Second Sunday in Epiphany: Exploring our Worship III: John 2:1-11
Opening Prayer: Almighty God, you have come into the world in Jesus Christ to save the world and fill it with your endless glory. We draw near to you now covered with the blood of Jesus; cut us up with the sword of your Word. Arrange us on the altar, consume us by the power of your Spirit, and so transform us into living sacrifices that we are pleasing and acceptable in your sight. For we pray with faith, knowing that you are a consuming fire, through Jesus Christ the righteous, and Amen!
We have considered worship as sacrifice, and last week we explored worship as the fierce order of God’s army, his warring hosts. One of the other most important images of worship in Scripture is the wedding/wedding feast. Epiphany or Theophany is the celebration of God’s revelation to us in Christ, God revealed in human flesh. Our gospel lesson today is particularly concerned with the first sign of that revelation of the glory of God: the miracle at a wedding in Cana where Jesus turned water into wine.
The Glory of the Bridegroom
This first sign that Jesus does is no incidental reference. John has already introduced Jesus as the Word made flesh who reveals the glory as the only begotten of the Father (1:14). When John finishes this episode with the explanation that this was the first sign that Jesus did to manifest his glory (2:11), we cannot forget that this is the glory of the Father. The fact that it is the first sign must also indicate its priority, indicating something primary about Christ’s mission. God comes into the world as a man, and after being baptized, the first thing he does is go to a wedding and turn water into wine. First, notice that Jesus is standing in for the bridegroom. The master of the feast calls for the bridegroom and praises him for setting out this “good wine” not knowing where the wine had come from (2:9). Jesus reveals God to us as the bridegroom come for a bride, come to give the good wine for a wedding feast.
Resurrection and New Creation
Secondly, notice that John labels this event as occurring on the “third day” (2:1). Given the gospel story and John’s tendency to pack meaning into texts, we cannot ignore this reference to Jesus’ mission. Here, Mary “mistakes” Jesus as the bridegroom, but we know that at the end of this gospel, Jesus will rise on the third day be “mistaken” by another Mary for a gardener. Again, remembering what will take place later, we see that this “third day” occurs just a few days after being hailed the “lamb of God,” a clear foreshadowing of Passover, death, and resurrection. On the third day, there will be wine for Israel (cf. Is. 25:6). But this “third day” reference also comes in a line of other time references. John opens famously with the phrase “in the beginning” and begins expounding Jesus as the “light of the world” followed by several references to “days” (1:29, 35, 43). Depending on how one does the math we might see this miracle on the “third day” as actually occurring on the sixth or first day of the week from the “beginning.” This creation week motif is unmistakable. Jesus manifests God as the Creator God, come to remake his people, to turn their water into wine.
Wine of Purification
Not only has God come in Jesus as the bridegroom and the creator, he comes as a new Moses-like teacher. He fills the water pots used for Jewish purification with wedding wine. The purification rites of the Old Covenant were a reminder of the Exodus: they passed through water before coming to God (at Sinai) and the land of grapes/ wine (Canaan). The old Jewish purification rites are being transformed in this new creation; as God came as a bridegroom and married Israel at Sinai, so God is come again in Jesus to marry his people. This new marriage (or remarriage) will have a new purification rite, one that involves the drinking of wine. The Old Covenant water is growing up into the New Covenant wine. Both the wedding/bridegroom theme and the wine point to the idea of maturity. In Jesus, God’s people are growing up (Gal. 4:2ff); wine is a symbol of maturity as an aged drink. And a wedding is one of the steps in maturity, the beginning of a new household. In Jesus, God is coming to his people for their graduation to adulthood; he’s coming to marry them, to renew covenant with them, to purify them with wine.
Conclusions & Applications
Worship is like a wedding. We are gathered here, week after week, to renew our wedding vows with our husband. Corporately we are the Bride of Christ, and he calls us out of the world to renew our marriage covenant. This is one of the reasons why our service is dialogical. Throughout the service there are spoken responses between the minister and the congregation. We see this pattern in the covenant at Sinai, and we still have this in our own weddings where vows and promises are made between the husband and wife. But a wedding is also a fitting description of the proper decorum of worship. Our worship is wedding-like in its solemnity and joy. It is not solemn like a funeral; it is solemn like a wedding, like graduation. It is full of deep joy. Our bridegroom still brings wine to the feast.
In this sense, worship is covenant renewal. We considered the theme of sacrifice a few weeks ago and noticed that our worship follows the order of sacrifices outlined in Leviticus 9. We also pointed out the pattern there is resident in the act of creation and in the Eucharist. But that pattern is also plainly seen in making covenants: Call, Rehearsal of separation, instructions, fellowship/meal, blessing/commission (e.g. Abram, Sinai & Israel, David). We see that this is the same pattern we saw before in creation, the sacrifices, and the Eucharist. And our worship follows the same pattern.
We are in some ways exactly like the bridegroom at Cana who was praised by the master of the Feast. Our offertory is offering up (somewhat sheepishly) what we did not make ourselves. Our bridegroom gives us gifts to give to him and for the world.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Final Prayer: Almighty God, we thank you that you have invited us (and the world) into your life and fellowship. We confess that we have attempted to horde this life and have believed that eternal life was found in fat theology books and thinking certain thoughts. But your life was manifest and gave joy to a wedding feast; your life was manifest and gave health to broken bones and hope to the broken hearted. Give us that life; and put to death our death. As we greet one another in the Peace, enable us to do it as images of your Triune love. And we ask that our peace and fellowship would be for the world.