Tag Archives: Wedding at Cana

Running on Empty* [OR Water, Wine, and Weddings, with a Dash of Mary Oliver]

*Yes, invoking Jackson Browne here. Lyrics align with the sermon but I found it tricky to tie them in. Video is at end of sermon in case you’d like a listen.

**sermon art: Marriage at Cana, Jyoti Art Ashram, India

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on January 20, 2019

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Song of Solomon 8:6-7 Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. 7 Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If one offered for love all the wealth of one’s house, it would be utterly scorned.

John 2:1-11  On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

[sermon begins]

I love this wedding at Cana story.  I love that Jesus is at a wedding with family and friends.  I love that his mother is there.  I love that he listens to his mother (of course).  I love that the servants knew where the wine came from when the steward over them didn’t.  And, I love that the jars were for purification rituals and that, at first, they stood AS empty as the wine jars drained by the now drunk wedding guests.  Mary noticed that the wine gave out. It wasn’t so much that the guests needed more wine – they likely didn’t given the now empty wine jars and the steward’s comments to the bridegroom in verse 10.  The bigger problem was that the honor of the host was at stake.  The emptiness of the drained wine jars was shameful for the wedding host, the bridegroom.  A bridegroom running on empty and full of shame. Shame often happens when we’re running on empty – rushing in to fill our emptiness whatever the cause.

Mary flags the shame threat to Jesus.  She says to him, “They have no wine.”  He shrugs her off with the line about his “hour not yet come.”  Unfazed, Mary says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” From her comment, the miracle unfolds.  The steward is surprised that the good wine is served last and the party continues.  Jesus at the wedding of Cana, speaking of his hour and turning the water into wine, foreshadows the events of his death on a cross.  He is present at the wine crisis and he is present at the cross.  He is present at the wedding celebration and he is present at the resurrection.  Emptiness and abundance intertwine through Jesus’ life story epitomized in the wedding at Cana.

Weddings are wonderful.  Earnest vows of love and fidelity.  Ceremonies surrounding the couple with the support of friends and family.  Decorations blooming in floral splendor coordinating with gowns and suits.  Menus taste-tested months in advance.  Cakes frosted into works of art.  And, to my mind, there’s nothing like dancing at a wedding.  My siblings and I adore our cousins’ weddings for so many reasons but one big reason is the dancing.  Pastors are privy to the months before the wedding during the premarital counseling we get to do with couples as they prepare for marriage beyond the wedding day.  We get to hear about wedding details, what they mean and who they’re meaningful for.  We also get a snapshot of what a couple thinks make them work well together.  One of the goals that I have for premarital counseling is for couples to be thinking about the possibility that the day may come when they need help over a hurdle that is bigger than both of their expertise combined.  I was laughing with a younger friend at the gym who was celebrating her first wedding anniversary and joking about being an expert on marriage – to which I paused and said, well, you ARE an expert at your first year of marriage.

Along that line of being the expert, we may get to a year in our marriage when our level of expertise is not up to the challenge confronting us and we may need some help over the hurdle of feeling empty and ashamed. Help can be found talking to pastors or counselors you know, or counselors your friends have used and trust. What do you have to lose when so much feels lost already?  At the very least, there can be healing in the process no matter the outcome. This is true for individuals too, by the way. The wedding at Cana is as good a reminder as any to ask for help if you need it; to ask for help from someone who has some experience coaching couples through an empty spot in marriage that can fill itself with shame.  While that’s more than poetic sentiment, poetry can work its way into the mix.

Poetry like that found in our reading from the Bible’s Song of Solomon can sometimes add to those feelings of emptiness.  The Song of Solomon’s poetry celebrates a bride and bridegroom with the enthusiasm and romance of newlyweds.  Very little of it ends up printed in worship bulletins because the ancient, sensual metaphors must have been determined to be too much for listeners.  The wildly popular tattoo and jewelry engraving, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine,” is from the sixth chapter of Song of Solomon. Biblical commentaries interpret the book in various ways – from the bride is Israel and the bridegroom is God to the bride is the church and the bridegroom is Jesus to the bride is a bride and the bridegroom is a bridegroom.[1]

When the Bible offers us poetry whether in the Song of Solomon or another book, there’s an opportunity to see the world with fresh eyes through an ancient lens, not our own.  Mary Oliver, American poet, and Pulitzer Prize winner, died this week.  Her poetry generally helps us to see the world with fresh eyes through a contemporary lens, not our own. She had a special gift of celebrating life’s ordinary moments. Her poem “When Death Comes” specifically invokes the bride and bridegroom imagery.  She writes:

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.”[2]

Mary Oliver and the Song of Solomon similarly invoke the wonder and joy of newlyweds. Jesus’ sign of turning water into wine transformed the looming shame of the newlywed bridegroom into the wonder and joy of abundance at a wedding.

