Father Chris Sermon – COCU11C.Epiphany 2

(Father Chris is a priest of the Anglican Church of Australia, serving as Rector of Darling January 2022)

The story of the Wedding at Cana is a fun, funny story. There’s a Monty Python sketch in the aftermath. ‘We ran out of booze so that Jesus bloke zapped us some more. So we’re left with 472 litres of red wine in the containers that are supposed to hold water for ritual washing before meals. Now the containers are ruined, and soon the wine will be ruined because they containers aren’t airtight. Could we bottle the wine? No we can’t, because glass bottles haven’t been invented yet! What about goon bags? Likewise – not invented yet.’

Of course, the story isn’t about a wedding or about wine, it’s about the Temple. The way we know it’s about the Temple is because Jesus, in John’s gospel, in the very next scene goes to the Temple. When he gets there, he finds people in the forecourt selling cattle, sheep and doves to be used as offerings, and money-changers to change dirty Roman money into clean Temple money. He makes a whip and drives them all out, and overturns their tables. He shouts at them for making his Father’s house a marketplace. Then he says ‘destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’. John’s gospel doesn’t like to leave us guessing, so it clarifies that Jesus is talking about the Temple of his body, and that after he was raised from the dead, the disciples remembered these words.

This all happens in Chapter 2 of the gospel we call John. The author is not mucking around. She or he wants to make it clear that in the battle of Jesus vs the Temple, Jesus wins.

This may seem very aggressive and courageous, until you remember that when this gospel is being written down, the Temple has been destroyed for thirty years. John’s gospel is that last gospel to be written, and we’re going to say for argument’s sake that it is written down in the year 100. So the story is set in 30, written in 100, and refers to the destruction of the Temple in 70. There’s a lot going on.

The jugs at the wedding had a specific ritual purpose – to cleanse hands before a meal. For a big event like a wedding you’d have big jars at the ready, and they were possibly located permanently in the village centre for just this purpose. The jars had to be made of stone because that was seen as pure. The text tells us that there were six of these jars, and each one contained 20-30 gallons, which makes for 500 litres of water. Now, you can go to Hammer Barn and bring home a 500 litre water tank on your trailer – it’s big, but not a huge amount of water. In a house with kids, you’ll use 500 litres a water per day. But 500 litres is A LOT of wine. Like, a lot. A comical amount of wine. An absurd amount of wine.

The imagery of the coming kingdom as a feast, and particularly a wedding feast, is widespread in the gospels. When Jesus returns in glory to put the world to rights, the first item on the agenda is feasting. Feasting is central to our vision of the kingdom of God. When Jesus in the story transforms the sensible amount of washing water into an absurd amount of wine, he is prefiguring that kingdom. Likewise, when he confronts the injustice and corruption at the Temple, he is prefiguring that kingdom. Access to God will not be through rituals or controlled procedures, but direct, immediate and in the context of a party.

This is a radical shift in perception of God. The picture of the Holy One shifts from being distant, inaccessible and unapproachable, to the kind of person who throws parties with wine that never runs out. God is not so much like the Queen in her palace, waving at you from the balcony, and more a like a mate who invites everyone around for booze and cheezels and says ‘bring whoever you like’.

How many of us have been raised and formed with the image of a distant, cold God who inspects us sternly to check that we have been good girls and boys? How many of us have been told, by family or church or popular culture, that we’re not invited to the party? And how often do we behave as though connection with God is a tightly regulated process, and we have to pass through checkpoints in order to get there?

The story of the wedding at Cana and its companion story of driving out the merchants in the Temple are both making the same point. In Jesus, God came into our midst. In the Eucharist, God continues to come into our midst. And at the end of all thing, the great clean-up of the world, God will invite us to a party, where there the holy goon bag never runs out and no one is turned away.

The Lord Be With You

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Rev Sandy Boyce is a Uniting Church in Australia Minister (Deacon). This blog may be a help to people planning worship services.
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