Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It didn’t happen in front of a great crowd of devout pilgrims on a high feast day, where Jesus could have rapidly spread His fame as Prophet and Priest throughout Judaism, like the miraculous proclamation of the Gospel on the Day of Pentecost. It didn’t happen on the steps of Pontius Pilate’s headquarters, where Jesus’ power could have made the proud and bold legionnaires of the Roman Empire cower at His supernatural abilities as King of all creation.
It didn’t even happen in front of all the gathered guests at this wedding feast in the modest town of Cana. If Jerusalem was that day’s and that region’s Austin, it would be like trying to become famous by making a big splash in a Wimberly, or an Elgin, or a Spicewood. No, Jesus performed His first miracle quietly, even reluctantly, it seems. At first, He shies away from responding to His mother’s hint about the hospitality challenges faced by the bridegroom hosting the affair. It was a backroom, hidden, subtle thing.
John gives no indication that Jesus waved His arms, spoke profound or eloquent words, or called down a flash of lightning to change the water into wine. It simply happened. At some point between when the large stone jars were filled by the servants and when the sample was delivered to the steward of the feast, the miracle happened.
It is not just circumstantial that our Lord’s first public miracle, or “sign” as John describes it, takes place at a wedding. God had instituted the holy estate of matrimony as the very first human interaction, really. He did so both to demonstrate to us, and to complete in us, the same desire for a faithful, loving spouse that He has for us.
Adam, surrounded by the miracle of God’s perfect creation and in perfect fellowship with his Creator, was still a creature who in some ways was very much alone. After seeing and naming all of God’s creatures, he was desirous of a companion who was more like him. Yet there was no one of that sort with whom to share his life. And so, as he slept, the man was cleaved in two by the hand of God, and then made whole again—united in one flesh with the flesh of his flesh and the bone of his bone.
This is how it happened that Adam was married to Eve. It is because the Lord Himself said, “It is not good that man should be alone,” and stepped into His creation to make what was already “very good” even better.
Behind that divine union of man and woman hovers the self-nature of God which led Him to create us in the first place. It was the desire to share His life, His love, His very Self so intimately with us. Not just to create us, but to fill us with that same sort of desire—to share our life, our love, and our self intimately with each other. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the marriage of a man and a woman. But the marriage is not the chief thing.
The chief thing is this: That just like humanity was created in the image of God, every marriage is intended to be an image, too. It is to be an icon of the deep-seated love that your Maker and Redeemer has for you. So when you see a joyous wedding, and when you see a truly happily married couple, and when you see the unique love between a husband and wife—then you see a visible, tangible example of the communion all mankind should individually and collectively share in God through Christ Jesus.
Our fall into sin, though, has perverted this love for God and for others. And so, among other things, our sin has desecrated the holy institution of matrimony. Now we’ve got it in our heads that we can casually go from wife to wife, or that we can have the benefits of married life without the Lord’s blessing or the accountability to both God and spouse which true matrimony entails, or that it’s just fine that our culture can concoct the abomination of homosexual marriages.
Such things are to be rejected, not because they offend our morals and values, for clearly our morals and our values are corrupted by sin, too. Rather, it’s because such things reveal our idolatry and show our hatred for true communion in God. In our alienated state, we insist that God relate to us according to our conditions, our demands, our desires. And chief among those desires is that God submit to us; that He becomes our helper and servant on our terms; that He is subject to us and obeys us so that our name is hallowed, the fanciful kingdom of our imagination comes, and our selfish will is done.
And now we’ve set about to surpass Eve. She simply wanted to be like God, knowing good and evil. But we believe that it is our right, in fact our duty, to be God—to determine what is good and what is evil. So it should not surprise us when we ourselves reward good with evil, and when hatred and anger is so much stronger in us than love and mercy, kindness and compassion.
Yet our Lord still deals with us as the loving and faithful husband who constantly takes back his adulterous, unbearable wife. We would say that such a husband should give up and move on, because he’s doing nothing but making his own life miserable. But our Lord does not think or act as we do. Instead, He insists that He is our life, and that He has no other desire than to share His whole Self with us, and live His Life in us. And He constantly declares that He is hopelessly and steadfastly and unwaveringly in love with us.
