Sunday, January 17, 2016

Cana: More Than a Preview of Coming Attractions

[This was shared this morning, the inaugural Sunday for the new facility of Living Water Lutheran Church, during both worship services.]

John 2:1-11
On ATT Uverse, like every other cable and satellite service, I suppose, there's a channel devoted entirely to showing movie trailers, previews of things to come. This morning’s gospel lesson, in which Jesus turned water into wine at the beginning of His ministry, is a preview of things to come.

Jesus shows us what life in His kingdom will be like once He has been glorified. In other words, once He has died, risen, ascended to heaven, and returned to establish what Revelation calls “the new heaven and the new earth.”

He even hints at one of the most important ways He intends to come to us even today.

The lesson begins: “On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.”

There are lots of theories offered by scholars, but “the third day” here seems to refer to the third day of Jesus’ public ministry, three days since He first began calling people to follow Him.

But, of course, no one can miss the symbolic importance of “the third day.” It was on the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion that Jesus rose, confirming His power over all that destroys us, demonstrating that He has the power to bring forgiveness and new life to those with faith.

The events on this third day will foreshadow Jesus’ authority over the world, life, and death.

Verse 3: “When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’”

Imagine a wedding reception at which the chicken that served as part of the main entree ran out. It was a crisis!

Jesus’ mother--never referred to by name in John’s gospel--apparently seeks to spare the hosts from a similar embarrassment. She runs to her son, who she knows is more than just a nice boy from Nazareth, to lay the crisis before Him.

Has it ever struck you as a little funny that the first of the seven signs that John reports Jesus performed in order to point to His deity, came not in response to some death-dealing cataclysm, the lives of hundreds of people at stake, but in order to spare a bridal family embarrassment at a wedding? It seems a little silly, even though it does serve to demonstrate that the God we meet in Jesus Christ cares about even the seemingly inconsequential things in our earthly lives.

But I think Jesus sees the silliness in all of this too, because He says to His mother, in what I believe were playful tones, “Woman, what does that have to do with Me? I came to save people from sin and death and you want me to save a party? Besides, my hour”--by which in John’s gospel, Jesus always means the hour of His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension--”my hour hasn’t arrived yet.”

Sons can get away with that kind of thing with their moms often. My sisters still get a little irked when they tell me even now, “You could get away with anything with mom. She’d get mad at you and it wouldn’t be long before you’d have her laughing and telling you you could do the very thing she’d just said no to.” (I always ask then, "What's your point?")

Mary ignores Jesus’ teasing, turns to the servants, and says, “Oh. Do whatever He tells you.”  

Now, while the rest of this incident remains joyful, here’s where it really gets interesting. Verse 6: “Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.’ So they took it.”

Water from stone jars was used in the Jewish rites of purification over which the Pharisees often made such a fuss with Jesus. In a sense, these jars represent the worst of Jewish religiosity. At its worst, Jesus’ fellow Jews had boiled their relationship with God down to rules: rituals observed, laws obeyed.

They used water to clean their hands, but inside they were corrupted by unrepented sin, selfishness, greed, and hatred for outsiders.

Their faith had become as empty as the stone jars at Cana.

In Matthew 23:27-28, Jesus scorned such false faith: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! [Jesus said] You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

But Jesus isn’t one to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Jesus has come to salvage and make new that which has been corrupted by sin, decimated by death and the darkness of this world. Jesus has come to make all things new.

So, Jesus orders the jars to be filled, as they’d probably been filled many times before.

Yet this time, there’s a twist in the plot. This is no same old, same old.

Verse 9: “When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.’”

Truer words were never spoken. In Jesus, God saves the best for last.

He takes what is ugly and makes it beautiful.

He takes those who are empty and fills them with the very life of God!

He can even, as He is doing today, take a building that once was dedicated to evil, the promotion of sin, and the defiance of God’s will, and use it instead, to His glory, use it as His launching pad for His people to spread the good news--the gospel--of new and everlasting life for all who believe in Jesus Christ here in our neighborhoods and in all the world

The New Testament book of Hebrews says: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,
but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” [Hebrews 1:1-2]

The turning of water into wine then, is more than just a neat trick. It is, as John tells us in verse 11, “the first of [Jesus’] signs,” an event  that “manifested [revealed, made plain] His glory.”

It's the beginning of what the scholars call the messianic feast, the banquet of love to which all who believe in the God we know in Christ will come.

In Isaiah 62:5, God promises a day in which, “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”

And John would later glimpse the feasr from the Island of Patmos decades after Jesus’ resurrection: “the wedding supper of the Lamb!” to which all who have endured in trusting in Christ are invited. [Revelation 19:9]

Even now, even today, Jesus invites you and me to enjoy more than a preview of the great heavenly banquet as heaven comes to earth and another miracle occurs: We receive Christ’s body and blood in, with, and under the bread and the wine and we receive His forgiveness and new life.

In it, Christ once again comes to us in the midst of our earthly lives to give us Himself, His strength, His peace, so that we can face anything!

Through this feast, allows us to enjoy more than a preview of when we will see God face to face, when we will be one with God and neighbor, when suffering, tears, and pain will be behind us.

Today, He will gift us with the privilege of partaking of the feast alongside all the saints of every time and every place.

As surely as at the wedding in Cana, in the bread and the wine, on this joyous day, Jesus comes to us and gives to us, as the old liturgies put it, “a foretaste of the feast to come.” Amen

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