The Wedding at Cana

21 January 2018

Most people will have heard of the Wedding at Cana, even if they aren't religious. It's the event recorded in the Gospels of when Jesus turns water into wine.

As it happens, the Wedding at Cana has traditionally been read aloud in churches at this time of year, in the Epiphany season, since the early days of the Christian Church. It was the Medieval Church that changed the emphasis to focus almost exclusively on the Magi/Wise Men/Kings. They being important to the history of the world as the first non-Hebrew people to be shown (i.e. the rest of humankind), and to understand, the truth of God's coming to dwell among us.

But the Early Church, and, in fact, the Church again today, considered that Epiphany was very much linked to the Christmas season, and that the main events being remembered are: the birth of Christ, the baptism of Christ, the visit of the Magi and the Wedding at Cana; the sequence ending with Candlemas, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple as it is known.

Epiphany is a Greek word speaking of the appearance of God to humankind, and it was also used in ancient times to describe the visit of a King to a people or a place. It means literally to show; to reveal either physically or to have the light of understanding shed on something.

I quite like the word it is often translated into, though. Manifestation. God, through the birth of Christ is made manifest to us. I like that word especially because the Latin manifestus is derived from the words manus meaning hand and festus: from the verb 'to strike'.

God, revealing himself to us through Christ has given us rather dim and self-absorbed humans, let's face it, a bit of a wake-up call. Helping us to recognise the truth; the reality of what's really going on in God's creation. We, of very limited imagination and existence compared to The Eternal, the Infinite Other, can't possibly know the whole truth, and occasionally we need a nudge.

Christ's birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension was the wake-up call of all wake up calls. And miracles, such as that at Cana, too, are similar manifestuses – if that's even a word...

Which brings us to why the Wedding of Cana is part of the whole Christmas, Epiphany story. The miracle of the water into wine was Scripture recording God's first revelation through Christ of precisely who Jesus is; and how God's purposes for creation could be – and indeed would be – fulfilled through him.

With that in mind, we need to reflect on one particular aspect of the wedding: Mary and Jesus' relationship as mother and son, and as humankind and God.

At one point in the narrative Mary notices the wine is running out. She turns to her son and tells him this. He replies, in so many words: "Woman, what concern is that of mine?"

We note first of all that Jesus calls his mother 'woman'. To our ears, not a terribly polite, or gracious expression. But the word is as close as the translators can get to the original, which actually is a term of profound respect. In fact, it was used by the Roman Caesar Augustus in addressing the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra.

Perhaps it might be helpful in this particular context, therefore, to liken this use of the word to the expression Ma'am. Prince Charles we are led to understand, address his mother the Queen as Ma'am as do other members of the Royal Family. Whilst he doubtless cares for her and she for him, and they are as close as mother and son might be, he also pays respect to her calling, her role, her status.

So, we might arguably consider that what Jesus is saying in the Gospel passage to his mother is: "Ma'am – what concern is the fact that the wedding party has run out of wine to us? Are you sure this is the right time and the place to reveal who I am?" In which case, Mary, suggesting Jesus does something about the lack of wine at the wedding feast, is a little like the Queen offering the opportunity to Charles, for example before his investiture as Prince of Wales, to demonstrate to us for the first time that he has Royal authority. Marking the beginning; setting him off on his own journey of responsibility and calling.

Of course we can't push the analogy too far. But I think the gist is clear. Mary is saying to Jesus – you have the ability and the right to intervene: go ahead and do so. But Jesus replies by saying that he is not sure he should on this particular occasion. Why?

Well, Jesus' hesitation is particularly important because, to go back to the word Epiphany, and its meaning related to manifestation, a true miracle is an extraordinary action by God in the physical world, standing over against the normal order of nature, for a religious purpose. Miracles show humankind some important aspect of God's person and character. Would turning water into wine at a wedding party do this, Jesus wonders? It is not clear whether Mary actually thought such an act would further God's Kingdom but, nevertheless, she encourages her son to go ahead. The writer of the Gospel, however, is very clear that this was the first sign of God's revelation in Christ to us.

Importantly, for us, here and now, however, I think what is most interesting is the picture of humankind's relationship with the Godhead that is portrayed in this whole sequence.

Mary - representing us, humanity - is in conversation with Jesus, representing the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is very much a two-way communication. Between them, they decide what is best in this particular situation; mutual respect, and recognition of each others' role being a key feature. God respects, loves and listens to his creation. Just before his arrest, torture and execution, Jesus washes the disciples' feet; our King, but also, in an act of service, our brother and friend.

It is, I hope, not stretching things too far to suggest we are invited by God to put ourselves in Mary's position. That is to say, we, too, are invited to be in conversation with Christ. To work out between us what is the best path to go down. How best to further the purposes of God and the Kingdom. How best to reveal God's character to the world. And, it would seem, we are even allowed to initiate this discussion.

Like the famous Holman Hunt picture of the Light of the World, Jesus stands at the door - our door - and knocks. But in that picture, on Jesus' side of the door, there is no handle. We are inside. We have to turn the handle to let the light of the world into our lives.

Finally, however, at the heart of this dialogue, this conversation, we should also bear in mind what Jesus said when he himself was in dialogue with his Father in heaven. Kneeling in the Garden of Gethsemane, he asks that the cup of suffering be taken from him. But he goes on to say, 'yet not my will but yours be done'.

God, after all, is still God


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