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The Wedding at Cana
I am very fond of a good wedding and a good wedding reception; so far I have not been at one where the wine ran out, but we can imagine the embarrassment if it did. Jesus’ first miracle is to turn water into wine and it is worth looking at more closely. Weddings in Jewish times, especially in small places like Cana, often meant that the whole village would be invited and the bridegroom, whose job it was, had to give everyone a good time and so uphold the family honour. Running out of wine was more than an inconvenience and could mark a family’s reputation and standing in the community for ever. So in its context, Jesus’ first miracle was not about something trivial at all.
“There were six stone water jars standing there.” These jars would have been in the shade of the house holding the water to be used for purification and so both, by where they stood and the volume they contained, kept this water cool and refreshing. They were now empty but encouraged by Mary the servants follow Jesus’ instruction, which must have seemed very strange, to fill them up with water. They filled them to the brim and so it was this very large quantity of water, almost two hundred gallon, that was turned into wine and not only into wine but the very best of wine.
A while ago, I went to a diocesan theological workshop and when I got there to my dismay I was pointed in the direction of a craft table loaded with paints, crayons, pastels, cardboard, cotton wool, scraps of cloth, tissue, bottles of glue and all things for making a collage. Our leaders cheerfully set us off “Illustrate a miracle," they said. You remember that I am a scientist; chemistry and physics and so on. This is simply not my thing. Nonetheless, I was in and so I set too, thankfully with a couple of companions and decided to illustrate this story; The Wedding at Cana.
Our artwork is unlikely to be a candidate for the Turner Prize but the finished canvas did have some good features. At the top of the picture were some of the giant jars tipped over gushing forth wine of all colours, reds, whites, golds, Beaujolais, Sancerre, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Retsina, all mingling as they ran down the page covering dining tables, chairs, cutlery, crockery the floor, in a flood of celebration and joy.
The miracle is a sign, His first sign and Jesus and “disciples believed in him”, because the sign was very much clearer for them than it might be for us. They would have been familiar with the writings of Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah and Joel where the abundance of wine is a sign of the end of time. Jesus says to his mother “My hour has not come” prompting us to make the link to Jesus’ hour of glorious resurrection and the disciples to remember the words at the end of the book of Amos who says:
“The time is surely come when … the mountains shall drip sweet wine and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel.”
Jesus has chosen a moment of celebration, a wedding. He chose to take the place of the bridegroom, who had failed, and then to fulfil that role by surpassing the guests’ expectations, providing wine in unlooked for quantity and extravagance, ensuring that the very best came last. The wine of the new age is ushered in by the Messiah, telling us of Jesus’ identity and of the promise that life to come will be so much more than this one. There is the cause for joy, dancing and exultation that our oh so humble and little collage tried to capture and show.