Sunday, 16 January 2022

The generous miracle at
Cana is an invitation to
the heavenly banquet

The Wedding at Cana, depicted by Giotto in a fresco panel in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 16 January 2022,

The Second Sunday after Epiphany (Epiphany II):


9.30: Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Morning Prayer;

11.30: Saint Brendan’s Church, Tarbert, the Parish Eucharist.

Readings: Isaiah 62: 1-5; Psalm 36: 5-10; I Corinthians 12: 1-11; John 2: 1-11

There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘The Wedding at Cana’ (John 2: 1-11) … one of 20 white porcelain ceramic panels by Helena Brennan at the Oblate Church in Inchicore, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

I was surprised that the Christmas lights were still up in the city centre in Limerick all last week. But, of course, we are still in the Season of Christmas and Epiphany until 2 February. The Greek word ἐπιφάνεια (epipháneia) means ‘manifestation,’ or ‘striking appearance.’ It is an experience of sudden and striking realisation, and in the classics it often describes the visit of a god to earth.

This morning’s Gospel reading, the story of the Wedding at Cana (John 2: 1-11), is one of the three great Epiphany themes, along with the Visit of the Magi (Matthew 2: 1-12, 6 January 2022, The Epiphany), and last Sunday’s story of the Baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist (Luke 3: 17-17, 21-22, 9 January 2022). These three themes at Epiphany tell us who Christ truly is: truly God and truly human.

In each of these three events, Christ is manifest as God-incarnate at a point that marks the beginning of his ministry or his presence among us. It is the moment when we are caught off guard as we realise that this seemingly helpless new-born child, or this one among many in the team of visitors to John the Baptist at the Jordan, or this anonymous guest among many at a provincial wedding, is in fact the omnipotent God, the King and Ruler of the universe.

The star of the Epiphany, the light the three wise men have the courage to follow on a hazardous journey, is the same light that enlightens us at the Epiphany so that we realise who Christ is – for us and for the world.

The water in which Christ is baptised is the very same as the water that becomes wine at Cana, and the water that flows from Christ’s side when his life comes to an end on the Cross.

But the Epiphany stories also have a built-in thread or reminder of journey and return:

● The three kings return to their own country, albeit by another road, yet carrying their new revelation to all they return to (see Matthew 2: 12).

● After his Baptism, Christ goes into wilderness (see Matthew 4: 1) and then withdraws to Galilee to begin his ministry (see Matthew 4: 12; Mark 1: 14; Luke 3: 23; John 1: 43).

● After the wedding at Cana, Jesus goes down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples (see John 2: 12).

So, the feast of the Epiphany is linked with the call to return to the world with the message of the kingdom of God.

The wise men represent not only the three Magi adoring the Christ Child over 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, but they also represent the Gentile world hurrying to the wedding feast at the end of time, when humanity’s wedding with the divine Bridegroom is celebrated. The gold, frankincense and myrrh they bring are not only presents for the Child-King, but royal wedding gifts for the mystical marriage feast of heaven.

The lectionary readings take a diversion this morning, away from this year’s cycle of readings in Saint Luke’s Gospel, to tell us the story of the Wedding at Cana (John 2: 1-11), a story unique to Saint John’s Gospel.

In the beginning, Saint John’s Gospel introduces us to a new creation, a new creation that is in Christ. After the Prologue, there are six days in this new creation, and now we come to Day Seven.

What did God do on the Seventh Day in the account of creation in Genesis? God rested. And now that we have arrived at Day Seven in the opening week of Saint John’s Gospel, we come to the Day that Christ rests with his disciples, and to a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet, which is the completion of God’s creation. ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’ (Revelation 19: 9).

Seven has a symbolic meaning or significance in this Gospel. This is the first of the seven miraculous signs by which Saint John attests to Christ’s divine status. This Gospel is structured around these signs, and the word used by John is unique.

