And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee;
…. And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.
This morning our Gospel centres on Jesus’ attendance at a marriage feast and, as the Marriage service says, this holy estate he adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee.
It seems this Gospel has landed on us at a particularly difficult week in the life of the Anglican Communion. Primates gathered at Canterbury to discuss an issue that is deeply dividing the Communion – the changes to the Marriage Canon in the Episcopal Church of America which no longer makes a distinction between heterosexual or homosexual couples, and they are divided more broadly on how to understand the questions surrounding the lifestyle of those with same-sex desire. There is no resolution of this question, but the Episcopal Church of America has been disciplined by the Primates for its unilateral change without listening to the wider Anglican Communion.
And in our church here at Holy Trinity, as if to reveal in microcosm the divisions in the wider church, this issue has been raised at Council last Wednesday night and we saw more clearly the deep divisions in what people think here on human sexuality.
What can be said? What can we learn from the history of controversies in the Church when people have deep disagreements? In every disagreement over doctrine, God is calling us to deeper thinking and loving – in fact it seems to be one of the things we need in order to grow in heart and mind. [e.g. 1 Cor 11:18-19] The Council of Jerusalem (in Acts 15) was gathered because of a need for clarity on the question of whether the Gentiles needed to be circumcised and how Christians are to relate to the Law. The Creeds in the first few centuries were developed because people asked difficult questions.
Of course the controversy today is painful. There will be caricatures in the media and in the minds of Church members. Liberals will be accusing conservatives of heartlessness, conservatives accusing liberals of not being faithful to the Truth revealed in Scripture. Love and Truth breaking in against each other – can they possibly be opposed? We know that in Jesus Christ Mercy and Truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other. [Ps 85:10] So in whatever situation we find ourselves in as a Communion, or a local church, or an individual, we have hope of a higher Light to break through all the darkness of our minds and to warm all our hearts!
I think it is understandable that the modern Church in the West is confused. There are so many layers of ideas that are intertwined and need to be understood and untangled. There is, without doubt, something right and something wrong with both positions, hypocrisies being revealed that have led us to our current confusions, ways of thinking about God and the human soul that need to be deepened, and we have to do the difficult work of thinking it through – I don’t believe that work has yet been done, not by any Church or the Church, and not yet by us here. I’m glad the Anglican Communion can stay together in the meantime and that it is trying to think of ways to maintain unity in love with great diversity and without a Pope. The Primates have never before exercised this authority, Church discipline, at the highest level. It is a remarkable step (regardless of the issue) in the life of the Anglican Communion. (For a contribution to the discussion, see a recent sermon, Lust or Love, from the Evening Prayer and Praise service Jan 16/2016.)
In this season of Epiphany, which ends this week, we follow the life of Jesus Christ as he is revealed to the nations.
Last week we saw him as a child, being revealed as the Wisdom of God; this morning (St John 2:1-11) Jesus is revealed as the Messiah who has come with power to bring in the Messianic Age. Jesus, being both God and man, is the person through whom, and the means by which, God will unite himself with humanity.
St. John says, On the third day (also the day of our Lord’s resurrection) there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.
In the Old Testament, there is a progressive revelation of the character of the love of God for us and the character of that love returned by a faithful soul. We see eros, romantic love, explicitly for the first time perhaps in the wisdom books. The Song of Songs appears at first as erotic love poetry celebrating earthly love between a man and a woman – yet Jewish and Christian interpreters have always understood that earthly love as pointing to the love between God and the human soul. And God speaks frequently through the Prophets describing His love of Israel, his people, in the language of bridegroom and bride [e.g. Isa 54; Jer. 3; Ezek. 16; in Hosea]. Later, Solomon is described as taking Lady Wisdom (a feminine image of Christ) as his bride in the Wisdom of Solomon [see Wisdom of Solomon 8]. And all throughout the Old Testament, the Messianic age promises the bringing about of this union of God and His people, a union of the heavenly and the earthly.
Jesus reveals right at the beginning of his earthly ministry, by this first miracle at the marriage at Cana, that He is the Messiah and that the Messianic Age is upon us.
Our love for God has a new character through Christ – there is an intimacy, a warming of our hearts, even an infatuation, a continual thinking upon and enjoying being in God’s presence that comes about by His Spirit poured out into our hearts. The peace that passes between spouses who love each other, the rest that they know in their love for one another, this peace and love can be known by us and is intended to be known by us in our union with God and enjoyed – the goodness of earthly love in marriage, a great gift in itself, also points to the heavenly. As well, the celibate life, the life of the angels in heaven, where they neither marry nor are given in marriage [Matt 22:30], yet are more than completely fulfilled, becomes a new possibility here on earth.
And the marriage of our souls with God through Christ brings forth fruit – the adorning of our souls with grace – our natural gifts become supernatural.
St. Paul says in today’s Epistle (Romans 12:16b-21):
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Through our marriage union with the divine, in Christ, our natural gifts are raised up. St. Paul says, if we have the natural gift of foresight, or of ministry, or of teaching, or of leadership, or a generous spirit – all of these things can become moments through which the divine love shines forth into the world.
It is not just in great moments of inspiration – such as in the great sacred art or music or literature or works of theology that continue to evangelize – but in small things the divine is revealed in us and to the world: a mother taking delight in her child’s play [Williams]; [St. Paul says,] simply being humble before others in our daily lives when someone doesn’t expect it; a moment by moment turning from evil and cleaving to what is good; doing our chosen work, but doing it with diligence; being patient in the midst of suffering is a sign of the divine at work in us (most of us someday will go to the hospital – in our suffering we can be witness to God to the staff of the hospital by how we treat them and have hope in the midst of our suffering); thinking about hospitality as a means of revealing the love of God; loving even those who hate us. All of us can do these things, in a supernatural way through our union with Christ – and these smaller acts in our daily life have power to convert souls who are looking, who are seeking.
Every situation, every encounter with another person becomes a moment when the divine can shine forth – as it did that day in Cana, when a lack of wine – a possible embarrassment for the host, or a reason for less joy in the celebration of an earthly marriage – became a moment filled with eternal significance.
As well as taking our natural gifts and raising them up to reveal the divine, there is another way that water is turned into the best wine. All of us have desire that is earthy and wandering, we know that we often miss the mark. Jesus, by his grace will take that desire, that love, that water, and direct it aright, change it into wine, so that there are flashes of the divine breaking in and revealing God’s love to the world.
What makes possible this new union of heaven and earth is recalled and set before our eyes in the Holy Communion – Christ’s passion and death, poured out in abundance in a figure on that wedding day, is poured out for each one of us here Sunday by Sunday – Christ’s Body broken, His Blood shed, for the forgiveness of our sins – the best wine. Here is the means given by our Lord for the perfecting of our love, for the reconciliation of heavenly and earthly loves. From here flows the peace that passes all understanding.
Let us prepare ourselves now for Holy Communion, to drink deeply of that best wine that Jesus has saved until now, and to use all our gifts and to direct all our desires through this marriage union to His glory.