Epiphany 2 Year C – 16th January 2022
Isaiah 62:1-5, John 2:1-11
In the name of the father, and the son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
Did you know that in Genesis chapter 9 there is an account of Noah – that stalwart of ark building and saving all the living creatures, getting very drunk on wine from the vineyard he planted after the ark had safely come to rest after the big flood. He deeply embarasses himself afterwards (as people often do with a spot of nakedness too!) One of the psychological effects of alcohol at least in the earlier stages of intoxication is to lower our inhibitions. I know what I am about to say is not quite in the same league as Noah, but I was equally shocked when some years ago now when with my sister children’s (who are all now grown up). (Not very recent I admit!) We were watching an episode of the children’s TV show Camberwick Green (animated puppets – made in the sixties with Pippin Fort and the soldier boys etc) and encountered an episode where the character Windy Miller (who lived in a windmill) got drunk on cider!!! And slept when he should have been working.
Basically wine making and drinking have been a fundamental part of human existence for a long time. The Bible contains a number of challenges about getting drunk. The book of Proverbs advises not to get led astray by drink. It instructs leaders to avoid it – I am not going to use this to comment on ‘partygate’ that has dominated the media over the past few weeks… However not all the advice in the Bible is negative, in Proverbs it also advises to give strong drink to one who is perishing and also wine to those in bitter distress is also included, (remembering bitter wine vinegar being offered to Jesus on the cross!)
St Paul wrote about this too and cautions against drunkenness. Those who wrote the Bible clearly knew all about wine from experience and observation. They also point to the social problems associated with over-indulgence. Though they may not have called it binge-drinking – our current label for it, the writers of the Bible clearly understood what drink could do in excess!
All this background makes it interesting that the first recorded sign – as the gospel of John called it or miracle as we more commonly call it, is all about partying after a wedding and wine… Though things have been different in our strange times – most of us have found ourselves over the years at wedding celebrations and wine is often very much a part of these. However we are unlikely to find ourselves as guests, if the wine runs out thinking this is our problem. So Jesus reaction as a normal wedding guest to his mother when the wine ran out runs in line with our own reactions. What concern is that to you and to me Jesus says. But then it gets quite a lot more mysterious – My hour has not yet come – he goes on.
I recently re-read an interesting interpretation of what happened next in this story, which is one of those for regular churchgoers, which is a bit over-familiar. We have heard it so often that it washes over us a bit, or is a bit too cosy and comforting. I heard it in a talk by Margaret Silf, who has contributed to the Bible Reading fellowship’s New Daylight in the past. She divides the action into 3 parts and I have added some reflections of my own to hers
Poured out, tasted and shared
Let’s begin with needy emptiness. God’s action here in this story and God’s action in our own lives begins in the same way from our need. We turn to God in our need more often than not on these occasions we acknowledge as indeed we should all the time that we cannot make it on our own. In a way we recognise our own helplessness and how things are not under our control. So need plays a key part. But this needs to be accompanied by obedience – the call to obedience to surrender ourselves without the usual question or argument to our God who is wiser than we are.
How did the servants at the wedding feast feel as Mary said – do whatever he tells you. And what did they think as they filled the huge jars usually used to hold water for foot washing and other rituals that took place before the wedding feast began? Sometimes the things we seem to have to do – can seem rather off the main point or the solution we are looking for, but that sometimes makes doing them all the more important. This isn’t blind obedience but trust. In these circumstances, it is knowing that we cannot help ourselves and it is about handing over and acknowledging our need of God in the situations in which we find ourselves. In this way the need becomes emptiness. We need to be empty and have let go of control for God to work in us.
Just as the empty jars were filled up, they must first have been empty. This needy emptiness is the raw material of the next stage, the transformation that God brings to us. When we start from needy emptiness – or even needy openness to God’s movement in our lives that is all he needs to work in us and make miracles of our lives too. It is important in this reflection that God regularly chose emptiness to reveal himself (revealing himself is very much what this season of Epiphany is all about). As well as using the empty twenty gallon water jars, God used other empty things. He used the empty womb of Mary and the empty tomb on the first Easter day.
Emptiness like this is not very comfortable, but we do need to resist the temptation to fill our inner emptiness with anything less than God’s will for us. From needy emptiness we move on to transformation. The filled water jugs – have just been filled. There are no dramatic fireworks, hand gestures or theatricals. The miracle happens silently, secretly, if you like – hidden in the depths of the stone water jars.
Transformation can be like that. A butterfly shapes itself silently in its chrysalis. The child is formed silently in the womb. So transformation happens in ways we cannot see, control or understand (at times). What Jesus is doing in turning water into wine for that wedding party is giving us a sign of how God is longing to transform us. Transform us from the people we think we are to the people God has created us to be.
Yet that transformation still needs one more step to complete the picture to make the miracle of change in us (and in the water turned to wine) seen. The wine must be poured out, tasted and shared. If it had not been poured out, tasted and shared – it might well still have been water. Jesus knows this too and invites the servants to draw out the wine and take it to the chief steward for tasting. When God touches our lives with his transformations, there is also a call for us to be poured out, tasted and shared for each other. We are not given gifts, changes, growth in our inner being and transformations for these to be kept to ourselves. That would be like – having the wine in the water jars but never trying it!
Our willingness to go with how God shapes and transforms us is marked by whether we are willing to share or whether we are still living for ourselves alone. It’s never too late for this to happen. When God has touched a human heart – that person becomes living wine for others. We probably all know and rejoice in those who share of what God has worked in them with us. We have recently been giving thanks for someone who was living wine for others in the life of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
God as we can see in this passage often saves the best until last. So that in a way just when we think that we are past all possibility of change, the greatest change may be just about to happen. The ways of God and how the Spirit moves in our lives starts from our empty need, through the transformation of our hearts and then our willingness to be shared, tasted and poured out
We need to go where God calls. Be obedient and trusting and to be willing to share of what transformations God works in us. Every single one of us – each heart on fire for God beating to his rhythm. Amen
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 – Some material adapted from Margaret Silf.