“Thou shalt be called Hephzi-bah, and thy land Beulah” [Isaiah 62:4b]
Today, I am going to ask every one of us to do something. I want us all to remember when we first fell in love. I do not mean our first love. That may have been with someone who, quite frankly, turned out to be the wrong choice. No, that is not what I mean. I want us all to remember when we fell in love with those whom we decided with which to spend the rest of our life. I want us to remember that feeling we had initially. How did it make us feel? And how did it mature into a love that we knew was for all times. If you remember that feeling right now, this is precisely what our lessons for today entail. It is the love between God and His people.
In our Old Testament lesson, we have God and His people, the Israelites, likened as to a bridegroom and His bride. It speaks of a future time when that “marriage” shall be a true one:
For as a young man marrieth a virgin,
so shall thy sons marry thee:
and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride,
so shall thy God rejoice over thee.
And just like our special loves, so God, in His great joy, proclaims His love:
FOR Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness,
and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth;
and the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness,
and all kings thy glory:
In our New Testament Lesson, we have Jesus’ first miracle: His changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. Before we look more closely at this passage, however, we must address the way the Evangelists wrote the Gospels. And we need to address this because of what a friend just recently said to me.
He, like Thomas Jefferson, does not believe that the miracles recorded in the Gospels ever happened. He believes they came to be written solely to make a point. This reminds me of the story of the atheist and the priest.
There was an atheist who continually harassed the local priest. His one pleasure in life seemed to be making the priest appear intellectually inadequate, but, to his credit, the priest seemed to bear these challenges well. One day the atheist started heckling the priest about his views on miracles. “Give me one concrete example of a miracle,” taunted the atheist. “Just one concrete example.” Whereupon the priest hauled off and kicked the atheist’s shin as hard as he could. The atheist crumbed to the ground in disbelief. The priest asked, “Did you feel that?” “Yes.” “If you had not,” said the priest, “it would have been a miracle!”
As much as I love my friend, he is absolutely wrong. He is confusing the intention of the author with the reality of what happened.
When one reads Saint Luke’s Gospel, it is clear that Saint Luke is documenting for his friend Theophilos what has happened. He is writing in order to reach the gentile population. Saint Matthew is clearly writing to reach the Hebrew population and therefore often quotes the scriptural passages being fulfilled by Christ. Similarly, Saint John is writing to prove the divinity of Christ and uses many mystical allusions.
However, none of this means that what is written is untrue. It just means that these authors have selected what they think is important to prove their point. This is something we all do at one time or another. Thus, whereas Saint Mark records that Jesus miraculously fed multitudes twice, Saint John only records it once. But, this does NOT mean anything is made up or invented. It just means that the actual events selected are compiled to present a true image while making the point which the author intends to convey to the reader.
Therefore, in Saint John’s account of the marriage in Cana, we see many allusions that both the Western and Eastern Catholic Churches have interpreted allegorically. And these allusions are important for all of us to notice, note, and understand.
The first point we should note is that the miracle at Cana occurred on the third day. This point is made by all the Catholic Churches. The fact that the wedding occurred on the third day acknowledges Christ’s own resurrection on the third day after His execution. The Eastern Orthodox Church sees this as showing that the marriage of God and His Church is fulfilled in Christ’s Resurrection.
But this interpretation does not mean that the fact that this wedding occurred on the third day is made up. We know that it DID occur on the third day because of the presence of the stone jars holding water for ritual washing. These would only be needed on the third or seventh day as mandated by Numbers, Chapter 19, Verses 11 through 22.
The Mosaic Law stipulated that any Israelite defiled by contact with the dead must be purified with water on the “third day” and then again on the seventh. This explains why there were so many jars of water at the wedding. Curiously, according to Saint John, it also occurred on the seventh day of Jesus’ opening week of ministry.
The second point worth noting is that the miracle at Cana was the first of seven miracles recorded by Saint John in his Gospel. These, according to Saint John, are the seven “signs” before Jesus’ redemptive death, proving Christ’s divinity and His claim to be the Messiah. Seven is the number signifying perfection. It also harkens to the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, which is our Epistle lesson for today.
