A Homily for the Second Sunday after Epiphany
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the bridegroom of the Church. Amen.
As I leave my late twenties and enter my early thirties, I seem to be in that age where most of my peers are getting married. In the past three years, weddings have become the most regular feature of my social life. My sister and both my brothers-in-law have gotten married, as have some of my closest friends. As a pastor, I’ve only had the honor of officiating at one, but what a great wedding it was when nearly a year ago, we gathered here in this space to celebrate with Charlie and Judith as they joined together in holy matrimony.
And yes, weddings are great because they are a celebration of romance, a worship service in which the Church proclaims the value of romantic love and human families – even when that family is as simple as two people giving themselves to each other.
But of course, there’s more to them than that: part of what makes weddings so much fun is the after-party, the reception. There’s often music and dancing – I have no rhythm, but I will dance wildly, even until I have blisters on my heels. It’s a chance to dress up to the nines: suit and tie, or even a tuxedo, a nice dress or a full-length formal gown.
On top of that, there’s all of the food and drink. Whether it’s a full sit-down meal served by a sharply dressed waitstaff or a barbecue buffet (which, let’s all be honest, is the highest form food can take), whether it’s a tiered cake decorated by a true artist or a selection of cupcakes, whether it’s a toast with fine champagne or a bar well-stocked with craft beer or sweet tea out of solo cups, wedding banquets are fantastic.
For all of the changes in society, weddings have long been festive events. We may not know exactly what ancient Judean wedding services looked like, but Scripture tells us that even in the ancient Mediterranean world, weddings were a big party. One historian describes it this way:
The wedding ceremony began with the groom attired with a…matrimonial crown. His friends approached the house of the bride, who was veiled and adorned with jewelry and ceremonial garments. She was escorted to the groom’s home to the accompaniment of singing and dancing. A sumptuous feast was served, followed by festivities lasting one or two weeks.
Throughout the New Testament, we see people dressed to the nines at weddings, gathering together to celebrate with lots of food and lots of wine. Lots and lots of wine. Gallons of it over several days.
Into this festive atmosphere, enter Jesus. He’s there with the disciples, his mother, and presumably quite a few other relatives. I have to imagine Jesus probably danced. (Sadly, Saint John gives us no word on whether or not he had any rhythm or what the first century equivalent of the Electric Slide was.) But all of a sudden, tragedy strikes: the party runs out of wine. It’s the faux pas to end all faux pas. First century Emily Post would have been shocked. Shocked!
You can hear the murmurs starting now as Uncle Simon sits there, holding his empty cup aloft, turning it over to make a point. “Unbelievable! How does you let this happen? What sort of person doesn’t get enough wine? What’s next? Are they gonna run out of bread and figs?”
The Mother of God walks over to the dance floor and sort of shimmies her way over to her holy Son. “You hear they ran out of wine?”
“Hmmm. Unfortunate,” Jesus says.
“Yeah. If only there were something that could be done. It would take a miracle. I wonder where we might find one of those…who could work such a wondrous act?”
Jesus humbly tries to explain that this isn’t exactly life-or-death, but the Blessed Virgin beckons to the wait staff and tells them, like any proud mother, “Hey, my son can fix this problem. Do whatever he tells you – even if it sounds a bit strange. Just trust him.”
Christ sends the waiters out to fill up some massive jugs with water, scoop some out, and present it to the steward – and behold, it’s good wine. No, no no no no no no,scratch that, it’s great wine, a rare vintage made better with age. The party planner runs over to the hosts and exclaims, “I’ve done I don’t know how many of these, and usually, this point in the party, everyone is too tipsy to tell the difference between good wine and vinegar, but you have saved the best for last!” He swirls it in his cup, sniffs it, takes a sip, and holds the cup aloft, exclaiming, “Marvelous! Exquisite!”
As far as Christ’s many miracles go, this one isn’t exactly the most exciting. It’s a neat party trick, perhaps one we’ve all wished we could replicate, but it ranks somewhere below loaves-and-fishes and far, far beneath raising the dead. And yet, this is also the public first miracle he works – this is how Jesus of Nazareth reveals his glorious might to the world.
This miracle is rooted in the very origins of the cosmos, dating back to the first days of creation. The fourth century bishop Maximus of Turin reminds us of all God’s miracles involving water:
Only he who had made it out of nothing could change water into something whose use was quite different. Dearly beloved, have no doubt that he who changed water into wine is the same as he who from the beginning has thickened it into snow and hardened it into ice. It is he who changed it into blood for the Egyptians and bade it flow from the dry rock for the thirsty Hebrews—the rock which, newly transformed into a spring, was like a mother’s breast refreshing with its gentle flow a countless multitude of people.
The very God who called life from the primordial waters, who delivered Noah and his family through the torrents of the flood, who at the fullness of time entered this world through the waters of birth, and whose glory was revealed by his Baptism in the Jordan, now puts his might on display by turning water into wine.
More than that, though, this miracle reveals not just God’s glorious and creative might but the gift of a loving marriage. From the very beginning, our Lord has blessed human relationships. From Creation, when the Triune God formed humanity from the dust of the earth, the Lord realized that it was not good for us to be alone and so created marriage, giving us to each other to love, to cherish, to honor, to hold, and to even unite as one flesh. And so, at the wedding in Cana, Christ revealed his glory to the entire world.
But these wondrous signs point us beyond this present age and towards the glory that is to come. Christ has taken the Church as his bride. As Saint Paul writes in the letter to the Ephesians, we are members of Christ’s one body just as spouses become one flesh.
Through the miracle at this human wedding, Christ points us to our own divine wedding feast. The Lord who blessed this earthly union in Cana of Galilee by turning water into wine blesses our heavenly union with him by turning wine into his precious blood. Come, O Bride of Christ, and meet your princely Groom. The wedding feast is set. Come, consume Christ that we, through this Holy Communion, may be joined as one body. Come, and enjoy the consummation of this heavenly marriage.