12 January 2013

An invitation to the banquet

The Wedding at Cana (John 2: 1-11) ... a modern icon

Patrick Comerford


Tomorrow week, Sunday 20 January 2013, is the Second Sunday after the Epiphany. The readings in Revised Common Lectionary are: Isaiah 62: 1-5; Psalm 36: 5-10; I Corinthians 12: 1-11; and John 2: 1-11.

The readings continue our exploration of the great themes of Epiphany. The Greek word ἐπιφάνεια (epipháneia) means “manifestation,” or “striking appearance.” It is an experience of sudden and striking realisation, and in classical drama literature often describes the visit of a god to earth.

The feast of Christ’s divinity completes the feast of his humanity. It fulfils all our Advent longing for the king who comes in power and majesty. While Christmas has been the family feast of Christianity, Epiphany is the great world feast of the Church.

Epiphany as a feast finds its origins in the celebrations of the Eastern Church. Drawing on this Eastern theme, one American writer (Elsa Chaney, The Twelve Days of Christmas, Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1955) has said Epiphany “is like a rich Oriental tapestry in which the various themes are woven and interwoven — now to be seen in their historical setting, again to be viewed from a different vantage point in their deep mystical significance.

The great, significant Epiphany themes, narrated in the lectionary Gospel readings this year (Year C) over a three-week period, are:

● The Visit of the Magi (Matthew 2: 1-12, 6 January 2013, The Epiphany);

● The Baptism of Christ (Luke 3: 17-17, 21-22, 13 February 2013, the First Sunday after Epiphany);

● The Wedding at Cana (John 2: 1-11, 20 January, the Second Sunday after the Epiphany).

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.

Our celebrations of Epiphany also mark the extension of Christ’s kingship to the whole world. The revelation of Christ to the three kings at Bethlehem is a symbol of his revelation to the whole of the Gentile world. Epiphany presents to us the calling of not merely a chosen few, but all nations to Christianity.

The theme of light is found throughout these Sundays after the Epiphany. During Advent, the world is in darkness, at Christmas the Light shines forth, and at Epiphany the Light bursts forth to all nations and the prophecy is fulfilled: “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Isaiah 60: 3).

The star of Epiphany may be seen in many different lights. The three wise men have the courage to follow the light of the star on a journey that is hazardous. It is the same light that enlightens us at the Epiphany so that we realise who Christ is for us and for the world.

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

● The three kings return to their own country, albeit by another road, yet carrying 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 went 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 Gospel reading for Sunday week (20 January) takes up the third of the great themes of Epiphany, the wedding feast or royal banquet. The wedding at Cana suggests Christ’s wedding with the Church.

The wise men represent not only the three Magi adoring the Christ Child over 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, but 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.

Isaiah 62:1-5

This morning in our Bible study, we are looking at the Old Testament reading linked with the story of the Wedding at Cana (Isaiah 62:1-5).

1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
2 The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
5 For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

Setting and context:

The setting and context for this reading is the time after Persia has conquered Babylon and has allowed the people of Israel to return to a small parcel of land around Jerusalem.

The land is ravished, and after their initial joy evaporates, the people feel that God has ceased caring for them.

In earlier chapters, the prophet has spoken of a new Zion, of a renewed city and of a renewed people. The new Jerusalem will be built by foreigners (Isaiah 61: 5). People will be more faithful to God. And God will establish a pact with the people that will last forever.

Now either the prophet or God tells of the cleansing of Israel’s reputation (“vindication”, 62: 1): it will break forth with the suddenness of dawn in the desert: one moment is dark, the next moment is light. The image of Israel’s salvation as “a burning torch” (verse 1) recalls the many torches lighting up the city on the Feast of Tabernacles.

And in this moment, Israel’s salvation is seen to the extent that “all the kings” (verse 2, all nations) will see God’s glory and his power, reflected in and radiated by, Israel.

When God made a covenant with Abram, giving him new status as “ancestor of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17: 5), he changed his name to Abraham. So too will God’s people enjoy a new status. They will be a royal people (verse 3), protected by God.

Verse 4 tells us Israel’s new status. Israel will become God’s spouse.

God promises that no longer will he give Israel’s harvests to her enemies (verse 8), as punishment for disobedience. God will be seen to love Israel again: a truly joyous event.

Preaching on the texts:

Can you see these narratives and themes in the other readings?

The Psalm portion (Psalm 36: 5-10) speaks of the love of God and God’s faithfulness (verses 5, 10), God’s message to all people (verse 7 “all mortal flesh”) and all creation (verse 6), the light of God (verse 10). In a sermon you might even find a connection with the Gospel story in the waters of the well of Life (verse 9).

