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.”
“Epiphany” means manifestation or shining forth, and the Gospel lessons for the Epiphany season reveal manifestations of some aspect of the divine life as shown forth in Christ, while the corresponding Epistle lesson teaches how that particular revelation is also to be manifested in our lives as Christians. As Jesus has manifested Himself to us and given us His light and life, so we need to manifest His light to the world around us, and draw others to Him. Last Sunday’s Gospel revealed Christ as the Wisdom of God in the midst of the Temple, while the 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) that, as Christ has offered Himself as a sacrifice for us, we ought also to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. Today’s Epistle picks up where last Sunday’s left off, as St Paul further instructs 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 those around us, following the example as set for us by Jesus in the Gospel.
In today’s Gospel, Our Lord has come up from the River Jordan; He has fasted and been tested in the desert; He has called His first disciples; and now, on the third day of His public ministry, He is at a wedding in Cana, a small village near Nazareth. St Faustus of Riez writes: “This wedding is prayer and joy over man’s salvation. It is celebrated on the third day, according to the mystical meaning of that number, either by professing faith in the Trinity or through faith that comes from the resurrection … And so ‘like a bridegroom he comes forth from his bridechamber’ to the earth in order to be espoused to the Church to be gathered from all people, having taken flesh upon himself—the Church to whom he gave both a dowry and earnest money: earnest money when God was joined to man; dowry when he was sacrificed for the salvation of man.”
A marriage: a time of rejoicing, of anticipation and hope. Wedding celebrations at that time (and in many cultures even to this day) lasted a whole week, and the entire village was invited. One of the couple must have been a family friend or relative, since Our Lord is there, with His Mother, along with His disciples. The worst possible thing that could occur at such an event, especially for the groom and his family who were responsible for the hospitality, would be to run short of food or drink. While guests may be gracious enough to bring some contribution, nevertheless, at this wedding, in a world where wine is a sign of life and hope and celebration, the unthinkable happened—the wine ran out. This would have brought great disgrace upon the couple and their families, and for the rest of their lives that bride and groom would remember: “We ran out of wine at our wedding!” and the whole village would remember, too. Our Lady brings this dire situation to her Son’s attention. She comes to Him and whispers: “They have no wine.”
But Jesus whispers back, “Why should that concerns us?” Now some people might misunderstand this response. He did not reply in this way out of disrespect, or because He didn’t care, but for quite another reason, and to those of us who know the Gospel story, it is the next phrase that ought to send chills down our spine: “My hour has not yet come.” This sentence will be repeated six more times in John’s Gospel, each one rising in dramatic import until the last one leads to His death—“My hour is now come,” when He is about to be “glorified” upon the cross. But for this moment, “It is not my time yet, it is not the day when I will give myself in love for the whole world. I will be married to my Church, not at a feast, but on a cross; and when I am kissed, it will be by my betrayer. 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, and that His Mother was asking Him to perform a miracle, but He also believed that to do so would be ostentatious and premature. But Mary knew enough about her divine Son to know that He would do something. She immediately went to the servants and said, “Do whatever He tells you.”
This is where Jesus does something rather unexpected. He leaves the party and goes out into the courtyard, where were six large clay jars, each with a capacity of about 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!
Christ “manifested his glory,” the Gospel says. Unlike the other Gospel writers, John recounts only seven miracle stories, and he has selected them very carefully. And rather than calling them miracles, John calls them “signs.” There is an important difference. A sign means something, points to something. 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. 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. He says that he records these signs so that his readers might believe that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of God. So why did he choose to include this story, and at the very beginning of his Gospel account? There must be more in this story – a deeper meaning. And who was the sign for? After all, only the servants knew about it. But then John says, “and his disciples believed in him.” So perhaps the sign is for us – His servants, His disciples – that we too may believe in Him. St Faustus continues: “And so to those who saw, these things were miracles, to those who understand, sacraments. For if we carefully consider, there is a certain way in which in the waters themselves a likeness to baptism and regeneration is manifested. For when one thing is being effectually changed into another within itself, where the lowlier created thing is transformed by a secret conversion into a nobler kind, the mystery of the second birth is enacted. The waters are suddenly changed later to change men.”
If we were to see this as only a miracle for the moment, like a magic trick, we would miss the sign, for this flow of wine at the beginning of Our Lord’s ministry is even now pointing to its end, to the hour of His true glory. If we think, as many sermons will doubtless express today, that this miracle is simply to assuage the thirst of the crowd, that Jesus was a “party boy” who liked His wine and merry-making, we miss the point: and what will we then think when we see Him hanging on a cross and crying out, “I thirst”? At that time, He will be given cheap, poor-quality, sour wine. But even now, at the very beginning of His ministry, we catch a glimpse of the future when His hour would come—when the Son of Man will be glorified: the time when He will pour out His life for the world, when blood and water will flow from His side and the world will be flooded with the wine of His eternal grace. As He turns the water into wine, it is a sign that His death will bring life, will bring joy, peace and fulfilment; grace flowing wider than the oceans, deeper than the seas; love which brings the dead to life. In six stone jars of water turned to wine we catch a glimpse of His glory – not unlike what we see on our Altar as wine becomes His saving Blood, a miracle of grace, a gift of His eternal life poured into our lives, that whoever eats His Flesh and drinks His Blood will live forever. Those six stone jars keep multiplying until all the guests are filled, for at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, no one will lack for any good thing.
Our Lord’s miracles are always signs, and in this case, even the occasion itself is a sign. In Jewish thought, the coming of the Kingdom of God was often portrayed as a great wedding feast, as in the Lesson from Isaiah. So this feast is a sign of the marriage between God and the soul, “the mystical union betwixt Christ and his Church.” At this wedding feast, Jesus changes water into wine, and that miracle too is a sign: a sign of God’s power to transform creation. Thus, John wants us to know that just as the wine that Jesus created was superior to the previously served wine, so the provision for our salvation that came with Christ’s entry into our world is far superior to the previous provision under the Mosaic Law. In fact, just a chapter earlier, John says expressly: “The law indeed was given through Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” So John is not only recording an actual event from the life of Jesus, but also using it to convey the message that, in Christ, God has done a far greater thing than had ever been done before; saving His best for last in sending Jesus to be our Saviour. As St Faustus puts it: “Therefore when Christ was active in Galilee wine is produced, that is, the law gave way, grace succeeded: the shadow is removed, the truth is demonstrated, the fleshly things are compared with the spiritual: the ancient observances are changed to the New Testament; as the blessed Apostle says: ‘Old things have passed away, and behold they are made new,’ and just as the waters which are contained in the pitchers lose nothing of their being, and now begin to be what they were not, so the law does not perish when made manifest through the coming of Christ, but it flourishes. When therefore the wine fails, other wine is supplied. A good wine indeed is that of the Old Testament, but that of the New is better: the Old Testament which the Jews observe vanishes away in the letter: the New Testament which applies to us gives back in grace the savour of life.”
This miracle is the sign that, when we are in union with Christ, our life is 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’s changing of our water into wine.
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, but into top quality wine. And He didn’t just make a bottle or two, but six hundred litres—more than enough to keep the festivities 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! [XLII. from Sermons for the Christian Year, Vol II.]
We are like those stone jars. Our lives are cold and empty, even though we have tried again and again to fill them. We promise ourselves we are going to do better, be better, find purpose in life. We fill them over and over with water, and all we get is water, and even that runs out, and we find ourselves still as empty as those cold stone jars, used to make clean, yet never staying clean, so we are endlessly seeking something to fill our lives and render them meaningful. This sign, as recorded by St John, tells us clearly: God cares. And He alone can fill the emptiness of our lives. He cares enough to come to us and nourish us with the only food that will satisfy and give us life.
Our Lady told the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” Here is a word from Mary for you and me this day: Whoever you are, whatever you may be going through, whatever in your life has run out, “Do whatever He tells you.” Believe in Him, and fill the emptiness in your soul. Trust Him, and move from scarcity to abundance. Just as the steward of the feast was amazed when he tasted the water-made-wine, and just as the disciples saw and believed, so now Christ manifests His glory for you and me. Out of that plain water, out of the run-out hopes, the failed plans, the shame and embarrassment, come gallons and gallons of the very best wine—overflowing joy drowning heartache; the ordinary transformed into the extraordinary. He is the fulfilment of what we truly lack, and we find peace, meaning, and real life, only in Him. It is not wine for which we thirst in this life, but for something far deeper—for God Himself, to see His grace at work in our hearts, bringing us joy, giving us life, making us new, transforming us into something more.
Today’s readings show us the work of God’s transforming love in our lives. Although we cannot by ourselves measure up to God’s standards of holiness, Christ meets them, suffers the consequences of our attempts and failures, dies to pay for our sin and foolishness in trying to do our own thing, and declares that He loves us still. As the disciples saw this sign and believed, may we also believe in Him, see His glory, His care and love for each of us. 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, and He provides over and above what we could possibly need. 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 ever produce on our own.
“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.