Revelation 19. 6 – 10
John 2. 1 – 11
“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.”
Those incredulous words of the chief steward in our Gospel reading certainly tell us a lot about the partying habits of first Century Galileans.
It doesn’t seem to be the quantity of wine that surprises him. Someone pointed out to me, rather prosaically, that we can visualise the amount of wine Jesus produces, because it’s roughly equivalent to three wheelie-bins-full. They obviously liked their wine at these parties.
Rather, it’s his surprise at things being done back-to-front, that points us to something much deeper in this fabulous story.
The story of salvation as revealed to us over the pages of scripture, is not a story as we might expect of humanity becoming more and more aware of the immensity of God.
Rather, it’s back-to-front: it’s a story of this unimaginably vast, endless God, becoming more and more involved in the smallness of human existence, in ever more particular ways: to the point of becoming a human himself, in the baby of Bethlehem.
This mystery is shown to us again in just the first two Chapters of John’s Gospel. He begins in Chapter 1 with the vast sweep of time and space, the entirety of the cosmos and all of creation.
Then in Chapter 2, he focusses right in on a very particular place and time, and a very particular activity. Jesus attending a wedding with his mother
But the language John uses shows us these aren’t two completely different things, the cosmic and the particular: he shows us that they both come together, in Jesus.
(Now preachers are often told that a sure way to turn off a congregation is to talk about translation of Greek – but I hope you’ll find it interesting!)
The last sentence of today’s reading begins: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs…” That word for ‘first’ in Greek is ‘arche:’ it means ‘beginning,’ or ‘origin,’ and it’s a very important word, because it’s the same word John uses to begin his entire Gospel account.
“In the beginning was the Word.” This ‘arche’ joins the universal and cosmic of Chapter 1, with the very particular of Chapter 2: “This beginning of signs, did Jesus in Cana of Galilee.”
And ‘arche’ has a double-meaning: it doesn’t just mean the first as in a series of things: for example, the first of many of Jesus’ signs. It means the first as in the first in importance. It’s where we get our word ‘arch’ from, as in ‘archbishop,’ or ‘archangel.’
So this is both the first sign in time, and also the first in power. It is the ‘arch-sign,’ the key to all the other signs that follow.
But it’s when Jesus does this sign that shows just how important it is. Very annoyingly the lectionary removes these key words, presumably to make the story read better as a stand-alone piece on a Sunday morning.
But the Chapter actually begins, “On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee.”
On the first day of Jesus’s ministry, John the Baptist cries “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Last Sunday we heard the account of his second day of ministry, in the encounter with Philip and Nathanael. And now, on the third day, he performs this ‘arch-sign.’
On Good Friday, Jesus will go to the cross as the sacrificial lamb, to take away the sin of the world. And on the third day, he will rise again, the ‘arch-sign’ of the new and eternal life he opens up for all people.
This story of the wedding today is a foreshadowing of the resurrection. And it gives us a glimpse of what that resurrection life looks like. The kingdom of heaven will be like a party – like a joyful wedding feast, with the very finest of wines.
This is what we heard in our first reading from Revelation, that great vision of the life of heaven.
“Let us rejoice and exult and give God the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready… Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
But the glory of this new life is that it’s not something we need to wait for, when we pray we will eventually take our place with the multitude in heaven.
We are given a foretaste of this heavenly banquet week by week in this very church, as we celebrate the Mass – the marriage banquet in which Christ is wedded to us, his church.
We come to renew our promise to follow him and live in his way; and he comes to us, this vast and endless God; comes to us again in this particular place at this particular time, and renews his promise never to leave us, or forsake us.
And the transformation that takes place in the banquet of the reading is offered to us in the banquet of the Mass. We come each week like the empty earthen vessels the servants filled with water: and through our participation in this great feast, Christ fills us and transforms us to become the signs of God’s glory in the world.
Today we are shown the vital importance of the sacramental life – which is Christ’s gift and covenant with his Church. As we are renewed, once again, today, may we in turn renew our commitment to this transforming way of life. Amen.