The Epistle reading (I Corinthians 12: 1-11) talks too of gifts of the Spirit, which you might link with the gifts the Wise Men bring, the gifts the guests must have brought to the wedding at Cana, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan.

The banquet at the Wedding of Cana not only prefigures the banquets in the Gospel parables and the heavenly banquet – it also prefigures the banquet at the Last Supper, when more than wine is poured out.

The Gospel reading:

The Gospel reading for the same Sunday morning is John 2: 1-11.

1 Καὶ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ γάμος ἐγένετο ἐν Κανὰ τῆς Γαλιλαίας, καὶ ἦν ἡ μήτηρ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἐκεῖ: 2 ἐκλήθη δὲ καὶ ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸν γάμον. 3 καὶ ὑστερήσαντος οἴνου λέγει ἡ μήτηρ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ πρὸς αὐτόν, Οἶνον οὐκ ἔχουσιν. 4 [καὶ] λέγει αὐτῇ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, γύναι; οὔπω ἥκει ἡ ὥρα μου. 5 λέγει ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ τοῖς διακόνοις, Ο τι ἂν λέγῃ ὑμῖν ποιήσατε. 6 ἦσαν δὲ ἐκεῖ λίθιναι ὑδρίαι ἓξ κατὰ τὸν καθαρισμὸν τῶν Ἰουδαίων κείμεναι, χωροῦσαι ἀνὰ μετρητὰς δύο ἢ τρεῖς. 7 λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Γεμίσατε τὰς ὑδρίας ὕδατος. καὶ ἐγέμισαν αὐτὰς ἕως ἄνω. 8 καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Ἀντλήσατε νῦν καὶ φέρετε τῷ ἀρχιτρικλίνῳ: οἱ δὲ ἤνεγκαν. 9 ὡς δὲ ἐγεύσατο ὁ ἀρχιτρίκλινος τὸ ὕδωρ οἶνον γεγενημένον, καὶ οὐκ ᾔδει πόθεν ἐστίν, οἱ δὲ διάκονοι ᾔδεισαν οἱ ἠντληκότες τὸ ὕδωρ, φωνεῖ τὸν νυμφίον ὁ ἀρχιτρίκλινος 10 καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Πᾶς ἄνθρωπος πρῶτον τὸν καλὸν οἶνον τίθησιν, καὶ ὅταν μεθυσθῶσιν τὸν ἐλάσσω: σὺ τετήρηκας τὸν καλὸν οἶνον ἕως ἄρτι. 11 Ταύτην ἐποίησεν ἀρχὴν τῶν σημείων ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐν Κανὰ τῆς Γαλιλαίας καὶ ἐφανέρωσεν τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐπίστευσαν εἰς αὐτὸν οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ.

[12 Μετὰ τοῦτο κατέβη εἰς Καφαρναοὺμ αὐτὸς καὶ ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοὶ [αὐτοῦ] καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐκεῖ ἔμειναν οὐ πολλὰς ἡμέρας.]

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.

12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there for a few days.

The Seventh Day

Chapter 1 of 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 the Book 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 John attests to Christ’s divine status. This Gospel is structured around these signs, and the word used by John is unique. He uses the Greek word σημεῖον (semeion, “sign” or ἔργον meaning “work”), instead of the term the Synoptic writers normally use for miracle, δύναμις (dynamis, meaning act of power).

This is the first of the Seven Signs, which are:

1. Turning water into wine (2: 1-12);
2. Healing the royal official’s son (4: 46-54), also at Cana;
3. Healing the paralysed man at Bethesda (5: 1-9);
4. Feeding the 5,000 (6: 1-14);
5. Walking on water (6: 15-24);
6. Healing the blind man (9: 1-7);
7. The raising of Lazarus (11: 17-45).

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

The seven signs are interspersed with long dialogues and discourses, including the seven “I AM” sayings. In these discourses, Jesus identifies himself with symbols of major significance. There are seven “I AM” statements:

1. I AM the Bread of Life (6: 35);
2. I AM the Light of the World (8: 12);
3. I AM the door of the sheep (10: 7);
4. I AM the Good Shepherd (10: 11);
5. I AM the Resurrection and the Life (11: 25);
6. I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life (14: 6);
7. I AM the True Vine (15: 1).

In addition, there are Seven Witnesses:

1. John the Baptist (1: 34);
2. Nathaniel (1: 49);
3. Peter (6: 69);
4. Christ (10: 36) – the Central and Greatest witness;
5. Martha (11: 27);
6. Thomas (20: 28);
7. John the Beloved Disciple (20: 31).

And so the first of the seven signs comes on the seventh of the seven days that introduce the Gospel.

The significance of Cana

In Chapter 1, Christ promises the new disciples that he would show them his glory … this morning we see that promise fulfilled in the first sign, at the wedding in Cana.

