This beginning of signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.
Epiphany is the season of the manifestation of Jesus Christ. Each week is like another scene of a play when the curtain is raised, and we get to see a new backdrop on the stage, to study its details, get to know the characters a little better, and see how the story unfolds. We are now in the fifth act–the first was the Birth, the second the appearance before the Magi, the third his Baptism, the fourth his teaching in the Temple, and now the beginning of His Miracles. The curtain is drawing up again, as Christ comes center stage and begins his ministry. Our goal today is to understand this new scene, to see what the Gospel reveals to us about Christ’s identity. To that end, I want you all to see how this miracle reveals the identity of Jesus as the Word, the Renewer, the Groom, and the Fulfiller.
St. John the Evangelist is the only Gospel author who recorded the miracle at Cana. He was personally there, and this obviously stood out to him as a miracle that revealed deep truths. Jesus’ actions at the wedding of Cana are a window into his identity as the second Person of the Trinity, the Word by Which God the Father created the world. Think about the beginning of John’s Gospel! “[Jhn 1:1-3 KJV] 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” It is the Word of God who sustains all things–it is the Word of God who creates all things. This was as true in the beginning of Creation as it is now, as the Word sustains all creation moment by moment.
Every vine that has ever existed was created and sustained by Him—every variety of grape, every single grape itself exists solely because it is God’s desire and delight that they be so. Augustine famously wrote: “When our Lord turned the water into wine, He was but doing the very same thing which He does every year in every grape of every vintage: the waters from above nourish the vine-tree, and are taken up into the fruit, and turned by His secret power into that juice of the grape, which becomes to us wine.” When we listen to the story in John’s Gospel, the event sounds so amazing, but equally amazing and miraculous, is God’s ever constant creative impulse to sustain the universe through His love. Every bottle that we enjoy takes part in this mysterious miracle: God has so designed the world that grapes hold within themselves this unique property to transform themselves into a marvelous substance that brings joy to a man’s soul. We should all stand in awe of Jesus Christ as Creator, the Word of the Father.
Second, this miracle reminds us that Christ is the great Renewer. There is a wonderful prayer that the priest says quietly over the chalice after he has poured in the water and wine. The prayer says, “O God, who didst wonderfully create yet more wonderfully renew the dignity of mankind, grant that by the mystery of this water and wine, we may be coheirs of his divinity who vouchsafed to be partaker of our humanity.” When 2nd person of the Trinity, the Word of God, took on human flesh at the Annunciation, the Word assumed true human nature and healed it from the wounds of the Fall. As we join Christ in our baptisms, our human nature is united to his perfect human nature. In other words, we are renewed, literally ‘made new,’ by his human nature. And because we are joined to his humanity, we get to partake in his divinity as well. This is all imaged for us in the miracle. He took water and renewed it into its full potential, perfect wine. As Christ changed the water into wine, something that is beyond water’s natural ability without the addition of grapes, so too he has renewed our very nature to something beyond our natural ability. He is the great Renewer.
We must ask ourselves, now, how does this happen? How did Christ choose to renew the world? The miracle at Cana again helps us understand this part of His identity–that is, his identity as the Groom. It is no accident in the Gospel of John that Jesus comes to a marriage to start his ministry of marrying His Bride, the Church. His work of redemption starts at a marriage, because he chose to unite himself to humanity as a groom unites himself to his bride. The Venerable Bede, that great English doctor of Church, highlighted this point! He wrote: “Thus it was not by chance, that he came to a marriage celebrated on earth in the customary fleshly way, since he descended from heaven to earth in order to connect the Church to Himself in spiritual love. His nuptial chamber was the womb of his incorrupt mother, where God was conjoined with human nature, and from there he came forth like a bridegroom to join the Church to himself.” The miracle this morning helps remind us of Christ’s identity as the Groom to whom the Church is wed. He is our desire and through whom we are brought together to His Father.
And when the Groom came to wed his Bride, the Church, he did so in a certain way. The miracle at Cana shows us that Christ’s work of redemption is tied together in the great story and he is the Fulfiller of that story. Because of Mary’s intercession on behalf of the family, Jesus takes the servants to the jars which were present for Jewish ritual purification. These jars (estimated around 130 gallons) would have been filled with clean water so that the Jews could wash their hands before and after the meal, thereby fulfilling the Levitical purity laws. When Jesus changed the water that was intended for ritual washing into wine, he symbolically ends ritual washing. The rabbis are clear that wine cannot be used for ritual washing. Jesus’ actions show that the way towards purity is not through outward actions but only fulfilled perfectly in the person of Jesus Christ. As Jesus said later in John’s Gospel, He came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. It is not through washing our hands we become pure but by the person of Jesus and our union with him. All the Old Testament laws and commandments and history are now made known in their full and highest meaning. The Passover is now Holy Communion; circumcision is now Baptism; the bronze serpent now the cross; Moses and the Prophets now Christ and His Apostles;we could go on and on. What we see now through this miracle is that Christ is the fulfiller.
Let me conclude: for a moment in Cana at this particular wedding, the curtain was raised as Christ’s identity was revealed. The disciples’ eyes were opened, and they were able to see for the first time a little of what the Angels always see: the Creator of the universe sustaining and ordering his creation. When we read these stories, it is easy for us to imagine that they belong to a different age (this would never happen now) or we might hope that God would just show us a miracle. But as we learn about the identity of Christ, we must understand that the state of reality is still the same. We live in midst of the same power that walked the roads to Cana–He is still equally near to us but we often lack the faith to behold it. Let us not forget to look for Christ’s work in the daily course of lives, to see his hand at work in our lives, in our joys and feasting, in our sorrow and fastings, at our homes and at our work. Let us pray to Christ to open our eyes and know that He is present with us. The Word of the Father, the Renewer, the Fulfiller, and our Groom is there with you, present, to continue the transformation of your life.