The third point is that both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches see Jesus’ mother’s role in this miracle as proof of the Blessed Virgin’s future role as intercessor. They would say, just like Christ listened to His mother here, on earth, He will also listen to her now in Heaven.
The fourth point is contained in the miracle at the wedding in Cana itself. We are told that there were six stone jars holding over 120 gallons of water. The fact that there are six, not seven jars of water, the Roman Catholics also find curious. They point to the fact that having only six jars alludes to the imperfection of the Law. The Law is unable to and incapable of ever truly purifying. Only through the blood of Christ are we truly absolved. And, as we all can see, the water turning into wine is a sign of this great truth.
However, as interesting as all these allusions are, what strikes me is the fact that this abundance of water is transformed into an abundance of high-quality wine. This is an allusion well worth noting because it exemplifies the love of God.
In our faith, we often refer to Christ as the Bridegroom and His Holy Church as His bride. This means that the abundance of wine at the wedding in Cana demonstrates the abundance of grace and blessings bestowed on those whom God loves, especially those who make up His bride. And we see this same allusion in many of the Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah, Joel, and Amos. It also signifies the joys of marital love – the love WE experience when we accept Christ as our Saviour and become part of His bride, the Church.
This miracle, like all the miracles in the Gospels, is important on so many levels. It confirms Jesus as God-incarnate; it confirms God’s nature as a loving and caring God, even in small matters. But miracles make some people feel very uncomfortable.
Like my friend, there are those who claim to believe in God but are ashamed and embarrassed by these miracles. As a result, these people try very hard to explain these miracles away. But, miracles are important. And they are not as rare as others would lead us to believe. Miracles are important because they show how much God loves us.
The most baffling miracle for me is not the feeding of the multitude, nor is it the parting of the Red Sea. It isn’t even the Miracle at Cana. No, to me the greatest and most baffling miracle is that God answers our prayers.
Think about it. God loves us so much that He is concerned with the most mundane aspects of our lives. He is willing to intervene and interfere with the course of history to make our lives better. And yet, while answering our individual prayers, God still maintains a master plan for all of mankind. Our government can’t even systematically enact a general plan without unforeseen ramifications, and yet God can plan the entire history of the planet while making sure our prayers are answered.
And this is precisely the significance of the Miracle at Cana:
And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, “They have no wine.” Jesus saith unto her, “Woman, what have I to do with thee? my hour is not yet come.” His mother saith unto the servants, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”
Here the Blessed Virgin is asking her Son to perform a miracle to avoid an embarrassing situation for the bride and groom – and Jesus does it! Although Christ knows it’s not His time yet, He is willing to create wine to help the bride and groom. In other words, Christ CARES. He cares so much that He is willing to act in what seems to be a very trivial matter.
We as Anglicans believe that God came into the world in human form. He was made man in the person of Joshua ben Joseph, also better known by his Greek name, Jesus. If we do not believe in miracles, we do not believe that God enters into time to effect change. I’m sure you see the domino effect this has. Soon Jesus becomes just a really nice man with a neat philosophy for living, and not the Christ, God incarnate, who redeemed us all.
Miracles are the manifestation of God’s love for us. For those who do not believe, miracles may be invisible, but for us who DO believe, they are as real as the sun rising in the east. Miracles may be as personal and mundane as answering our prayers for a sunny day or a parking spot, or as significant and earth shattering as God’s incarnation and saving sacrifice. But no matter what form they may take, they are proof positive of God’s all-encompassing love for us.
God loves us so much that it is likened to a marriage. We are called to the wedding banquet. We are all His bride through His Holy Church. And just like a marriage, once we are joined to Christ through Baptism, our life changes. We find the abundance of joy, but we also find the challenges – our need to change; our need to show our love; and our need to withstand what life puts in our way. Yet, we can withstand all these challenges IF we remember the love that we experience with God.