Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany of Our Lord (Epiphany 2)

John 2:1-11; Romans 12:6-16; Exodus 33:12-23

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
And so we are in the midst of the season of Epiphany. Each Sunday’s lessons were selected over a millennium ago by the gathering of the faithful, the Church, because they manifest whom Jesus is and what He has come to do. Therefore, when we consider these Scriptures, we must consider not only how they would have been heard and understood at the time of their telling, but also what meaning was intended from their placement within the Gospel narrative and the Church’s historic lectionary. Thus, the Wedding at Cana tells us, not merely the story of a particular wedding, although it certainly does that, but we must consider also the Evangelist’s placement of this particular story within the Gospel he authored. Indeed, this story appears only in John’s Gospel, and it is followed immediately by Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, which the other Gospels place within the account of Jesus’ passion. What are we to make of John’s inclusion of this wedding, seemingly ignored by the Synoptics? What are we to make of John’s unusual connection of this narrative with the cleansing of the temple? These are but two questions to be considered on this Second Sunday after the Epiphany of our Lord, that Jesus may be made manifest before us as God’s Son and our salvation in human flesh.
Understood as God instituted it, there is something about marriage that is connected with death – the death of the self. For, in marriage, the husband dies to himself and pledges his life to his wife; likewise, the wife dies to herself and pledges her life to her husband. In this selfless and self-sacrificial way, the two become one flesh. They are no longer two, but they are one flesh, even one creature, united by God, which man must not separate. St. John records Jesus’ first miracle having taken place at a wedding and, to be sure, passion imagery abounds: The crisis occurred “on the third day” of a wedding feast. Jesus said that His “hour had not yet come.” In the casting out of the money-changers from the temple, which follows immediately upon the wedding narrative, Jesus makes an explicit reference to His death and resurrection saying “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The temple He was referring to was His body. For, it was through His suffering, death, and resurrection that Jesus perfectly loved His Bride, the Church, giving His life for Her. He loved Her more than He loved Himself. He laid down His life for Her in selfless, sacrificial love that She might live. This is the connection that John, and the Holy Spirit who inspired him to write, mean for you to make.
Therefore, the crisis was not merely that a wedding banquet had run out of wine, though that would surely have been a social blunder and a great embarrassment for the family, but rather the crisis was that man’s life, joy, and hope for the future had run out because of his sin – the joylessness and hopelessness of death had become his fate. This was the crisis that His faithful mother, who believed in Him, asked Him to resolve. This was the crisis that He did resolve by fulfilling God’s Law for us and by dying in our place, that we might have life and joy and hope once again. Those six stone jars held water used to purify men for participation in the feast. Jesus had those jars filled to the brim so that they were full and complete, and then He did something more: He changed the water into wine, the finest wine imaginable. Where the water only purified for a time, His blood that He shed upon the cross for us purifies forever. Indeed, He gives us His cleansing blood now in the fruit of the vine which we drink in Holy Communion for the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our faith, and eternal life through faith in Him.
John’s Gospel is thought to be constructed around seven signs performed by Jesus, of which the changing of water into wine is the first. Thus, John’s Gospel is more a catechism intended to teach the faithful revealed truths about Jesus than it is a narrative telling the story of His life and works. Each and every account recorded by John was selected and recorded for a specific purpose. Ultimately, that purpose was to demonstrate that, in Jesus, God’s Messianic reign had begun through which Jesus would restore His Father’s kingdom and make all things new. This is precisely how we must understand today’s Gospel: Jesus is revealed as God’s Messiah come to restore His fallen creation by means of His selfless and sacrificial death on the cross. Where man’s sin had introduced suffering and death into the world, robbing us of peace and joy and hope, Jesus came, not merely to reverse the curse, but to fulfill perfectly and completely all that we failed to do and then, even more, to recreate, restore, and renew His Father’s kingdom.
Jesus is the perfect and sinless Bridegroom who selflessly laid down His life in death to redeem His Bride, God’s children, the Church from Her sin and death. His life was Her life. She had forfeited Her own life, not for Her Husband, but to Satan. While God was faithful and selfless, His people played the adulterer, the fornicator, the idolater, and the unfaithful Bride. Because of this, man’s wedding feast had run out of wine, and there was no human way of getting more, of restoring man’s peace, hope, and joy. Mary, the mother of our Lord, has long been a symbol of the entire Church. In this narrative, it is Mary who appeals to Jesus in faith saying, “Do something!” Mary believed that Jesus was able to do something and that He would. His odd sounding protest is actually quite revealing, “My hour has not yet come.” Jesus’ “hour” is the time of His passion, His suffering and death upon the cross. Jesus answered His mother saying, “The time for me to lay down my life in selfless sacrifice and death for the Church has not yet come. Nevertheless, I will give this foretaste and foreshadowing of who I am and what I will do now. I will change the water of purification into the wine of joy as a sign that my dear Bride may trust in me and believe that I will purify Her and restore to her hope for eternal life and joy when I shed my blood for Her upon the cross.”
When the master of the feast tasted the water that had been made to be the finest of wines, he exclaimed, “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.” Indeed, this is how it is with men, but not with God. Whatever you have received from God that you count as good, now, is but a foretaste of the goodness He has laid up for you. This is as true for you today as it was for Adam in the beginning, for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, for David, for the guests at the wedding in Cana, and for the saints at rest with Jesus now. We are all, still, waiting in hopeful and joyful expectation for the feast to come, the Great Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom that has no end! Yes! That is how the Revelation describes heaven, as a wedding feast where the Bridegroom is Jesus and where you, His Church, are the Bride! It is pictured as Eden, the Garden of Paradise, on steroids – so much greater still than that which we commonly consider perfection and paradise!
This kingdom is yours even now, though you do not see it or experience in its fullness and glory. However, you do see it and experience it through God’s Word and His Blessed Sacraments, particularly and especially in the Supper of the Lamb who has died and is alive again. Here at this banquet table we receive our sustenance and life, our hope and faith is strengthened and renewed, and we are kept and preserved in eternal life through Holy Communion with our living Lord and Husband. Yet, as good and comforting and revitalizing as it is, it is but the dimmest foretaste of that Great Feast to come! It is like manna during our wilderness pilgrimage. It is like the overflowing cup as we walk though the valley of the shadow of death. But, it is enough, it is more than enough for now, for through it, in communion with Christ, we do not walk alone, but He is with us, just as He promised, unto the end of the age.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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