The wedding at Cana
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
My father was a Presbyterian minister on Long Island, New York, and so I grew up attending church. And at every single service, everybody prayed.
This led me to ask my mom one of those impossible questions that kids come up with. My crazy question was: how many prayers has Jesus received down the centuries? Not surprisingly, my mom said she had no idea.
Well, I never have found out how many prayers in total Jesus has received, but when I came to this reading this morning, I suddenly realised that the story of the Wedding at Cana is very special.
For it takes us back to the very first-ever prayer made to Jesus. And there are some really lovely things about this simple story, and also some surprising ones.
The story, of course, comes in chapter 2 of John’s Gospel, and when you think about where it comes in the gospel, it is quite astonishing. For chapter 1 of John’s Gospel could not be more different. It is sublime – John has just written one of most magnificent descriptions of Jesus in the Bible:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through him all things were made…
What an opening scenario! The majesty of the creator of the universe in the dawn of time. John goes on:
…the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. To all who received him, he gave the right to become the children of God…
This is all high Christology, soteriology, – all the ologies you can think of. From the towering majesty of this, the next chapter could not be more different. For having introduced Jesus in all his glory and grace, where does John set him in chapter 2?
Jesus who made the universe is attending a wedding in a small town in a back water of the Roman empire. And the people around him are not asking him to save them from their sins. No, instead, his mother tells him that the wine has run out. It’s sort of like a film where superman flies in from outer space to rescue the earth, and then helps out with coffees at a Saturday morning bake sale.
I mean – why would you? Why not describe Jesus as doing something more important? So why did John not think this was odd?
Let’s look again at chapter 2.
There is a wedding, and Mary knew at least one of the families involved, because she and her family had been invited along for the feast.
The party has begun and is obviously going well – so well that the wine has run out. That is not really surprising, as Jewish weddings went on for a week – and they would have got through a lot of wine. Anyway, Mary sees a social crisis about to happen. To run out of wine would have reflected very badly on the bridegroom and his family.
Mary is deeply concerned for her friends, and in the crisis of the moment, she does something that no one in history has ever done before – she turns to Jesus for help. John tells us:
when the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘they have no more wine.’
This simple statement at the wedding marks a tipping point. Up until now, Mary has been Jesus’ mother, and he her oldest son. She knows who he is, and he knows who he is, but until now neither Mary nor Jesus has ever acted on it. Now Mary has suddenly appealed to her son’s supernatural powers for help. It is a prayer.
No wonder that John has included the story here in his gospel. We have the Word made flesh, and come among us to reveal his glory, and here is the first time that a person has acted in faith and reached out to him as Immanuel, God with us.
And how lovely that it should be Mary who is first to pray to Jesus, and who is first to have a prayer answered. And Mary’s prayer was so humble. Her prayer was not for herself. It was an intercessory prayer on behalf of her friends, the bridegroom’s family. Her prayer was very short – only one line long. She said: ‘They have no more wine.’
Her prayer was not bossy. She informed Jesus of the need. She did not tell him what he should do about it – she left that to him.
But even so, at first, Jesus did not respond well! He seems taken aback by her sudden appeal.
‘Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come.’
Jesus is saying that when it come to his life-mission, sorting out wine at a wedding was NOT it. But Mary does not argue with him. She simply tells the servants to be sure to do whatever Jesus commands them.
We are not told why Jesus changed his mind, only that he pointed to six stone water jars, and told the servants to fill them with water, and then draw some out and take it to the Master of the banquet. They did, and the new wine was praised as being better than the old.
So – what can we take from this story? Several things.
First, that the everyday problems of our lives are not too little to bring to God. If we are in trouble, and need help, we are right to turn to him in prayer.
Last year I was in Exeter at the exhibition ground, and it was horrendous winter weather. I got totally lost on the Exeter ring road, and ended up back at the exhibition ground, quite desperate. A little old man was walking out of the ground, and I asked if he knew where a certain street was. He lived around the corner from it! He got in the car and guided me straight there. Of all the hundreds of roads in Exeter, he lived around the corner from it. God had answered my everyday crisis prayer. (But I did not push it – I got a satnav!)
What else can we take?
Mary presented the need – she did not tell Jesus HOW to answer her. When we pray for ourselves and others, we can simply tell him the need, and trust him to work out the answer by himself.
Mary told the servants to be obedient. That is also critical. If we are to get anywhere with God, we need to obey what he says to us.
So – the story of Cana wedding is beautiful. From the majesty of a Creator at the dawn of the universe, to Immanuel, God-with-us in the everyday, who cares for us on an everyday level. No wonder that John concluded the story by telling us that in this first of his miracles, Jesus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.
We also can put our faith in him.