Did you ever see any episodes on TV of "The Wedding Planner"?
Aimlessly watching a few of the programmes, too late for my daughter's wedding I discovered that the purpose of a wedding was to promote the image and status of those who paid for the wedding. Weddings it seems are not actually about having fun - but more about doing it "right" - protecting the image of the elders in the face of immense odds.
Fifty years ago, Uncle Jack had a wedding for his eldest daughter. First the wedding venue in Ascot Vale, booked over a year earlier, rang after invitations had been sent to say they were double booked and his deposit would be returned. At great expense he booked the Australia Hotel in Collins Street Melbourne - it was all that was left - and that was probably because of the expense. Imagine the consternation on sitting down to the wedding breakfast in this most upmarket of venues to find there was nothing but water to drink, because Uncle Jack, a Church of Christ teatotaller, had failed to book a barman, and so the bar was locked and barred, and it would take a minimum of an hour to bring in a barman and open it. It would also cost one hundred 1960 pounds just to open the bar. Then all drinks of course were extra. That was fifty years ago, and for fifty years no one in the family ever talked about that bride.
I bet you can all tell stories of weddings……… I bet Nathan could tell us some stories …………. and so could Gilbert.
Weddings are celebrations we all love because properly presented they joyfully signify new beginnings and the promise of new a life.
Weddings also have a biblical imagery with the church represented as the bride of Christ - and with Christ as the bridegroom.
Seventy Four times in the bible weddings or marriage is referenced (with the Song of Songs needing an additional category all of its own). These references range in scope from the functional "-whoever- took a wife" , to the parable of the wise & foolish virgins. Tonight's gospel reading from John 2 is as well known as any of Jesus parables and could almost be mistaken for one. It is known simply as the "wedding at Cana" It's the stuff of Sunday School lessons and Biblical illustrations from our childhood. Simply stated, at Mary's behest, Jesus turns water into wine at a village wedding and saves the day. Let me review it by reference to the likely perspectives of some of those present - real and imagined. Each offers their own perspective:
Firstly the writer of the Gospel, John. John wrote this story some sixty years after the wedding - at about the end of the first century. It is no accident that he put it at the beginning of his Gospel, and not solely for reasons of chronology and that it's a ripping yarn. John, who is accepted as the fifth disciple present at the wedding, had with the other four, been a follower of Jesus for only a few days. John wants us to know that Jesus has done away with the old traditions and was introducing a new way. The Old Testament heroes were the old wine. The stone pots were the old traditions. Jesus is the new wine of God's new covenant. John writes at the end of his Gospel "There were many other things that Jesus did; if all were written down, the world itself, I suppose, would not hold all the books that would have to be written." For John, who was the only gospel writer to include this wedding narrative, it is a story understood in hindsight, and deliberately included to tell an audience of essentially Romans and Greeks that a new order had begun.
Next the other four disciples who were present:
Simon Peter and his brother Andrew; Philip and Nathanael. They had only become Jesus followers two & three days earlier, immediately following Jesus baptism at Bethany on the Jordan. Their discipleship role was pretty new. While their home was about 50 kilometers away NE of Cana in Bethsaida, they had met Jesus some 100 kilometers south of Cana in Judea. It probably took two days to walk together to Cana, so Jesus invitation to "follow me" to Philip and Nathanael probably has a quite literal meaning. We can reasonably assume they were present at the wedding simply as friends of Jesus. As Jesus companions they probably watched and marvelled as he turned water into wine.
Mary, most likely now a widow - an explanation for Joseph's absence from this and future Gospel accounts and also for Jesus continued presence in the family home - Mary turns to Jesus when the wedding is going pear shaped. Her concern is explained by the suggestion in other source material that she may have been an aunt to the bridegroom. She seems in no doubt that Jesus can solve the problem, and she simply ignores his protest that this is not yet his time.
It is 28 years since a teenaged Mary proclaimed Magnificat:
My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.
For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden,
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm:
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree.
He has filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich He has sent empty away.
He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy;
As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His posterity forever.
