even better that the grooms ‘best wine’ that was put out first.
We all carry a measure of wine/joy with us. Obviously, we’d like this wine to remain with us…it’s old wine…joy we have acquired from our experiences and the way we’ve lived our lives. We have nurtured and savoured this wine over the years. This joy has memories; some sad, some warm, some bitter and others very funny.
Sometimes, as in this wedding the wine, the joy runs out. It may be a relationship break-up, being made redundant, a death in the family. I’m thinking that what is required here is more wine…new/more joy! We don’t have to perform a miracle…however we can follow the example of Jesus and give abundant wine, abundant joy to those who need a top-up. It’s not about solving the problem. Rather, it’s about being present, being there, letting your ears, empathy, love and grace do all the toppinbg up required. Amen.