Sermon Preached Oct. 6, 2013
World Communion Sunday
Metro Baptist Church
New York, NY
This morning you are invited to a wedding banquet. The wedding in Cana, Jesus’ first miracle! Turning water into wine at a wedding party. Some have argued that the point of this story is that Jesus ministers in small ways, such as helping out the hosts when they’re running low on wine. But might the author of John be up to something more here? And what does a wedding banquet have to do with World Communion Sunday, anyway?
Why would the author choose a story about Jesus turning water into wine at an unnamed couple’s wedding in Cana as the first sign that would reveal Jesus’ glory in this gospel account? Doesn’t it seem just a bit mundane? Were there not bigger needs in Cana that day where Jesus could have put this power to better use?
But what if this story isn’t really about the wedding of the Canan couple? Is the author using the wedding to symbolize something else?
The Bible is full of nuptial imagery and wedding banquets in particular are an important allegory in the New Testament. The apostle Paul uses this metaphor in his letters to the churches in Ephesus and Corinth. And Jesus is repeatedly called the bridegroom, and the Church a bride. This imagery culminates in the last two chapters of Revelation, written around the same time as the Gospel of John, at the wedding of the Lamb, with the vision of the New Jerusalem, dressed as a bride adorned for her husband.
Could it be that the couple go unnamed in this story in order for us to substitute in our own names? Jean-Calvin, Tiffany, Angie, Alan, Michelle, Anita? Are we in fact the guests of honor at this wedding banquet?
To put it another way, could this story be about God’s desire to enter into relationship with us?
In your own Bible study time I’m sure you’ve noticed that the Gospel of John is a bit different in style from the other three gospels. It’s a bit more poetic – a little more literary version of Jesus’ story. Theologian Marva Dawn puts it this way:
John ought not to be read quickly. It is full of double and triple meanings, endlessly suggestive images, and “signs” that seem obvious on the surface but yield much deeper truth if we are willing to dig contemplatively.
And this mornings’ story is no exception, it is full of allegory, full of possible meanings. Meanings that may help us understand what the author is trying to say about Jesus and God, but perhaps even more importantly, meanings that we might apply to our lives, to our church, and to our faith today.
So, if this story is about God’s desire to be in relationship with us, what is this relationship to be about, what will it look like?
In the second chapter of John there are two stories, and I believe they are key to interpreting each other. The second story, which we didn’tread this morning, is the familiar story where Jesus purifies the temple in Jerusalem by overturning the money changers’ tables. A wonderful scene, Jesus engaged in street theater of divine justice, running the crooks out of the temple.
One clue that these two stories are connected may be the six purification jars that Jesus asks the servants to fill with water. Though we can’t know for sure, it is likely that these jars would have been part of the purification process controlled by the temple authorities, and unlikely that there would have been six of them of this size in someone’s home. And did you notice that they were empty… depleted? And notice that Jesus didn’t reject them, but rather filled them. Today’s environmentalists might say he repurposed them. The jars, previously used for ritual purification are liberatedby Jesus and given a life-giving, celebratory purpose. When coupled with the purification of the temple, this liberation of the purification jars seems to point to a radical reorientation of the focus of the church, from ritual and purification to liberation and justice.
Another indication that the stories in John 2 are connected is how the author uses the phrase, “on the third day” to frame them. Verse one literally starts with the words, “on the third day, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee”. Just 17 verses later, after running the money changers out of the temple, Jesus is asked, “What sign can you show us for doing this? And Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’” The author goes on to make it even more clear by saying that after Jesus was crucified and resurrected his disciples remembered these words and believed. This takes on even more significance because for Jews in the first century, the temple was where heaven and earth met… Jesus seems to be saying that has changed now. He has come to replace the temple. And he has come to bring liberation and justice.
And what about Mary? Were you intrigued like I was by her role in this story? Mary makes two cameo-appearances in the entire Gospel of John, and is never mentioned by name. She plays a pivotal role here at the beginning – at Jesus’ first sign – and she is there at Jesus’ last breath at Golgotha. Is Mary there to help us connect the gift of wine at the wedding banquet, with the gift of Jesus’ life on the cross?
Or is she there to remind us of Jesus’ humanity, that he was born of a human mother, even as he is revealing his divinity by transforming water into wine?Or is she there to simply show us the way. We would all do well from time to time to listen to Mary when she says, as she did to the servants at the wedding banquet: “Whatever Jesus says, you do it.” Now there’s a Bible verse I don’t mind people taking literally!
Or who knows, maybe her voice trembled as she spoke to the servants, wondering if Jesus would really come through. Was she stepping out on faith?… expecting a miracle? Can we approach the challenges we face with that type of faith?
And did you notice that the servants! were the first to understand the sign? Is this mere coincidence or did Jesus purposely choose to reveal himself first to those on the underside of history? Are the humble and impoverished privileged in understanding the signs of the Kingdom of God? Can you imagine the excitement when they went home to their families after the banquet to tell of what they had witnessed? And what must they have felt as they heard of what this same Jesus did a few days later at the temple in Jerusalem?
And how can we be sure we’re not missing out on new signs of the Kingdom today? I know that during my days at Metro I often let my desire to help, outpace my willingness to listen. What rumors of Jesus’ activity did I miss out on by not listening enough to the Damayan Migrant Worker’s Association and their struggle against modern-day slavery? Did I miss a chance to chat with Jesus when he came in the guise of a woman in need of some food for her family or a warm coat in the winter? There’s no doubt for me that each spring a piece of the kingdom sprouts up four floors above your heads on Metro’s roof in the Hell’s Kitchen Farming Project.
And here in Colombia I’m just beginning to learn about the spirituality of urban gardening, resistance and nonviolence as articulated by the network of Anabaptist urban gardens springing up in the poorest and most violent neighborhoods here in Bogotá. I’d love to connect them with the Hells Kitchen Farming Project!
That’s just one concrete idea that I can come up with that would be a wonderful outcome of this World Communion Sunday. But I’m sure you all can think of more. Metro is so blessed to have wonderful connections with other parts of the world such as South Sudan, Brazil, the Philippines, Sweden, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, St. Lucia and of course Colombia, to name just a few.
But before I close, I want to come back to a question I briefly raised earlier about the apparent arbitrariness of turning water into wine and the question of whether there weren’t more important uses for God’s power? I don’t know how the author would answer that question. And it’s no easier to answer why so much suffering still exists today.
But what if we turn that question on ourselves? Have weset our sights too low? Have we grown too accustomed to the injustices around us? What power and energy do we have that can bring healing to the world? Because the Gospel of John seems to be saying that for Jesus, loving God is very this–worldly… it’s not about purification rites, but celebration of love and community, and it’s most definitely about justice! The story of the wedding in Cana teaches that God’s power is present in Jesus… and now through the Communion Jesus has told us that God’s power is with us, through the Holy Spirit.
And yet we know that many are still excluded from the tables of life… for lack of food, lack of power, lack of justice, from Hell’s Kitchen, to Kinshasa, to Bogotá. But we are also promised that at God’s final banquet all will be invited to the feast…
Welcome to God’s wedding banquet! As you come to the communion table today, do you come as the Bride, or do you come as Mary, or do you come as a servant?… but most importantly do you dare leave as a disciple?… emboldened by the signs that you have seen to go out and effectively love the world? May it be so!
Marva Dawn, Untitled Essay, in Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Walter Brueggemann and Eugene Peterson, Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible: New Revised Standard Version with Deuterocanonical Books, (San Francisco:HarperSanFrancisco, 2005) p. 1934.