Not bad for a teenager. I wonder what has happened in those 28 intervening years. What experiences has Mary shared with her son, Jesus? What were the experiences of those years that ensured that her faith and her certainty that God was with her had not waned; and how was it she retained her capacity to tell her son what to do. I think we Protestants undervalue the place of Mary in the gospel narratives - probably an overcompensation in response to the Catholic church's theology that underpins its veneration of Mary.
Next the wedding planner. Clearly there wasn't one. No wedding planner would want to be seen dead at a tacky little wedding in this significantly Gentile backwater area called Galilee. And Cana - nothing more than a nowhere village. The wedding itself - small, as befits a village. The last straw for a wedding planner was when the six ritual washing pots were both empty and used for making wine. For a wedding planner everything must at least look good. No water in the ritual washing pots does not look good at a Jewish wedding - and having a great time is definitely of secondary importance. By all means get the wine, but keep the pots for the ritual.
The chief steward. I told the groom straight out his choice of wine was illogical. It was a beautiful drop, and it arrived not a minute too soon.
21st century visitor: What? A three day party starting on Wednesday? Great! Don't fancy walking too far to get there, though. Anyway it never really happened because you just can't turn water into wine. End of story. Don't even talk to me about it until you can explain miracles!
The rechabite: "600 litres of the very best grape juice. Definitely unfermented." Here the miracle would be that the wine remained unfermented, for even if it started that way, it could not have long stayed unfermented in the land of Galilee. I have read online several attempts at turning the wine back into grape juice. None were even slightly convincing, but perhaps my prejudice is as great as theirs.
Jesus: "Today I began my journey to Jerusalem. I hadn,t planned anything public quite so soon, but I could not let mum down, and I loved the party. I hope you are able to come. In fact, just come as you are. I've got the wine, and the clothes are all provided."
Today, the party is to celebrate a new beginning.
I have brought along a painting of Jesus - an icon - It is a smiling, a laughing Jesus. The Jesus of the Wedding at Cana.
The Viticulturalist: What's the trick to turning 600 litres of water into 600 litres of great wine? This will normally require 600,000 litres of water. This is a great blend, where normally if you starve the water, you damage the wine. By the way, 600 litres of wine fills 750 bottles or 65 cases. For really excellent wine that will be around $30,000.
The religious leader: It's not for nothing that we have religious ritual rules. Stone pots are fine - clay pots would not be good enough. You have got to be really clean before you come to God. Our books have three chapters devoted to how to wash your hands alone. That of course is only the start. You'll never be good enough unless you follow all our rules. We protest the abuse of our rutual stone pots for the keeping of wine. What's to become of our time tested rituals if there is no appropriate water left. What will God think of this when the rules of cleanliness have been deliberately broken. This wedding is an absolute disgrace. I guess its all you could expect in Cana.
Johnny Cash. Johnny Cash visited Cana some years ago, and saw the spring of water which tradition would have was the source of water for the wedding. As he left he penned the song which you will hear during our prayer time, recorded as he sang it to the inmates at Fulsom prison in America.
The South Yarra Community Baptist Church. The party has not been what we had hoped this past eighteen months. It was a great party and no one expected it to turn sour, but it did. Simply put, our wine ran low. Jesus says to us today "the party has only just begun, and I have an abundance of the best new wine for you. It is a new year and its possibilities are endless. I am with you in the feast. It is time for new dreams and a new party."
Where do you fit in this wedding feast? Have you tasted the new wine of life that Jesus offers. Have you embraced the joyful, the smiling, the laughing Jesus that sets you free, or are you bound in the bondage of rules that fence you in or experiences that have dulled your joy in living.
A young person approached an American Indian elder and enquired where happiness was to be found. The Indian elder thoughtfully replied. "There are two wolves fighting within you. One feeds on joy and hope and love, the other feeds on despair, anger, and resentment. They each fight to grow strong and take control of your spirit" "And which wolf will win?" the young person enquired. "Why, the one you feed the most, of course", was the reply
Jesus says to each one of us "I am the new wine. Feed on me".