Isaiah 62:1-5; John 2:1-11
My middle child was recently exposed to another branch of Christendom’s view of marriage.
The details of this are superfluous to a discussion of John 2:1-11, but her reaction to the teaching is, in fact, relevant. The teaching was that marriage is not about happiness and people should not enter into the union with that goal in mind. Marriage is about expanding the empire of God. Now, I will let you hash out the theological implications of that message and draw your own conclusions. What interests me here was her reaction to this revelation. She was, and I don’t exaggerate, shocked and offended. This view, in her mind, was clearly wrong-headed, punitive, unreasonable. Of course, one gets married in order to be happy! I immediately regretted all those Disney princess movies, the Friday nights of watching “Say Yes to the Dress!” and the binge viewing of “Pride and Prejudice” in which we’d indulged. I gently tried to suggest that perhaps there was some bit of truth in the teaching. Marriage isn’t always happy. It is, in fact, difficult. She would hear little to none of this. Why on earth would one get married if one did not anticipate being happy!? I ultimately gave up the fight and resolved to return to the issue at a later date. I refrained from asking, “Do your dad and I always seem blissfully happy with one another?!”
Then I read Isaiah 62:1-5 and considered that my daughter might make a biblical case for the relationship between “marriage” and “happiness.” Or, certainly between “marriage” and “rejoicing” and “delight.” The entire metaphor of God’s restoration and vindication of Zion rests on an over-the-top joyous marriage union. The wedding in Cana appears to be a pretty joy-filled affair as well, the party so lively that the wine runs out. Jesus’ addition of copious amounts of really good wine no doubt only made it the wedding that was talked about for months to come. (Don’t get me started on the food and beverage and band at one in New Orleans I had the fun of attending.)
But happiness? Does marriage, do this Sunday’s readings, does Jesus’ presence even, have anything to do with happiness or is it all about expanding God’s kingdom? Maybe the first move isn’t happiness or empire-of-God talk. Maybe we should use John’s language and explore signs and glory and see if that gets us beyond a naïve notion of fairytale happiness and moves us toward a gospel promise of abundant life – a life that includes every emotion but is rooted in God’s goodness and God’s agape love.
Remember John has “signs” not miracles and Jesus calls these “works,” as in the work of his Father. Signs point to something beyond themselves. They reveal and make known. And this, Jesus’s first sign, reveals the glory of God. I like Lamar Williamson Jr.’s definition of glory found in his commentary on the Gospel of John. He writes that glory “refers to the majesty, radiance and substantive weight of God’s essential nature.” That abundant, to the brim, gallon upon gallon, really wonderful wine is indicative of God’s essential nature. More wine than could ever be consumed points to the gifts of grace come to us through Jesus Christ. Wine brings to consciousness the sacrament of communion, the blood of Christ, forgiveness, salvation. Water makes us think baptism and Holy Spirit. This is a story of the presence of God in our midst, the present and coming reign of God – yes, the expansion of the Kingdom and happiness is of far less value than the gift of God’s very self.
Marriage as a metaphor for restoration and vindication, for a complete reversal of circumstances, makes sense when we think in terms of the sign Jesus works at Cana. This isn’t a fairytale, this isn’t happily ever after; this is salvation, God for us and with us in sickness and in health, rich or poor, better or worse, a relationship that not even death can part. We may not always be happy, but we always have cause to rejoice. Keep in mind this sign occurred on the third day… ring a bell? This text has ties to the raising of Lazarus. This wedding points to the marriage supper of the Lamb. This party is a small foretaste of the massive good time reunion that is to come at the heavenly banquet. Move over Disney and Mr. Darcy, Jesus has come and brought the water, the wine, the gifts, the life that is truly worth celebrating and living.
What remains to be said, however, is this: These gifts are not for us and for our sake alone – they are to be shared. They are for God’s beloved world. The disciples see the sign and believe. The glory they have seen is worth following, worth trusting and, yes, worth telling others about. The gifts given, the multitude, myriad of gifts given by the outpouring of the same Spirit are for the common good. Zion’s restoration shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a burning torch. When the wine is this good and there is so much of it, how can we not tell others to grab a cup and drink their fill? This wedding is such a celebration we won’t be able to stop talking about it, ever. Maybe it will even get my daughter’s attention.
- John makes a point of noting the location of this sign: Cana of Galilee. Why is this significant? Take a look at what else happens in Galilee. Keep in mind Jesus’ instructions to “return to Galilee.”
- Who sees the sign in this story? Who has no idea what has occurred? Why do some see and know and others seem oblivious?
- Take a look at how signs are received in John’s Gospel. Note that some see and believe and others do not. What makes the difference?
- Keeping in mind that this is MLK weekend and Race Relations Sunday, how might these texts speak to restoration and healing in our current context where headlines involving race occur almost daily?
- What do you make of Mary’s role in this story? Lamar Williamson Jr. characterizes her faith as having the “form of persistent expectation.” Is that true for us?
- Here is a poem by Tom Lane entitled “If Jesus Could” from “Imaging the Word” volume 1
If Jesus could transform
into wedding wine
spit and dirt
into new sight
into a pathway
into living water
Could Christ transform
the waters of my life
into a shower
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