Immanuel Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Virginia
“Jesus was called to the marriage.” What is the meaning of that? At the simple level, it means that whoever was getting married was a friend or relative of Jesus, so they invited Him. The mother of Jesus was there, and she seems to be in a position to give orders to the servants, so this was perhaps a family wedding.
But what else can we make of the fact that “Jesus was called to the marriage”? And not Jesus only, but “Both Jesus was called, and his disciples.” It means that marriage is never a private affair, between two individuals. Marriage is God’s institution. Marriage is of divine origin, not human origin. God made our first father Adam. He opened Adam’s side, drawing from it the substance from which Adam’s wife was formed. The wedding at Cana shows us that a godly marriage begins by calling the LORD and His disciples to the wedding. Marriage needs the prayers, blessing, and support of the whole church, the people of God.
God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman. Today’s problems with marriage do not stem from the widespread acceptance of homosexuality. The problem begins with us, in the Church, not seriously putting into practice the sixth commandment. The University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project documents a “retreat from marriage,” where marriage is simply no longer an ideal for many in our culture.
The roots of this retreat from marriage go back a long way. One of my favorite novels is Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. Its major theme was that permanent marriage is misery. When it was published in 1895, it caused such a scandal in England that Hardy never wrote fiction again. As Hardy later wrote, his main point was “that marriage should be dissolvable as soon as it becomes a cruelty to either of the parties - being then essentially and morally no marriage.”
This make the essence of marriage personal fulfillment, personal happiness. Not fulfilled? Unhappy? Leave your spouse, and find someone else who will make you happier.
Is that God’s design for marriage? God created the world out of love, for the purpose of bestowing His gifts on His creatures. The entire history of salvation demonstrates that God continues His love, His gifts, even after man had turned away and rejected God.
In holy marriage people are given an arena, a proving ground for them to become godly, for them to love even when the marriage is not, at that moment, personally fulfilling or particularly happy. (The same is true for being a parent and every other vocation we have where we are called to care for our neighbor.)
This then is how we must view God’s gift of sexuality. Not as a means of personal physical pleasure, focused on the self, but as an expression of love within the holy bond of marriage, which is open to God’s creative intent – the conception and birth of children.
It is no mistake that our Lord chooses to perform His first miracle at a wedding. But it is not simply a miracle, a magic show, a spectacular event to wow the crowd or to help His mother save face. St. John calls it a sign, the beginning of signs. A sign does not exist for itself. A sign signifies, points to something greater.
This sign of transforming water into wine is done in the context of Jesus talking about His hour. Throughout John’s Gospel Jesus says repeatedly, “My hour is not yet come.” Then finally, just before Jesus washes the feet of His disciples, the night before His crucifixion, St. John tells us that that great event, the Passion of Jesus, is His hour: “Now before the Feast of the Passover,” John says in ch. 13, “when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
Jesus, Lord of the universe, called “Master” by His disciples, proceeds to wash their feet – the action of a slave. This is how Jesus exercises His role of Bridegroom of the church, husband of a new humanity: through menial service. He cleanses them with water, which points back to the six stone waterpots at the wedding at Cana. These also were for cleansing, and not a simple “wash your hands before dinner” kind of cleansing. They were for a Jewish ritual, ceremonial rite of purification.
Precisely those jars, for the outward ritual of purification, is what Jesus uses to make wine. But wine is not for washing; it’s for drinking. Wine goes not on the outside but the inside.
God’s Word says that wine is given to make glad the heart of man. (Like all of God’s gifts, we have to be careful not to abuse that.) The original intent of wine, used properly, is to make glad the heart of man. The night when Jesus washes His disciples’ feet is the same night that He takes wine, gives it to the disciples to drink, and declares by His Word another transformation: “This is the new testament in my blood, shed for you for the remission of sins.” Water cleanses the outside, but wine goes to the inside. Our deepest pains, and the greatest wounds to our conscience, are on the inside.
What troubles your conscience?
What do you fear more than God?
What do you love more than God?
What do you trust more than God?
Have you made idols of your children, your health, sexual pleasure, money, reputation, status, possessions?
Is there a besetting sin, a ruling sin that troubles your conscience?
You have heard me say many times at the beginning of the liturgy, “Beloved in the Lord! Let us draw near with a true heart and confess our sins.” Those words come from Holy Scripture, the book of Hebrews. Listen to how that text continues: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10.22).
If you look at yourself honestly, looking into the mirror of the law, you cannot have a clean conscience, no matter how many good things you have sought to do. An honest self-appraisal can only lead to an evil conscience, and with it, fear: fear of death, fear of God’s judgment. But here is the invitation to draw near to God with a heart sprinkled clean from an evil conscience, and with a body washed with pure water. Our body is washed with the pure water of Baptism, the water joined to God’s Word; and following Baptism, we are then invited to the sprinkling of blood. “Sprinkling” is an Old Testament sacrificial word, as the priests would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice. Here in the Eucharist, the blood of Jesus, truly present in the wine, sprinkles not our bodies but our hearts, and it is on the basis of that—on the basis of Christ’s blood, Christ’s work, Christ’s righteousness—that you can be freed from a guilty conscience.
If wine, as the Bible says, makes glad the heart of man, then this wine which is Christ’s blood is what makes the heart of the believer filled with joy, for it brings union with Christ, cleansing from sin, and becomes a fountain of life for us dying creatures.
These are some of the things signified by the changing of water into wine at the wedding of Cana. Notice how Jesus keeps Himself in the background, giving the bridegroom credit. The first bridegroom, our father Adam, had his side opened, from which our mother Eve was fashioned. On the cross, Jesus the new Adam and heavenly bridegroom has His side opened, and out comes what? Streams of living water, mixed with blood. As Adam was opened for the formation of his wife, the new Adam is opened for the formation of His holy bride the Church. From His side came water, the element of Baptism, giving new birth; and blood, the content of the cup of the Lord’s Supper, cleansing sin.
Jesus was not married to any particular woman because He is the bridegroom for all humanity, laying down His life for His bride the Church. So now what? Jesus was called to the wedding together with His disciples. Jesus still today calls you to be His disciple. What does this mean for you? You are cleansed, forgiven, restored. We live as His forgiven disciples precisely in the manner St. Paul describes today: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection.” Are you married? Love your wife, submit to your husband. Do you have neighbors? Show them love at all times. And let your life be wrapped up not in what you can purchase, acquire, achieve, or avoid. Your life is hidden with Christ in God, and poured out into you in this wine which truly makes glad the heart of man.