A sermon, based on John 2.1-11, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, January 20, 2019
In ancient times, hospitality was a universally-understood sacred and mutual duty, shared by host and guest. Years ago, on our around-the-world sabbatical, especially during our time in South Africa, whenever Pontheolla and I went to the homes of members of the Xhosa and Zulu tribes, to a person, they would greet us at the entrance, saying, “God has blessed us for you have graced our place with your presence.” So, it is that we, in contemporary times, learned what our ancient forebears knew. The host may prepare the grandest graces for the guest, but all is for naught unless and until the guest appears with the gift of presence.
Hospitality. A sacred, mutual duty.
Jesus and his disciples are invited to a wedding feast. An occasion of greatest celebration. However, “the wine gave out.” For the hosts, a grievous situation inducing the guilt of not having done what ought to have been done and the shame of being people who had not done what ought to have been done.
Did the hosts not purchase enough wine?
Did more guests appear, as weddings were community-wide celebrations, than had been anticipated; that lack of attention being a sign of an absence of care?(1)
It really didn’t matter. For the lack of wine, the symbol of shared festivity, was a betrayal of sacred duty. A crime, again, of guilt and shame to the depths of the earth and to the heights of the heavens.
Jesus’ mother, with a mother’s love, sensitive to the humiliation of the hosts, somehow knows that her son can do something. Jesus replies, “Woman,” which, though seemingly brusque, is a word of endearment as a prelude to a word of dismissal, “what concern is that to you and to me?”, which is the prologue to a word of destiny, “My hour” – the time of my fulfillment of my life’s purpose – “has not yet come.”
This strange saying is a hint to the meaning of what will come, which John the evangelist, at the end, driving the point home, lest we miss it, makes clear: Jesus did this, the first of his signs…and revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.
Mary, again, somehow knowing Jesus can do something, also knows that he will; therefore, instructing the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
What Jesus does is to turn water into wine, the finest wine to share with all. The steward or master of ceremonies of the feast chastises the bridegroom for reserving the best for last. Yet he knows not the source of this finest wine. Nor does the host. Only the servants, the lowliest of the low. They know.
This tiny detail, when writ large, tells us everything we need to know about to whom Jesus reveals his glory. Only to those who, without pride in their life’s positions and without pride of their own persons, thus with open eyes not fixated on themselves, but fixed on Jesus, can see and believe.
See and believe what?
That Jesus pours out his blood upon the cross of crucifixion to cover the guilt and shame of sin that we may know the blessed reconciliation with God, with others, and with ourselves.
(1) Another possibility, given the mutuality of hospitality, is that the guests, including Jesus and his disciples, did not bring their offerings of wine to supplement the provisions of the host.
Illustration: Wedding at Cana (1596), Maerten de Vos (1532-1603). Note: de Vos depicts Jesus (lower foreground, left) robed in red, the color of the blood of his coming death, with his right hand directing the servants to fill the stone jars with water. Mary, his mother, dressed in blue, a symbol of her royalty as the mother of the Son of God, stands behind Jesus, looking up at another servant, saying, “Do whatever he tells you.”