The text for the sermon is taken from the Gospel:
“This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.”
This Sunday’s Gospel reading comes from the Gospel of John who is the only Gospel writer to record the miracle at the wedding in Cana. Like the other Gospels, John’s style and form are unique to him, and therefore his composition and the way in which he sequences his Gospel reinforce the themes John is conveying. This miracle in particular highlights two major points the Apostle John is trying to get across: first, it displays Jesus’ creative work in the world and second, it displays His great work of renewing human nature through His Body.
The miracle at the wedding in Cana stands out anyways, because, it was, in fact, quite different from any of His other miracles. No great need or affliction demanded the miracle. A demon had not possessed the wine cellar and destroyed the wine. And although weddings were a big deal in the 1st century the host family, would have only been ashamed, not cast into jail or killed. And the guests, all they would have suffered would have been a little disappointment and no headache in the morning. But still, this miracle had a strong impression on John.
For he ends the account: “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.” The miracle did change His disciples, because it sparked in them a personal trust in Jesus. I think this is why John, who was present, chose to include this miracle in his Gospel. It showed him at the time, and then when he wrote the account down, the creative identity of Jesus in a powerful way.
Jesus’ actions at the wedding of Cana was not a singular event, but a window into his identity as the second Person of the Trinity, the Word by Which God the Father created the world. 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.
John uses this miracle first in his Gospel narrative, therefore, to introduce Jesus as the Word of God, the one who sustains the whole world even as he walked on earth. “[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.”
The second reason this miracle had a strong impression on John and why He used it first in his Gospel is because the miracle shows the purpose of the Incarnation. Even as John was writing his Gospel late in his life, heresies had begun to spread in the Church. Paul records one when he writes to Timothy: “Some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from [food], which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth” (1 Tim 4:1a-3). Already, people in the Church were denying the goodness of marriage and also demanding that all Christians follow the Levitical purity laws that restricted certain foods. The Apostle John, therefore, includes the miracle at Cana to counter such early heresies which had sprung up in the Church by an emphasis on the Incarnation.
First, John wants to show that Christ’s incarnation changes the way in which man interacts with God. When God made a covenant with Israel, He gave Moses a law by which the Jews might be holy and set apart. It was the way by which they might be consecrated for God. And while the Law did have a real and holy purpose, it could not unify man with God. And as Paul states, it convicted man of his sin, but it did not provide full unification with God.
What does this have to do with the miracle at Cana? 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 would have been filled with clean water so that the Jews could wash their hands before the meal, thereby fulfilling the Levitical purity laws. Since the wedding celebrations have been going on for several days already, these huge jars are almost empty given that they are used for washing of hands and vessels before every meal. Having filled up the jars, which would be estimated to around 130 gallons, the servants draw out wine, and not just any wine, but the finest wine.
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. In fact, our purity comes through our union with Jesus Christ–a point that John is clearly making in how he composes this narrative.
John calls this miracle the beginning because its starts his path towards His final hour. His rejection of the outward signs for purification leads him in the next scene in John’s Gospel to make a prophetic statement against the Temple, which in turn leads him to his miracles/sign on the Sabbath, the raising of Lazarus, and eventually, his own death. The cross is his final hour. Though Mary did not realize the implications at the time, Jesus’ miracle and therefore the public manifestation of His power and identity, start him towards His final hour where he will ultimately be separated from His Mother as he fulfills His Father’s will and dies on the Cross for our redemption. And yet, it is by the cross and his resurrection that we are saved.
His work of redemption starts at a marriage, a point that the Venerable Bede takes as fitting and purposeful. He writes: “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.”
We have already seen the amazing work of Jesus as Creator. But the transformation of water into wine that Jesus performed at the marriage at Cana is a foreshadow of the much greater marriage of Christ and His church. When the Word was made flesh, he took on human nature and human flesh. Christ the bridegroom is unified with His Bride, His Body, the Church, and we are united to the Church through our Baptisms.
This morning, we celebrate with the Field’s the baptism of Mary. And while for us who have seen so many baptisms, this might appear as just another sweet moment, we are celebrating the making of a new person. We are celebrating the most powerful and amazing transformation you will ever witness for now Mary has been perfectly united with her Creator, she has been healed from the wounds of the fall, given heavenly gifts of faith, hope, and love, and may now participate with her Groom in pure and holy worship. What a blessed transformation, what a wonderful celebration we have been invited to witness. And like Jesus’ disciples, may we too stand in awe at the Groom and trust in Him. May God open our eyes to glimpse a little of what the angels see: God sustaining the world by His Word season by season, month by month, day by day. May we see the glorious transformation in a baptized child that unites her with her Creator. May we see how we ourselves are united to our Bridegroom and nourished by His Body and Blood, ever more growing in Him and He in us.