Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd Jan 20, 2019
Do you think that we celebrate enough as a church? The first thing that comes to mind when you say the word “church” is probably not a group of people gathering for a good time. And yet, there are a few stories in the Bible and in church history of people doing just that. This passage is one of them.
It describes Jesus’ first miracle when he turned water into wine—and not just a little bit of wine. We don’t know how many people were at the wedding, but apparently Jesus believed that they needed around 600 more liters of wine! As much as I appreciate a glass of wine, I don’t think I’d be very comfortable being around that much freely-flowing libation. But it’s not really about the wine. John calls this miracle a sign and signs always point to something beyond themselves. So what does this story of water-turned wine point to?
I believe that it’s about the extravagant abundance of divine generosity filled to the brim. Jesus frequently celebrated with people at feasts and just as frequently condemned religious scowling. He was frustrated with those who valued the exacting demands of religious ritual while losing the heart-call of its very purpose. Extravagant, unwarranted grace continuously flowed through his hands of healing, as he brought one outcast after another into the feasts of inclusive celebration.
One pastor called this extravagant abundance at the Cana wedding “Cana-Grace”. He wrote, “Blessed is the pastor whose church has a real tenor or plumber. But doubly blessed is the pastor whose congregation knows Cana-grace.”
Cana-Grace reminds us of our reason to celebrate, and that is the outrageous love of God that embraces everyone who walks through our doors. We are called to work very hard at outreach, pastoral care, the maintenance of a building so that we have a place where we can be welcoming. But let’s not forget to celebrate along the way. Holiness does not preclude happiness.
The Church’s history is a rather dour one and we have made many mistakes in our zeal to spread the good news. But there have also been moments of glorious celebration in the building of beautiful cathedrals, the composing of heavenly music and the celebration of the sacraments. Note the word celebration. In our sacraments of baptism and communion, we are to celebrate God’s grace. We are to celebrate new members of the church. We are to celebrate Jesus’ life given for us.
At the risk of boring you one more time with a story of Hildegard of Bingen—she knew how to celebrate. St. Hildegard, as most of you know by now, was an abbess who led two monastic communities of young women 1,000 years ago. Although she was traditional in her beliefs, she was also a moderate who preached against austere self-punishment and self-denial that was popular at the time. She received harsh criticism from her superiors for instructing her communities to let their hair down, dress in white flowing robes, bedecked in jewels, and dance in celebration of the feast days of their God. Hildegard argued, “How could my daughters not dress and dance in such honour of their heavenly bridegroom?” She and her communities were audaciously determined to celebrate God’s extravagant grace in the face of scowling superiors—and they succeeded.
One of our congregants introduced me to a beer produced in Victoria called, “Naughty Hildegard.” The name seems a bit disrespectful, but this was a tame version of what she would have been called by her superiors. Hildegard actually wrote that only those of a strong constitution should drink water. Everyone else should drink beer. We must remember, of course, that water in that time was not safe to drink.
And speaking of water—our gospel lesson tells us that the water Jesus turned to wine was a sacred source of purity. It was water drawn from ablution jars used for purification rituals. Perhaps this is why the wine was outstanding in its quality.
Every basic element of our lives is sacred—the water, the air, the earth, one another. They all contribute to the sacrament of life, for life, itself, is sacred and precious. If we can see the miracle in this, then we will have every reason to celebrate. Albert Einstein wrote, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
The miracle in this story of the wedding at Cana was compassionate hospitality and overflowing grace, urged by Jesus’ own mother, who was the epitome of grace. It’s a minor story with a major lesson: let us celebrate God’s grace, the success stories of our ministries, and each other’s milestones, as we will be doing next Sunday. It is easy to be overwhelmed with stories of disaster and horror in our world. But our Christian community has more reason than ever not to be afraid of life or death. We can’t let the bad news stories shade our eyes from the good news.
As C. S. Lewis wrote, “Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.”