In my 17 almost 18 years of ministry, I have officiated over 100 weddings. Weddings are usually a joy. Sure, there is a lot of anxiety and build-up, but once the music begins and the happy couple stands before their friends and family, it is all well. What is going to happen is going to happen. As much as we try, we cannot control every aspect of the day. Oh, the wedding day is not the most important day of your life, that comes the next day, and the next day, and all days after that. The wedding starts your life together.
But sometimes, things do go wrong. No matter how much you plan for everything, there is always something that gets left out. But in the end, it turns out just fine. I like to remind couples that I work with; you only know how it is supposed to be.
Today’s Gospel takes place at a wedding. Jesus, Mary, and the newly called Apostles have been invited, so it is obviously a close friend or a relative of Jesus and Mary. I wonder if Jesus’ invitation arrived with a plus 12. But there they are, celebrating the ordinary, everyday activities of life.
Anyway, we have to keep in mind that wedding feats in the first century were not single-day events but rather weeklong events with food, music, and of course, wine. It is the third day, a day that will have significance later in the Gospel, and it is past the halfway point of the feast. They run out of wine. For reasons we do not know, they came to Mary to tell her. No one ever wants to run out of food and drink at a party; that would be an embarrassment.
Mary turns to Jesus, perhaps she wants him to make a packy run, and he is unsure of what all of this has to do with him. Jesus even asks Mary what this has to do with him? But Mary insists that he do something to save face, so she turns to the wait staff and says, “do whatever he says.”
If I were a numerologist, I would wax on about the number 6 and the amount of water needed to fill all of those jars. Don’t get me wrong, numbers in Scripture are essential, and we need to pay attention to them, but I will save that for another time. Suffice it to say; there was a lot of water to be placed in those stone jars.
This is the first miracle story in the Gospel of John. It is interesting to me that John uses the backdrop of a wedding for the first miracle of Jesus. It is not a healing or teaching; Jesus launches into public view by providing drink, good drink mind you at a party. This points to the idea that religion should be happy and joy-filled, not long-faced and dower.
I think sometimes we forget that God loves to hear laughter and joy. One of my favorite religious paintings is that of the laughing Jesus. It pictures Jesus, head back in a full belly laugh. Sure, Jesus was about some serious business, but he took time to laugh and have a good time with those around him; it was not always dull and boring.
The sign at Cana tells us that Jesus served a God who puts joy into life, who thinks it is worth a miracle to keep the party going as we celebrate people. But it is more than that. There were the stone jars representing the old practice of religion filled with water that will run out, just as the wine has run out. The old faith, the old covenant, will end, but the new way, the way of love, will continue.
Along comes Jesus, the new covenant who brings living water, the water that will never run out. The jars made of stone will one day pass away, but the water that Jesus brings will pass away, for it is the water of love.
But there is another exciting part of this Gospel. When Mary tells Jesus that they have run out of wine, Jesus asks what this has to do with him. Mary, who is not mentioned by name in John’s Gospel like so many other women, does not answer Jesus but instead turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you.”
This is a word not only for the servants but for us, do whatever he tells you. Love one another, serve the poor and needs, love your enemies, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, do whatever he tells you!
The Christian pastor and author David Steele refers to this passage and the celebration as “Cana-Grace.” Cana-Grace is the knack of throwing parties that combine food, decorations, music, and laughter to create an atmosphere of welcome, well-being, and love.
The end of the wedding story was a happy one. The family could save face, and no one was the wiser. The party went on as scheduled, and Jesus was now on the road to his public ministry. Jesus brought joy into an otherwise joyless situation. I know it does not seem like much, but this could have been a catastrophe to the family if they had run out of drink.
Today let us listen to Mary as she says to the servants and us, “Do whatever he asks.”