The image of the Lamb of God in this Gospel was like a triptych, with the two Johns – John the Baptist at the beginning of the Gospel, and John the Beloved Disciple at the end – as witnesses to who the Lamb of God is. In a similar way, Galilee acts as a geographical enclosure for Christ’s disclosure: Galilee is the first place to behold Christ’s glory, as we see in this story; and Galilee will be the last place to behold his glory, as we see with the post-Resurrection stories in Chapter 21, and there too we also come across Cana and Nathanael.

Summary of story

While Christ is attending the wedding in Cana with his disciples, the hosts run out of wine. The mother of Jesus tells him: “They have no more wine.” And Jesus replies: “Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come.”

His mother then says to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you” (2: 5).

Jesus orders the servants to fill the empty containers with water and to draw out some and take it to the chief waiter. After tasting the water that had become wine, and not knowing what Christ has done, he remarks to the bridegroom that he has departed from the custom of serving the best wine first by serving it last (verses 6-10). John then tells us: “This was the first miracle of Jesus and it was performed to reveal his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him” (verse 11).

This miracle is not mentioned in any of the other three Gospels, although it has parallels with the parable of the New Wine and Old Wineskins.

In the Old Testament, we read 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 wine in this story represents the overflowing and abundant blessings of God coming to fruition.

Verse 1:

On the third day: this is not to distract us from the significance of this being the seventh day, but remember that Christ rose on the Third Day. We are to read this story with the benefit of the hindsight of Resurrection faith.

I had a cousin-by-marriage who delighted in the spoiling prank of going down the queues outside the cinemas in Oxford when Love Story with Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw was first showing in 1970 and saying to each person in turn: “She dies in the end.” But you cannot spoil the reader of the Fourth Gospel by telling him or her: “He dies in the end.” That is not the end, and this first sign prepares us, in a way, for the greatest of all signs, beyond the seventh sign.

Cana was a small village about 12 km north-west of Nazareth.

“… and the mother of Jesus was there.” Mary is never named in this Gospel.

Verse 2:

Jesus and his disciples have been invited, together. We don’t know who the bride and groom were. But at weddings new families are formed. No-one is ever the same again. Brothers become brothers-in-law, sisters become sisters-in-law, mothers become mothers-in-law. New families, new bonds of kinship are created. I wonder who was seated with the groom’s family, and who with the bride’s family. Perhaps they were all related in some distant way.

Christ’s arrival shows us that we are all part of God’s family. As the Caroline Divine Lancelot Andrewes puts it, Jesus became our half brother in his fleshly birth to Mary, and adopted us to the Father, and full brotherhood, in his resurrection!

Verse 3:

Note that Mary does not make a request here – she simply observes or passes comment on a matter of fact in her conversation with her son. They have no wine. She is not asking for a miracle.

Verse 4:

It sounds at first as though Jesus is being dismissive, almost as if he is telling his mother to go away and to not bother him. But when Jesus calls his mother “Woman” it is not a dismissive or derogatory term, but a term of great respect, as it is again at the Crucifixion, when he says: “Woman, here is your son” (see 19: 26).

Nevertheless, the hour of his self-disclosure was determined not by Mary’s desire but by God. And that hour, ultimately, is the only other time when John mentions Mary, when Christ is on the Cross.

As we have been comparing these seven days with the first seven days in Genesis, then we can compare the role of the woman in the garden (Eve), who is the man’s companion, with the role of the woman at the wedding feast. Once again, there is the balance between eating and drinking, between being sent out into the world, and being called back to the fullness of the heavenly banquet.

Verse 5:

There is a resigned tone to Mary’s voice. She accepts whatever her Son may say, even if it is not going to turn out to be what she expected. What did she expect? What did she know at this stage? What did she think her Son could say or would do? Notice the connection made here between saying and doing, just as this Gospel also makes the connection between seeing and believing.

Verse 6:

The six stone jars contained water for rites of purification. These were ceremonial rites, not hygienic rites. But each jar contained 20 or 30 gallons, so we’re 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 it would then have water added to it, and this may have double the amount – so perhaps up to 1,500 or 2,000 bottles of wine by today’s reckoning. It was enough to ensure they partied for days, and weddings in the Eastern Mediterranean do go on for days.

Verse 7:

Jesus says … and they do. Why do you think the servants obeyed Mary and then obeyed Jesus? And why wasn’t the steward in control of what was going on at this stage? Was he hiding in embarrassment? Had he headed off to buy some more wine? Had that been a failed venture, like the disciple failed to come back with food when they were sent to Sychar (see Chapter 4)?