Turning Water into Wine at Cana is the first of the Seven Signs in Saint John’s Gospel, followed by healing a royal official’s son at Cana (4: 46-54), healing the paralysed man at Bethesda (5: 1-9), feeding the 5,000 (6: 1-14); walking on water (6: 15-24); healing the blind man (9: 1-7); and raising Lazarus from the dead (11: 17-45).

These are completed then by the Greatest Sign, the Resurrection (see 2:18-22).

So, the first of the seven signs comes on the seventh of the seven days that introduce the Gospel.

And it seems so right that this Epiphany moment this morning takes place in a very divine and a very human moment: at a family weekend wedding, which is as earthy as you can get, I suppose; and on the seventh day, when God rests in the creation story, when Christ rests in his grave after his passion.

We are now invited into the eighth day. We are invited to be God’s partner in creation after the creation story in Genesis; we are invited by Christ to the heavenly banquet; we are invited in the Eucharist, at Holy Communion, to eat and drink with him. He offers us food and drink that shall never run out.

Throughout the Bible, we have promises that there will be an abundance of wine in the time of the Messiah (Genesis 27: 27-28; 49: 10-12; Amos 9: 13-14), especially at the wedding feasts (see Isaiah 62: 4-5).

The six stone jars at Cana contain water for rites of purification. These are ceremonial rites, not hygienic rites. But each jar contains 20 or 30 gallons, so we are talking about 180 gallons of wine – roughly speaking, in today’s terms, 1,091 bottles of wine. And because the wine was so good (see 9-10) in those days, water was added to it. This may have double the amount – so perhaps up to 1,500 or 2,000 bottles of wine by today’s reckoning. It is enough to ensure they party for days. It is a joyful and generous miracle.

The wine in this story represents the overflowing and abundant blessings of God coming to fruition, to fulfilment.

Of course, I imagine the Kingdom of God is just like a big wedding. Those who are invited are going to include people I at first may be uncomfortable to sit with at the same table. But I am not the host, I am the guest. As it says in the Book of Revelation, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’ (Revelation 19: 9).

I cannot choose who is invited to the wedding, but I can accept the invitation to the meal, and the invitation to be part of the new family, the kingdom.

And if we accept the invitation, we have no right to pick and choose, to discriminate against my fellow guests, to cheat them out of their place at the table, to refuse to eat and drink with them.

We don’t know who the bride and groom were at the wedding in Cana. But we know we are invited to the banquet, not as spectators but as family members, as members of Christ’s own family, as full members of God’s family. We are loved abundantly, we are loved generously, we are loved truly, and there is a place for each and every one of at God’s banquet of love.

And so, may all we think say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

Waiting for the banquet at sunset on the beach in Rethymnon in Crete … in the Kingdom of God, ‘the best is yet to come’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 2: 1-11 (NRSVA):

1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ 4 And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ 5 His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ 6 Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Finding good wine to serve at the end of the meal (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: White

The Penitential Kyries:

God be merciful to us and bless us,
and make his face to shine on us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

May your ways be known on earth,
your saving power to all nations.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

You, Lord, have made known your salvation,
and reveal your justice in the sight of the nations.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
in Christ you make all things new:
Transform the poverty of our nature
by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect of the Word:

Bountiful God,
whose Son revealed his glory at Cana of Galilee:
help us to believe and obey,
so that, as our Saviour promised,
we may be filled with the wine of new life
and show forth his joy and love;
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

Our Saviour Christ is the Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there shall be no end. (cf Isaiah 9: 6, 7)

Preface:

For Jesus Christ our Lord
who in human likeness revealed your glory,
to bring us out of darkness
into the splendour of his light:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God of glory,
you nourish us with bread from heaven.
Fill us with your Holy Spirit
that through us the light of your glory
may shine in all the world.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Blessing:

Christ the Son be manifest to you,
that your lives may be a light to the world:

The Wedding at Cana … a modern icon

Hymns:

553, Jesu, lover of my soul (CD 32)
52, Christ whose glory fills the skies (CD 4)
445, Soul, array thyself with gladness (CD 26)

‘On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee’ (John 2: 1) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.



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