Sermon at the Sung Eucharist on the Third Sunday of Epiphany 2019
In the Gospels we find lots of references to wedding feasts.
The Venerable David Stanton Sub-Dean, Canon Treasurer, and Archdeacon of Westminster
Sunday, 20th January 2019 at 11.15 AM
In the Gospels we find lots of references to wedding feasts. The story of wise and foolish virgins, the story of the king who gave a wedding feast and no one came, and the story of the guest who turns up but is thrown out for not wearing the correct clothes.
But that’s not all! we also have both the story of the master who turns up to find his servants ready, or not, and the story of the guests who choose the highest or the lowest place to sit at the wedding feast.
Outside the Gospels, we also find in the book of Revelation that heaven itself is described as a wedding feast of the Lamb and the ultimate union of Christ and his Church.
Our gospel reading today comes from St John. This Gospel is a little different, for here he refers to Jesus' miracles as signs, because he doesn't see them as mere supernatural feats, but rather as significant acts. They reveal his glory, and therefore what he has come to do.
So the first of the signs, the very first thing Jesus does as he embarks on his divine ministry, ought to be rather revealing. Here the miracle at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee is not only unique to St John, it is in many ways an altogether unusual miracle, indeed more like a parable.
In fact this whole Gospel is rather like a treasure hunt, full of cryptic clues and this story of the wedding at Cana is just the first clue, the first sign.
Here we have a story that is all about transformation (John 2.1-11). On the surface it seems to be all about water changing into wine but at a deeper level it speaks to us about the transformation of human lives as they attempt to follow Christ.
On one level this wedding feast at Cana hints at the heavenly banquet prepared for all who follow Christ as promised in the book of Revelation and revealed afresh to us through the holy mystery of the Eucharist.
On another, more earthy, practical level it hints about the hard process of having to let go of things in order to be continually transformed into the way of Christ. This wonderful possibility of inner change, of transformation of our lives and indeed of society, requires us to let go in order to receive from God, all that He offers.
The Gospels challenge us to not only be people who let go distinctively and decisively, but also to be people who help others come into the new life that God offers. So we come to see that the spiritual life is all about continued change, transformation and growth.
Here I would like to emphasise that serious spiritual transformation and growth, isn’t all about being terribly solemn and deadly serious all the time. This great account of the wedding at Cana teaches us that drinking wine is not such a bad metaphor for the joy of the gospel.
Spirituality should not be something tense or introverted or self-preoccupied, but rather joyous and expansive. In this sense, wine isn’t such a bad image of the goodness and exuberance of life.
Just as St Catherine of Sienna often uses drunkenness as a metaphor for being caught up in the joy of God, so Jesus’s own celebrations were not just festive occasions they expressed his real delight in, and love of people.
In many ways the church is where we gather together to enjoy God’s joy and hospitality. But first and foremost this is about us being continually transformed. We are not just called to follow Christ, but to be Christ-like.
Secondly we believe that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Psalm 111.10) and that because we take spirituality seriously we will always want to help transform the world closer to God’s image. We do this because we fervently believe that all knowledge and joy and love comes directly from God.
Such formation in the Christian way is not just learning about God, but learning from God. It’s good to remember that when it came to a demonstration of who the kingdom of God belonged to, Jesus pointed to a child, and he continually reminds us that the greatest in the kingdom must be least of all and servant of all.
Indeed Jesus is himself the good wine and his many references to wedding feasts reminds us not only about the importance of commitment, but the centrality of change, growth and development.
I finish by saying that transformative change and growth in the knowledge and love of God isn’t always joyful and pleasurable, like a fruitful marriage or an excellent glass of wine.
Much of it is about letting go of things demanding consistency and tenacity, for in our growing relationship with God there will always be times of difficulty and struggling change.
We all experience doubts and frustrations, disappointments and aridity. In many ways it has to be so, for we have to change from just seeking God’s help and comfort to searching for Him alone, and this often comes without reward or joy if that is his Will.
If our love for God is to become authentic, then faith must be continually purified and transformed and that will inevitably involve a decreasing dependence on human things and a more deliberate leaning on God alone.
Deep down we all know that faith is purified and transformed when it is tried. It triumphs when we pray, and it rejoices when we come in faith to receive the very body and blood of Christ at the Altar. This is the true wedding feast of the Lamb, the ultimate union of Christ and his Church.