Christianity 201

January 17, 2022

The Time Jesus Turned Water into a Symbol of Himself

Yesterday, one of the readings in the Common Lectionary was Jesus turning water to wine — his first recorded miracle — at a wedding in Cana. I watched two online sermons based on this passage, and one of them (from Clarke Dixon) will surface here at C201 on Thursday. [If you’re unfamiliar with the account of this, click here.]

It was only six months ago that we shared another devotional with you from Jesus Unboxed, written by Rev. David Eck, pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church in North Carolina. We join this one about ¼ of the way through, so to read it all — including a funny anecdote from ministry life at the beginning — click the link which follows.

Wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11)

…Wine is a powerful symbol in our time and in Jesus’ time as well. In our time, wine is symbolic of joy and celebration. It’s something we share with family and friends. It gladdens the heart and entices the senses. Even if we don’t drink wine regularly we probably do on special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas Eve, our wedding anniversary, New Year’s Eve, or when we have company over for dinner.

In Jesus’ time, wine was also symbolic of joy and celebration. It’s something people shared on a daily basis with family and friends. It gladdened the heart and enticed the senses.

Even the Bible, has many positive things to say about wine. In the Old Testament wine is an important symbol when talking about the great messianic feast at the end of the age. The prophet Isaiah once said “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples; a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And God will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; God will swallow up death forever.”  [Is 25:6-7]

1 Chronicles also makes the connection between wine and joy: “Their neighbors, from as far away as Issachar and Zebulun and Naphtali, came bringing food on donkeys, camels, mules, and oxen abundant provisions of meal, cakes of figs, clusters of raisins, wine, oil, oxen, and sheep, for there was joy in Israel.”  [1 Chr 12:40]

Furthermore, a lack of wine was used figuratively to describe hard times in Israel. Isaiah proclaims “There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has reached its eventide; the gladness of the earth is banished.” [Is 24:11]

In the New Testament the connection between wine and joy is further established, especially in our gospel lesson where Jesus was attending a wedding feast. In creating a mental picture of what these feasts look like we need to banish from our minds the polite cake cuttings of the South with mints and pickles and the beer bash polka parties of the North. We need to put aside the DJ playing the Chicken Dance as well as the chocolate fountain and the tiered wedding cake.

In Jesus’ day, wedding banquets were lavish affairs that lasted as long as seven days. There would be feasting and music each day with time for sleeping and doing daily chores as well. Finally there would also be wine, and lots of it, as a symbol of joy and celebration.

However, in this particular wedding feast it is only day three and there is no wine! This would have been a tragedy of epic proportions. The hosts would have been embarrassed. It would have been seen as a bad omen for the couple, a sign that joy would run dry in their married life as well. Jesus and his mama were attending this particular feast, along with the disciples.

Mary says to Jesus, “They have no wine.” Jesus responds to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me, My hour has not yet come.” Which doesn’t mean that Jesus was sassing his mama. In fact, many scholars say it is a term of endearment and is better understood as “dear woman.” Jesus was simply telling Mary that it wasn’t quite time for him to reveal his true identity and purpose.

Mary appears to trust his judgment and instructs the servants “Do whatever he tells you.” Which could mean that she still wasn’t quite sure what Jesus was gong to do but she would leave the situation in his hands. Jesus then instructed the servants to fill the empty jars with water. We know the rest of the story. The water was turned into wine. Joy was flowing freely again. The celebration could continue. And the steward was baffled as to why Jesus saved the best wine for last.

John says that Jesus’ turning the water into wine was the “first of his signs” that “revealed his glory.” What John means by this is very specific. A “sign” is something that points beyond itself. In other words, we should not focus on the miracle but rather, our attention should be directed toward Jesus. The question we need to ask is “What does this sign tell us about who Jesus is?”

Well, before I give you my answer to this question, we need to unpack a few details in John’s gospel to bring out the full meaning of the story. The first detail is that the wine ran dry “on the third day.” We don’t need to be Biblical scholars to figure out what John is saying here. The third day is symbolic of the three days Jesus spent in the tomb after his crucifixion and before his resurrection. In this instance, joy had run completely dry, but God had a surprise in store for everyone.

The second detail is that the “six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification” are symbolic of the established religion of Jesus’ time. It, too, had run dry, but Jesus was about to do a new thing.

Finally, this last point is underscored by the story that follows the Wedding of Cana in John’s gospel which is the cleansing of the Temple. All the other gospel writers place this event during the last week of Jesus’ life. John places it here which underscores the notion that Jesus is about to do a new thing. He’s putting new wine in old wine skins. Follow me so far?

If we take these details into consideration the story of the Wedding of Cana is a parable of sorts. It tells us that when Jesus “hour” finally arrived we would know that Jesus came to bring us abundant life. When the joy of life reaches its end and we are surrounded by death, Jesus has a big surprise for us. He is saving the best for last. Death will be vanquished forever, We will be invited to join him in the great and final feast where the wine will never run dry.

My dear friends, the Wedding at Cana is a beautiful and powerful story. It tells us something quite profound about who Jesus is and why he came to this earth. Earlier in John’s gospel, he stated it this way: “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it… And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth….from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.” [Jn 1:4-5, 12, 14,16]

John is telling us that Jesus is the new wine that will never run dry. Even when we feel like empty vessels Jesus promises that he will fill us once again. This is the power of John’s story of the wedding in Cana. But we have one loose end to tie up. It has something to do with the story I told at the beginning of my sermon. [Ed. note: Link to the original article in the header above.]

Each time we gather for communion the way we celebrate this feast is also a sign. It points to something beyond itself and says something about who Jesus is. It’s a dress rehearsal for the great and final feast. In some churches the celebration of Holy Communion is quite austere and serious. In others, it is joyful and a bit chaotic. Moravians serve water instead of wine. Others use grape juice exclusively. Some serve those horrible little wafers that have a tendency to stick to the roof of your mouth. your only hope is that the wine or grape juice will dislodge it! Some have closed tables where those in attendance have to jump through hoops of fire in order to be considered worthy to attend. Others have open tables where all are welcome to come and dine.

And as we reflect on the way Abiding Savior does communion, it says something about our belief in Jesus. Our table is open and welcoming to all. We may not serve the finest wine but we do serve wine that is present on the tables of average working class Americans. We also serve bread that can be found in every grocery store. Therefore, it’s a community meal, familiar to everyone who gathers for the feast. There is music, and there are smiles, and this host believes that everyone is equal around the table and should be treated like cherished loved ones.

This is our vision of the great and final feast that is hosted by none other than Jesus who welcomes all around his table and yet there is still room for more. As we gather for communion for today, let us remember the story of the wedding in Cana and give thanks to our Savior who promises us a joy that will never run dry and whose feast has no end. AMEN

Copyright ©2022 by David Eck – Devotion used by permission.

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