Verse 8:

The steward (ἀρχιτρίκλινος, architriklinos) was the superintendent of the dining room, a table master. He was different from the toast-master, who was one of the guests selected by lot to prescribe to the rest the mode of drinking. The table-master was to place in order the tables and the couches, arrange the courses, taste the food and wine beforehand, and so on.

Notice the role of similar people in other Gospel stories. Here and in the parable of the wedding banquet (Matthew 22: 2-14), the attendants have the role of διάκονος (deacon), a waiter, one who executes the commands of another, especially of the master or the ἀρχιτρίκλινος. The word for the unjust steward (Luke 16: 1-8) is οἰκονόμος (oykonomos), the manager of a household or of household affairs who was free-born or a freed-man who was delegated oversight. We can see here the parallels with the ministry of bishop and priest and of deacon later in the New Testament. Who does the steward at Cana have parallels with?

Verse 9:

As I was preparing these notes, I just thought about those words from the Psalmist: O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him (Psalm 34: 8).

Verse 10:

See how the steward shifts responsibility to the bridegroom. But the truth is that the good wine has been kept until now. Now the best of God’s promises are about to be fulfilled

Verse 11:

The miracles were not wonders to astound but were signs pointing to Christ’s glory and God’s presence in him. This is the first of the signs. For the second sign see 4: 46-54.

Verse 12:

When the wedding is over, Jesus heads back to Capernaum, which was on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee. He goes there with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples. New relationships have been formed. Some of them go back as new brothers-in-law, perhaps one of the them was a new father-in-law. Christ calls us into new relationships, with him, with God the Father, and with one another. And in those new relationships, there are new expectations.

Two final notes:

1, The Bridegroom’s Crown:

There are two types of crowns in the New Testament: στέφανος (stéphanos) and διάδημα (diádema).

The στέφανος is the victor’s crown or wreath at games and feasts (see I Corinthians 9: 24-25; Galatians 2: 2; Philippians 3: 14; II Timothy 2: 5; I Peter 5: 4). But it is also used, for example, in the following contexts and passages:

● Christ’s crown of thorns (Matthew 27: 29; Mark 15: 17; John 19: 2, 5);
● humanity crowned with glory and honour (Hebrews. 2: 7);
●Christ crowned with glory and honour (Hebrews 2: 9);
● Saint Paul’s crowned believers (Philippians 4: 1; I Thessalonians 2: 19);
● the Twenty-Four Elders (Revelation 4: 4 ff, 10 ff);
● the rider on the white horse (Revelation 6: 2 ff);
● the locusts from the abyss (Revelation 9: 7);
● the woman with twelve stars (Revelation 12: 1 ff);
● the one like the Son of Man (Revelation 14: 14 ff).

Στέφανος is also the crown used at a wedding.

The διάδημα is a royal crown, and is used, for example, in the following passages:

● The crowns on the seven heads of the fiery red dragon (Revelation 12: 3 ff);
●The crowns on the ten horns of the beast rising up from the sea (Revelation. 13: 1 ff);
● The crown on the head of the one called Faithful and True (Revelation 19: 12 ff).

However, it is significant that when Christ’s royalty and kingship is being referred to (see Matthew 27: 29; Mark 15: 17; John 19: 2, 5), the word crown used is στέφανος and not διάδημα. He is crowned with the crown of the victor and the bridegroom.

When we make connections between the wedding at Cana and the wedding in Isaiah 62, how do we present Christ as crowned groom and victor?

2, The end of the story:

I have long wondered why the Gospel reading (John 2: 1-11) ends at verse 11, and does not include verse 12. The gifts that Christ brings to the wedding at Cana are overshadowed by the generous outpouring of wine that allows the wedding to continue, just as the story of his Baptism by John in the Jordan is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit who hovers over the waters as a reminder of a new creation.

But the other miracle at Cana is the formation of new families. Someone becomes a new father-in-law, a new sister-in-law, eventually a new grandmother, a new uncle.

The fruit of the vine becomes the wine; the fruit of the wedding is a new family. The new family in the banquet with Christ though is that family that comes to live with him in verse 12 – not just his mother and brothers, but his disciples too. We become a new and renewed family around the table at the banquet.

Some questions:

Can you see the three major narratives of the Epiphany season reflected in this reading:

● The visit of the kings representing the nations of the earth (see verses 2 and 3)?

● Baptism and new life (see verses 4-5)?

● Wedding and heavenly banquet (through each verse)?

Can you see the three major themes of the Epiphany season reflected in this reading:

● Light (verse 1)?

● Return (the setting and context of the reading)?

● Wedding or heavenly banquet (verses 4-5)?

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.

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.

Canon Patrick Comerford is lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This essay is based on notes prepared for a Bible study in a tutorial group with MTh students on 12 January 2013.

No comments: