EPIPHANY II – Omnis terra
Introit: (Ps. 66) All the earth shall worship thee, O God, and sing of thee: they shall sing praise unto thy Name, O thou Most Highest. Ps. O be joyful in God, all ye lands, sing praises unto the honour of his Name: make his praise to be glorious. Glory be … All the world …
Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, who dost govern all things in heaven and earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of thy people, and grant us thy peace all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
OT Lesson: O Lord, thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall. Thou shalt bring down the noise of strangers, as the heat in a dry place; even the heat with the shadow of a cloud: the branch of the terrible ones shall be brought low. And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it. And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation. (Isaiah 25.4-9)
Gradual: (Ps. 107) The Lord sent his Word and healed them: and they were saved from their destruction. V. O that men would therefore praise the Lord for his goodness: and declare the wonders that he doeth for the children of men.
Epistle: Brethren: Having gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another: not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one towards another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. (Romans 12.6-16)
Alleluia. For he satisfieth the empty soul: and filleth the hungry soul with goodness. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: There was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: and both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, O Woman, what is that to thee and to me? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six water-pots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the water-pots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was, (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, and saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him. (St John 2.1-11)
“This beginning of signs did Jesus … and manifested forth his glory.”
The Gospel lessons for the Epiphany season reveal to us manifestations of some aspect of the divine life. The corresponding Epistle lesson then reveals how that particular manifestation of God has also a manifestation in our life as Christians. The divine life shines forth in Christ in order that we might be partakers of it. That is to say, we are to be epiphanies. Last Sunday’s Gospel, for instance, spoke to us of Christ as revealing the Wisdom of God in the midst of the Temple. Even at twelve years old, Jesus knew His duty to be obedient and submissive, not only to His earthly parents, but also to His heavenly Father, and was wholly devoted to knowing, loving, and serving God. The corresponding Epistle urged upon us the showing forth of that wisdom in our life in the Church: “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12.2) Then St Paul taught us that, as Christ has offered Himself as a sacrifice for us, we ought also to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. So these Sundays after Epiphany are a reminder that, just as Jesus has manifested Himself to us and given us His light and life, so we need to manifest His light and His new life to the world around us, and draw others to Him. Today’s Epistle thus picks up where last Sunday’s left off, as St Paul now shows us that being a living sacrifice involves not only a vertical relationship with God, but also has a horizontal dimension, as we respond to the needs of our brothers and sisters and the world around us, following the example set for us by Jesus. Do people see Christ in you? That’s a question that each of us needs to be asking if we call ourselves Christians.
Today’s Gospel relates Christ’s first miracle, or the “beginning of signs,” as St John calls it. This terminology is significant. St John records this as the first of seven specific signs that Jesus gave—signs that manifested His divinity, His glory, and His position as Messiah, and notes that when the disciples saw these signs, they believed. These were not just parlour tricks performed to entertain and mystify; Our Lord’s miracles pointed to some deeper significance beyond themselves or the immediate circumstances. His miracles are always signs, and in this case, even the occasion itself is a sign—a sign of the marriage between God and the soul, “the mystical union betwixt Christ and his Church.” At that wedding feast, Jesus changes water into wine, and that miracle too is a sign: a sign of God’s power to transform creation. It is the sign that, when we are in union with Christ, our life is to be changed; it is the sign of God’s power to give us new life in His Spirit. And it is in that context, and with that understanding, that today’s Epistle should be read. St Paul begins by reminding us of our gifts. Perhaps, to some of us, it seems that we have no gifts, or that our gifts do not amount to much. As our blessed Lady says, “They have no wine.” But, St Paul says, through God’s grace we do have gifts—manifold and differing; and by His power, our water is changed into wine. This is the Epiphany of God in us. St Paul urges us to use those gifts with honesty and modesty, “fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope: patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.” What he speaks of is really a recreated, transformed life: God changing our water into wine.
St John tells us that a few days after His baptism, Jesus and His disciples went with His blessed mother, Mary, to a wedding in Cana, a small village near Nazareth. Now, consider how important a wedding reception is in our own culture. Well, in Middle-Eastern culture it even more momentous. Traditionally, the celebration continues for a whole week, with all the festivities kicked off in a huge banquet. The worst possible thing that could happen, especially for the groom and his family, who were responsible for the party arrangements, would be to run short of food or drink. This would bring great disgrace upon the family which they might well never live down. So they were all enjoying themselves at this wedding, when Mary comes and whispers to Jesus, “They’ve run out of wine.” Jesus whispers back, “Why are you telling me this?” Now at this point, some people might get the wrong idea. Jesus didn’t respond in this way out of disrespect, or because He disapproved of the festivities. His reason, as He says, was: “My hour has not yet come.” Jesus knew that running out of wine in the middle of the celebration was something this poor couple would never live down. He also knew that Mary was asking Him to perform a miracle, and He thought that to do so would be ostentatious and premature. Yet Mary still had faith in her divine Son. She immediately went to the servants, pointed to Jesus, and said, “Do whatever He tells you.” And this is where Jesus does something rather unexpected. He leaves the party (if only for a short time). Out in the courtyard were six large clay jars, each with a capacity of between twenty and thirty gallons, used to hold water for ritual purification. He beckons to the servants and tells them to fill the jars with water. They were probably a bit bewildered, but they did what He said and filled them “to the brim.” Then, even more bewildering, He tells one of the servants to draw some out and take it to the steward of the feast. Imagine the surprise when he dipped out some of the water and saw it turn red before his very eyes! Then, when the steward tasted it, he called over the groom, probably thinking a mistake had been made, because as he says, everyone always serves the best wine first, and then after everyone has had plenty to drink, they bring out the cheaper stuff. But this was even better than the first wine they had served!
This story tells us something significant about Jesus and His character. He was sympathetic to the problems of the people around Him. We see this throughout the Gospels, as He heals the sick and even brings the dead back to life, but this is the first of His miracles, and in comparison, is something so small, and only the servants really knew that it had taken place at all. The only thing at stake was a party and a groom’s reputation. Yet even in meeting such a mundane need, Our Lord is not stingy. He didn’t turn the water into cheap plonk; it was top quality wine. And He didn’t just make a bottle or two, but six hundred litres—more than enough to keep the party going to the end, and to save the couple’s reputation. This too is a sign: Christ came not to take us away from our day-to-day lives, but to sanctify our lives and to fill them with His grace, even as He restores our fellowship with God. By His Incarnation, Jesus sanctified human life, and through His humanity He makes it possible for us to be living sacrifices—to offer our lives as acts of worship to God. And we see this signified as He sanctifies this wedding feast. Yes, Jesus is there to help people in their times of sin, sickness, and sorrow, in the big and important and serious situations, but today’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus was there with people in the joyful times, as well, and that He encouraged them in their celebration and sanctified their joy.
That is the life St Paul encourages us to live, reminding us that, as Christians, our attitude toward others is rooted in the grace of God. Christ brings together all sorts of different people with diverse backgrounds and various gifts and abilities into His Church. Moreover, Paul says, Christian love is selfless. Love is patient, hospitable, and desires to meet others in their need. Love returns cursing with blessing, rejoices with those who rejoice, and weeps with those who weep. Love puts others first, and the result is harmony. We see all these things in the example of Jesus. He wept at the grave of Lazarus, weeping with those who weep. In today’s Gospel we see Him rejoicing with those who rejoice, even sanctifying their joy and celebration by miraculously providing for them so that they might continue in it. And finally, He humbled Himself to become one of us, even to the point of dying for our sins, in order that we might be restored and reconciled to God.
In order to manifest the light of Christ to the world, we need joy—the joy of Christ-in-us. And what Jesus did at Cana is a sign—a foreshadowing—of all His saving work as Messiah. On that final Day He will banish all our sorrows and wipe away all our tears, and the water of sorrow will be turned into the wine of joy at the great marriage supper of the Lamb. Christ has manifested His light to us. We need to manifest His light to a dark world. We do this not only as we love each other, but as we meet the needs of the people around us—even in small and seemingly mundane ways. Today’s Gospel reminds us that nothing was too small or too menial for Jesus. True love for God spills out and overflows, and manifests Christ to the world.
Blessed John Keble wrote:
When we think of this marriage feast in Cana, let it put us in mind that Jesus Christ is in our feasts, is with us wherever we are, and in all that we do, turning our water into wine, our earth into heaven, if we prevent Him not by our sins. ‘Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it:’ those were the words which His Mother spake unto the servants, and if they had not obeyed her voice, it does not seem as if the miracle would have been wrought. Never let us forget that our Christian privileges and blessings depend on the same condition. It depends on our sincerely trying to do whatever Christ hath said unto us, whether our blessings shall be blessings indeed, or that happen which sounds so fearful in the Prophet; ‘I will curse your blessings: yea I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart.’ [Mal. 2:2] Alas, how sad it is to think how many of God’s best gifts to men are daily and hourly thrown away by our sins, and falling under this fearful sentence: how many marriages, how many feasts, nay how many solemn meetings and aweful Sacraments are turned from tokens of God’s favour into judgements and occasions of falling, because Christ’s servants will not even purpose and try to do whatever He saith unto them, and so make them blessings indeed! [Sermon XLII. from Sermons for the Christian Year, Volume II.]
Today’s readings show the work of God’s transforming love in our lives. Perhaps it seems that we have no wine. But as the Collect reminds us, it is God who governs all things in heaven and earth. Transformation begins when we exercise our faith, and take the first step of obedience. This is the water that Christ takes and transforms into wine. And the wine that He produces is much better than anything we could produce on our own, and far superior to what was there in the first place.
“Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”
Collect: O Heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray thee so to guide and govern us by thy Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our daily life we may never forget thee, but remember that we are ever walking in thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
And may the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord: and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.