Notice who benefits from Jesus’ transformation of emptiness to abundance, though. It’s the bridegroom but it’s not ONLY the bridegroom.  There’s a bride there somewhere. There are Jesus’ friends and likely other friends and family of the newlyweds. There’s the steward who was probably supposed to keep tabs on things like the wine supply.  There are servants who were fully in the know.  Jesus’ sign of turning water into wine during the wedding at Cana touched the people there in different ways.  ALL this and still his “hour [had] not yet come.”  In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ “hour” refers to the time that he will hang on a cross.[3]  The tasty wedding wine relates to the sour wine given to quench Jesus’ thirst on the cross.[4]  Jesus’ mother is called “the mother of Jesus” in the Gospel of John and shows up in the gospel only twice – once at the wedding at Cana and then again at the cross.[5]  From his first sign of turning water into wine, the cross where Jesus’ life will be emptied is already in play.  Curiously, though, Jesus is at a party…maybe even dancing.  (At least I like to think he was dancing.)

Turning water into wine and other things happening at the wedding at Cana point us to the cross but it also points us THROUGH the cross.  The emptiness that can so easily fill with shame is taken to and through the cross by Jesus, transforming us into new life.  Like the people at the wedding at Cana, the abundance of new life looks different for each of us.  For some of us, new life seems miraculously immediate, gushing to overflowing; for others of us, we need to ask for help and take one next right step after another as new life fills our empty places one drop at a time.  One thing is true, regardless.  Jesus’ meets us in our most empty places. It’s part of what the cross means.  It is from that place of emptiness that shame loses ground, hope is born, and life is restored.  Hallelujah and thanks be to God.

 

_____________________________________________________________

[1] Kathryn M. Schifferdecker, Assoc. Prof. of Old Testament. Commentary on Song of Solomon 2:10-13, 8:6-7 for August 2015. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2511

[2] Mary Oliver. When Death Comes.  Library of Congress (© 1992 by Mary Oliver, from New & Selected Poems: Vol 1. Beacon Press, Boston).  https://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/102.html

[3] John 16:32

[4] John 19:28-29

[5] John 19:25-27

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Song after the sermon:

Jesus, Come! For We Invite You (ELW Hymn #312)

1 Jesus, come! for we invite you,
guest and master, friend and Lord;
now, as once at Cana’s wedding,
speak and let us hear your word:
lead us through our need or doubting,
hope be born and joy restored.

2 Jesus, come! transform our pleasures,
guide us into paths unknown;
bring your gifts, command your servants,
let us trust in you alone:
though your hand may work in secret,
all shall see what you have done.

3 Jesus, come! in new creation,
heav’n brought near by pow’r divine;
give your unexpected glory,
changing water into wine:
rouse the faith of your disciples —
come, our first and greatest Sign!

4 Jesus, come! surprise our dullness,
make us willing to receive
more than we can yet imagine,
all the best you have to give:
let us find your hidden riches,
taste your love, believe, and live!

____________________________________________________________

 

 

 

John 2:1-11 – Best Bible Story Ever (or maybe just this preacher’s favorite, come and see)

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on January 17, 2016

[sermon begins after the Bible reading]

John 2:1-11  On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

[sermon begins]

Take a walk down a grocery store aisle with me.  Imagine it.  Laminate tile floors. Bright fluorescent light.  A slow, very relaxed shopper in front of us.  A parent telling their child “no” as they walk by the soda.  We’re making a quick stop at an unfamiliar store because it’s our job to show up with water.  We’re checking aisle signs so we can get in and get out of the store quickly.  Down at the end of the next aisle we can see the sign for water.  Arriving at our destination under the water sign, there is row upon row upon row of wine bottles.  Three shelves high, wine bottles in rows underneath the sign for water.  And you turn to me and say dryly, “Jesus was here.”[1]  Not only do I have a little envy that you thought of it first but, more importantly, we laugh like crazy about one of my favorite Bible stories.

Which leads me to the point that this Bible story is difficult for me to preach.  Not because it’s in the Gospel of John.  Not because of any need to try and explain how or if the supernatural sign occurred.  Not because of its links to Hebrew scripture and God’s covenant with God’s people that’s compared to marriage vows.  And not because I’m left wondering why the wine steward doesn’t seem to have any of that bad wine to serve the drunk wedding guests.  (Do those drunk people really need more wine?)  It’s difficult for me to preach because it is dear to me.  It’s dear to my experience of faith and my experience of life.  A dear taste of grace in scripture when other verses can be so puzzling.  When something is so dear and well-worn, it makes preaching trickier.