While we continually prefer other spouses, chase after other gods, and pursue distorted and lurid kinds of intimacy with lovers other than our one true Love, and even though we seek to gratify our self-love and immoral communions, the Lord remains steadfast. He continues to prefer us, to be determined to win us back to Himself, and to shower us with His love—no matter how much abuse and ridicule and spite and unfaithfulness He must endure from our minds, our mouths, and our bodies.
What we ought to see in today’s Gospel lesson is not just Jesus proving He can do something spectacular. We know that God can do spectacular things, for we witness them every day, even seeing them in the mirror. What the Holy Spirit really wants us to see and to understand is the One Perfect and Faithful Husband patiently reaching out to His disloyal, cheating Wife, offering to take Her back. And He does so, the first of His signs, at a wedding. He does this so that He might show His inmost desire—a restoration of the marriage, love, intimacy, and unbreakable union between Himself and His Bride.
St. Paul says that Christ Jesus sought us out so that He might sanctify and cleanse us—to wash and baptize us by water and the Word—so that He might once again present us as His glorious, unblemished, holy, spotless and pure bride. And in today’s Gospel, we actually see that happening.
So, what is significant in today’s Gospel is not who had married whom in the midst of a reception where the wine ran out. If that information were important for our salvation, we would be told that. But St. John doesn’t bother us with the details of that. Instead, the Holy Spirit and the holy evangelist want us to concentrate on our Lord and His undying desire to win us back, to bring us home, to envelop us with His caress and kisses, and to steer us away from our self-loves and perversions by proving to us that He truly is the Love of our life.
And how will He prove this to us? Not by demands and threats. Not by empty promises or pitiful begging, but by sacrificing Himself. By laying down His life. By loving us to the end so that He saves not Himself, but saves us from ourselves, the world, and from evil. Isn’t that the truest expression of love, as the Scriptures tell us? Not that we love ourselves, but that we are ready to die for those whom we love?
That is how Christ loved His Church—not by doing what was in His best interest, but by taking our place, swallowing our sickness, suffering our temptations, dying our death, and descending into our hell to tell Satan that he would never win over His holy, purified Bride.
What is the unparalleled symbol of our Lord’s love? It is the cross where He shed His blood! Yet if the cross is the symbol of our relationship—the “wedding ring, as it were—where is our Lord’s love truly expressed, fully given to us? Where is His embrace? And where can we know that His self-sacrifice is not selfish love but true love? That is given to us in the water and the blood which flowed from His side. For when the soldier pierced our crucified God and Lord and opened His side, we saw not just a picture of love, but real love. We saw the depth and received the fullness and means of our Lord’s love.
So do not wonder that our Lord’s first miracle is turning water into wine. He’s not doing that just to show us He can, or just to prove that He is the Creator, or just to get our attention. Our Lord changes water into wine so that we might see that He is the Husband who has come to reclaim His wayward bride, to take her back into His bed, and to restore and renew the intimacy, the love, and the communion that we know chiefly in the holy sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. For at this Holy Banquet our Lord consummates His communion with you. There, He is for you the Husband that has no equal; whose love will not be quenched.
Jesus our Savior goes to this anonymous wedding and performs this anonymous miracle to manifest to us His glory and His love, so that we might believe that He truly is our Life, our Love, our Hope and our True Desire.
By doing so; by moving something of His creation from water into wine, He points us to His cross. He points us to lives of love and faithfulness which move from this font—where He washes and first weds us—to this altar where He continually loves and nourishes and cherishes us. Here, in this sacrament of His love, we are intimately and tangibly bound to Him. By this Supper; this Banquet; this Wedding Feast; what was once two—Him and us—is made one flesh. We are made and kept as members of His body—flesh of His flesh and bone of His bones. This is a great mystery. Yet it is also our life and our salvation.
In the Name of the Father and of the (X) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.