Sermon given at the Sung Eucharist on the Second Sunday of Epiphany 2022
Through Cana, we can see the fullness of life Christ came to bring.
The Reverend Dr James Hawkey Canon Theologian and Almoner
Sunday, 16th January 2022 at 11.15 AM
In the beautiful Italian hill town of Spoleto, the main piazza sweeps down towards the Duomo – the Cathedral. This is not only a place of astonishing natural beauty, but also of many artistic treasures. Since 1958, the façade of the Duomo has been the backdrop to the annual Spoleto Festival, founded by the conductor and composer Gian Carlo Menotti. Just to the left of the Duomo is a comparatively tiny oratory of Santa Maria della Manna d'Oro, which now houses what was the Cathedral’s large renaissance baptismal font. Like many fonts of this period and style the bowl is covered with a lockable canopy, and the water only accessible through one of the canopy’s eight panels. Each panel portrays a scene from the life of Christ carved in stone. The cover is octagonal—eight-sided—perhaps alluding to the so-called ‘eighth day’ of creation. In baptism, we become fellow-heirs with Christ, natives of eternity, and the eighth day represents this endless richness of life in Christ which is shared with us in deeply gratuitous ways, and communicated through many different stories in the Gospel. The scene depicted on the door of the font in Spoleto is the Wedding at Cana. That is the image chosen for the decorative and catechetical scheme which surrounds our access to the baptismal waters. Through Cana, we can see the fullness of life Christ came to bring.
The Spoleto font makes reference to the ‘eighth day’ of creation, that eternal miracle of salvation which is life in Christ, victorious over death. The Cana story begins with another reference to time. We are told that the wedding occurs on the third day, which is a reference to the Day of Resurrection. “On the third day, there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee.” John’s is the Paschal Gospel, and this opening sentence is supposed to act as a flash of light. This is John’s way of alerting us to the fundamental importance of this scene. We are told that Cana is the first of Jesus’s signs that awakens faith in the disciples: it is, for them, a scene of conversion. Even Mary, who seems to be there in her own right at the beginning of the story, ultimately leaves the scene along with the disciples (that verse comes immediately after the text we heard this morning). This is the Good News of Easter in miniature. It is New Creation, and this story is shot through with little details which alert us to what is really going on. Mary, is a key figure in the drama. In our English translation it seems as if Jesus is speaking to his mother rather harshly. “Woman!” If I said that to my mother, I’ll leave you to guess what the response might be. But this is a telling detail—the word used by St John here is the same Greek word as that used for Eve in the Garden of Eden. Mary, the New Eve, encourages the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them. Here there is a thorough healing of the disobedience of the Fall as Mary simply tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them. And the result? The water that has become wine is not just fuel for the party—it is the best wine, because the whole of creation looks different in the presence of Jesus Christ. The real wedding here is between Heaven and Earth. The ordinary now extraordinary. The ultimate in the penultimate. We are traversing the edges of time and space.
Traditionally, the Wedding at Cana is the third event associated with the Epiphany, the others being the visit of the magi, and the baptism of Jesus. Our orthodox brothers and sisters in the Christian East refer to this one great unified feast as Theophany—the celebration of the revelation of God’s glory. Cana, new creation; Baptism, the revelation of Christ as the Only Begotten Son; the visit of the Magi, the homage of the pagan world at the feet of the Jewish messiah. Each of these stories opens up a profound change in the way the world will now work, a shift in what the world thinks of as its fundamental mechanisms. Another very unusual stone carving in the Burgundian Cathedral of Auton, in France, several centuries older than the Spoleto font, depicts the moment in the story of the Magi when the Angel wakes them from sleep. It’s a deeply touching image: three kings, wearing their crowns, tucked up in a bed. It appears that at any second, the angel might whip away the cover. But this is not just a duvet. It relates to another image. This is the angel folding up time, wrapping up the world: you see versions of this in some pictures of the Last Judgement, where angelic messengers (sometimes with trumpets) are at the edge of the painting folding it in. Epiphany, Baptism, Cana—we are entering new territory. This is the messianic age and time itself—and time’s limitations—have changed. We have now seen what creation has been longing for.
What might this mean in the light of Cana? Perhaps the first thing for us to note, is that at Cana, the disciples are onlookers. But after Cana, they are faithful witnesses to the glory they have seen. Sometimes, our vision of God is too limited, and we underestimate the sheer resources of the Christian faith. God does not need our merchandising; we are not salespeople of a product. But we are witnesses to God-With-Us and God-For-Us: to the story of a love stronger than death, and of this power known now through faith in Jesus’s perfect human life, which we are invited to share. Despite the very real pain and confusion of the world, our vocation is point to a fuller, final story about the world itself which is so real and so all-encompassing, we call it a Kingdom. The Cana story tells us about quantity and quality. There is grace enough for thousands of new worlds as great as this, as the hymn puts it, there is room for fresh creations, in that upper home of bliss. God’s reconciling love is endless, inexhaustible, and abundantly rich, and we sense that every time forgiveness becomes possible in situations of conflict, every time we proclaim the victory of life in the face of death, and every time that we point to the fundamental dignity or beauty of the human being and the created world. How often the Church has presented the Good News as something rather less than that. William Blake, in his poem The Garden of Love, put it rather devastatingly, “Priests in black gowns were doing their rounds, and binding with briars my joys and desires.” The Epiphany season directs us towards the sheer blazing abundance of God’s love in Christ which will ultimately heal the whole of creation. This is a season to revive our hope, and our commitment to proclaim and share this Kingdom of abundant life.
On that font, the story of Cana is chiselled to illustrate our way into renewed and refreshed discipleship. Each time we recommit in our hearts and minds to Christ, and to the Christian faith, let us ask ourselves—is this hope rich enough? Is this faith generous enough? Is this message transformative enough? And the voice of the spirit, within the Church, bubbling up in our hearts, may say, there is still yet more.