Regardless, we begin at a wedding.  Joy and celebration abound.  Jesus is there.  His mother is there.  It’s an epic party where the wine is flowing until it runs out.  The celebration seems fitting.  Jesus’ ministry is inaugurated by the events at this wedding.  Parties are commonplace at inaugural events but how often do inaugural events happen at parties?  During a party like this one, I can imagine someone saying, “I feel like I shouldn’t be having fun when there is so much suffering in the world.”  Why can I imagine that question?  Because people say that kind of thing to me fairly regularly.

It is in this tension between joy and suffering that the Wedding at Cana really shines.  Jesus is at a wedding celebration.  He is embodied grace smack in the middle of it.  His presence and activity at the wedding does not obscure the very real problem of Roman oppression or the pain that is experienced in everyday living.  He is an example of celebrating life in spite of Rome and in spite of day-to-day suffering.  He is also more than an example.

Turning water into wine and other things happening at the Wedding at Cana points us somewhere.  It’s a little bit like echolocation that bats and whales use.  Those animals make a sound and they can figure out their position in relation to another location based on the echoes that return.  If fact, when I preach from these verses at weddings and funerals, I often use the word “echoes” to describe what’s happening between the wedding celebration and Jesus’ death on the cross.

Some of the words in the story echo back from the cross.  The story itself begins “On the third day” which echoes Jesus’ resurrection.[2]  Jesus references his “hour not yet come.” In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ hour refers to the time that he will hang on a cross.[3]  Even the tasty wedding wine itself echoes back from the sour wine given to quench Jesus’ thirst on the cross.[4]  Jesus’ mother is not named in the Gospel of John.  She is called “the mother of Jesus.”  She shows up in the gospel only twice – once at the Wedding at Cana and then again at the cross.[5]  Jesus’ mother is another echo.  From his first sign of turning water into wine, the cross is already in play.  Suffering is on the horizon.  And curiously, Jesus is at a party.

The Wedding at Cana is how life works.  There are moments of joy and there are moments of suffering.  Neither joy nor suffering are completely absent while the other is present.  Both are human.  Both are faithful.  I want to be clear here that I’m not talking about blind optimism in the face of suffering.  As if everything is fine despite all evidence to the contrary.  I’m talking about faithful joy in the gift of life while being honest about the truth of suffering and working to alleviate it as Jesus calls us to do.

Jesus is at a party where the wine steward knows how things usually work in the world.  After Jesus turns the water into wine, the wine steward goes to the bridegroom and says, “Everyone serves the good wine after the guests have become drunk; but you have kept the good wine until now.”  I read this as the place where sin shows up in the story.  “Everyone” tries to hide what they’re doing and get away with substandard wine late in the wedding celebration.  This shenanigan is the norm.  But not this time.  Not this wedding.  Not this Jesus.

Jesus’ turning of water into wine toward the end of the wedding party throws the reverse switch on how things often work in the world.  Jesus’ sign reverses what we expect as normal.  Like the wine steward, expecting that people will protect their own interests at the expense of people who are unaware of the mischief at their expense.

Tomorrow this country celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and ministry.  He stands among the saints as an example of throwing the reverse switch against the accepted cultural norms of racism and poverty in his day. He believed people could do better in the face of black people suffering at the hands of white people.  He believed that racism makes everyone less than human – victims and perpetrators alike.  He believed this from a place of faith that is unequivocal about God loving all people.  All people.  And God’s love for all people inspired a movement of human dignity that continues through today.  People of all colors continuing to throw the reverse switch against the cultural norms of racism and poverty. He believed this from a place of faith that is unequivocal about God loving all people.  All people.

There is a relevant aside about MLK Jr. to add to our conversation about living in joy while being honest about suffering and our own hand in it.  He is attributed as saying, “It is cheerful to God when you rejoice or laugh from the bottom of your heart.”[6]  This from a man who saw and experienced raw suffering as racist cultural norms were viciously protected.

We sing songs and pray prayers of praise, joy, and thanksgiving in worship today as our bodies turn toward the processional cross as well as face the cross at the front during worship.  Our worship mirrors the tension between joy and suffering at the Wedding at Cana.  Our worship mirrors life.  Life that Jesus gives as he shows up with us in both celebration and suffering.

Jesus gives life by way of his own life.  Life that showed up in the skin of a baby.  Life that laughs with joy at a wedding party.  Life that knows suffering.  Life that is given for all people.  Life that is given for you despite your own efforts to live on your own terms.  That’s the promise God makes to you.  Let’s celebrate.

 

[1] Meme posted: http://dailypicksandflicks.com/2012/05/20/daily-picdump-464/jesus-was-here-wine-on-water-aisle/

[2] John 21:11-20

[3] John 16:32

[4] John 19:28-29

[5] John 19:25-27

[6] Martin Luther King Jr.  http://martinlutherkingjrquotes.org/martin-luther-king-jr-quotes-bootstraps.html