(sermon for Sunday 24th January 2021, 3rd Sunday of Epiphany)
A few weeks ago I wrote a piece on my blog about the voice of women in Advent, and the unexpected silence of men. I found it profound, and wondered that I had never seen it before, despite years of study.
The impact of that has stayed with me. And reading today’s gospel of Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine, what strikes me today is not the overwhelming generosity of God in this act. Instead, it is the fact that Jesus is led and guided by Mary. Without her, looking at the text as we have it, it seems he would not have acted. Even when she asks him, he says it’s not his “time”. It’s as if she has more faith in him than he has in himself!
I wonder, if I asked a non-church goer, someone with mostly a passing acquaintance with the gospel stories, what would that person pick out as key moments in Jesus’ life and ministry.
His birth. Turning water into wine? Raising Lazarus maybe? Feeding the five thousand probably. The Good Samaritan story. His death and resurrection. Of those six that come to mind at once, four have women as key participants, not merely witnesses.
Mary is there at his birth – obviously! Less obviously she is the one who is there as he is brought down from the cross for burial. With her at this point is another Mary – Magdalen – who figures prominently in his life. And it is she who is the first witness to his resurrection, the one chosen to go and tell all the men, hiding behind closed doors, that Jesus is risen.
And Mary, his mother, is there at this wedding in Cana, when the wine runs out. It is Mary who sees and understands the situation for all present. The embarrassment for the hosting family. The disruption that will ensue to the celebrations. The negative gossip that will continue for years after, when people laugh and talk about what happened at “that wedding” – because people are people, and gossip is hardly a modern pestilence.
And she knows that Jesus can do something about this, if he chooses. So she encourages him. She shows her complete and utter faith in him. Perhaps her faith and confidence in him at this moment is greater than his faith and confidence in himself! I wonder.
Why does this matter?
Well, something about this makes me think about how the prevailing narrative can be turned upside down and new possibilities can be seen. And that very often the ones who see these new possibilities are the unexpected ones who are often marginalised and overlooked, as women were in those times. Arguably, not a whole lot has changed. But that’s another discussion!
At this present time, I think that seeing things with fresh eyes, seeing possibility instead of just accepting impending disaster, is so important. And Mary does this. Repeatedly – not just here, though this is the story we will focus on today.
Epiphany season is about revelation. About things coming to light and being seen for what they truly are. At Cana, Jesus is seen as more than merely the carpenter’s son from Nazareth. He is one who can transform reality.
But he also says to his followers, all that I can do, you also can do – and more.
How might we change and transform our personal and collective realities into one redolent of God’s abundance and joy and love? From an accepted scarcity and fear (let’s be honest, that’s how most folk live and see the world) into overflowing excess, far beyond mere sufficiency.
For that is the transformation that Jesus effects here at Cana.
And on the cross – he does not come down. That would be too small a thing. If he did that, he would be simply called a magician and miracle worker.
No. He waits, until all is completed. Until the seeming ending. And then he rises into a new life cycle. A new kind of life. One without limits. Much like the wine that flowed at that wedding. Far richer, better quality, and exceeding in quantity anything that could have been reasonably asked for.
There’s one last thing – that wine didn’t come in heaven. Jesus didn’t wait for total disaster and the end of the party. He helped at the point of need, in the moment, now. So that the party could go on, and life could continue for all the others.
As we come into a time of change, reset and rebuilding, as we look to what life might look like on the other side of covid lockdowns, what transformation do we want to see? Let us pray, and let us make it happen. Have faith, as Mary did. And ask God (with our help – after all, Jesus asked the servants at the feast to fill the water jars) – ask God to make it so.
Peace & blessings,