The Heavenly Bridegroom Manifested in Wine (John 2:1-11)
The 2nd Sunday after Epiphany (January 16, 2022)
Over the course of my now plus 30 years of pastoral ministry, I have had the opportunity to officiate 84 weddings. Four of those weddings were for my own children. I can’t even begin to recall how many other weddings I have attended over the course of my life. All total, it’s a lot of weddings. What I have found is that after a while they all begin to blend together. It is becoming increasingly difficult not to treat the next wedding I attend or officiate as just another wedding!
But is there such a thing as just another wedding? After all, by God’s design, marriage is the very model, or type, of God’s relationship with His people, the Church. The metaphor of God being the Bridegroom and His people being His Bride is rife throughout Holy Scripture. So we see in our O.T. reading from Isaiah. He writes: “… as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” Even our traditional wedding service is designed to picture the spiritual and eternal reality of this mystical and nuptial union of God with His people. The Bride is beautifully adorned for her husband as the Church is through Holy Baptism for her Groom, Jesus Christ. The one who beget the daughter, the father, brings the bride to the groom and gives her in marriage to him, just as God the Father presents those He has Begotten of water and the Spirit to His only eternally begotten Son Jesus Christ, the Heavenly Bridegroom. There is no such thing, then, as just another wedding. All marriages proclaim the divine mystery of our intimate relationship with God.
Our Gospel reading today takes us to another wedding. This one occurred in the first century A.D. in Cana of Galilee. This wedding was somewhat unique in that Jesus, along with His mother, Mary, and His closest disciples, had been invited. They were all present to enjoy the nuptial celebration.
In that Judean culture of the first century, it was the custom that a man and a woman would be betrothed to each other by public ceremony. This ceremony, however, was usually only attended by the immediate family. The betrothal period, then, would usually continue for about a year with almost all rights and obligations of a marriage, yet the betrothed couple did not live together until after the wedding celebration. And that did not take place until the groom had all of his affairs in order. Once he did, he would then come for his bride and her party in a grand procession accompanied by friends and family. Together, then, the nuptial couple would, in grand celebratory style, process to the wedding banquet, which the groom in his joy had prepared. After a few words of blessing, a time of celebration and feasting would commence, which could last up to two weeks (CPR, Vol. 5, Part I, p. 34).
But at this particular wedding celebration in Cana, disaster struck. The wine ran out! Now, you and I might be inclined to say, “No big deal! It should have been a good sign that everyone should go home.” But the shortage of wine for the covenant people of God was a grave concern. According to God’s ancient covenant with Israel, wine was a sign of God’s love and blessing (Dt. 7:13). The abundance of wine was also central to God’s promise of the Messianic Kingdom, the coming of the New Age. The prophet Joel had declared, “And it will come about in that day that the mountains will drip with sweet wine...” (3:18). And again we read from Amos, “they will plant vineyards and drink their wine...” (9:14). By the same token, God also stated that those who failed to live in accordance with His covenant would be under His curse and there would be a scarcity of wine. So you see, the wine running out before the celebration was over was truly problematic. (CPR, Vol. 5, Part I, p. 34).
Now, we do not know the reason Mary made this shortage of wine her personal concern. It has been suggested by some that perhaps Mary was the caterer, a relative of the couple, or possibly even the mother of bride or groom, which would give her a most definite interest that the celebration went off without a hitch. Whatever her reason, Mary made it her concern and, surprisingly, Jesus’ concern.
Jesus’ reply to His mother’s request, however, was quite brusque. Literally, He said, “What is this to you and me!. My hour has not yet come!” I suppose, Jesus’ response is understandable. After all, of what possible concern should the wine at the wedding be to Jesus? It was a totally mundane matter! The shortage of wine was not life or death. It was the bridegroom’s party. The matter would best be attended by those responsible: the groom and his steward.
Besides, Jesus noted, his hour had not yet arrived. On nine different occasions in John’s Gospel Jesus refers to His hour. Collectively, they help us to understand that Jesus used the term “His hour” to refer to the appointed time of His passion, death, and resurrection; that is, the hour He would redeem and save His people from their sins and bring them the Kingdom of God’s grace and eternal life.
Despite Jesus’ seeming protest, Mary did not hesitate to go forward. She instructed the servants to do whatever Jesus would tell them. Was her persistence simply that of a caring and concerned wedding guest to help rescue the poor groom from suffering untold embarrassment? Or had Mary, the mother of the Lord, received a divine nudge from God that this was Jesus’ hour? We do not know. All we do know for certain is that she had every confidence that her son, as The Son of God, her Messiah, would do the right thing for the salvation of all.
Mary was also saying something quite pointedly to us all. “Do what He tells you!”
That is to say, “It’s not about me and my will or word. It is all about Jesus’ will and His Word. Look to Him! Listen to Him! Do all according to His Word!”
I find it remarkable that Jesus offered no further objection but set about to manifest His glory and save the day. Surely, if this display of His divine power, which He had not displayed from His birth until now, had not been the right time, Jesus would not have performed this miracle. After all, on numerous other occasions, even when prevailed upon to do so, Jesus refrained from displaying His divine power. When the Jews urged Jesus to show them a sign, He simply directed them to the sign of Jonah: three days in the belly of the fish. When the Devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness, He refused to use His power to save Himself, but depended on the promise of God. When the noses of His hometown folks were bent out of shape because He would not do the miracles in their midst like He was doing elsewhere, Jesus did not entrust Himself to them, but left them. When He was arrested in the Garden, much to the chagrin of His disciples, He allowed Himself to be hauled off. Even when taunted on the cross to save Himself, Jesus refrained from using His power and coming down from the cross. Yet, at the wedding in Cana, Jesus obliged and obeyed His mother as a dutiful son.
The question is then, was this mundane crisis of wine the time to inaugurate God’s saving action; usher in the Messianic Kingdom? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” John writes in conclusion of this event, “This, the first of His miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed His glory, and His disciples put their faith in Him.”
I’m convinced we can be certain this was more than a son’s submission to the will of his mother. Jesus had already been designated the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world at His baptism. He had been anointed with the Holy Spirit as the Messiah. He had already received His Heavenly Father’s approval. His time of epiphany (revelation) to the world had indeed come. He would now reveal Who He was in the wine at the wedding.
Jesus commanded the servants to fill the stone jars, which stood at the entrance, to the very brim with water. Their contents had been poured out to ceremonially wash the groom’s guests’ feet. Now they would be filled to be poured out again, this time revealing the Heavenly Bridegroom, Who would cleanse men’s souls.
At Jesus’ instruction a cup dipped from one of the filled jars was taken to the steward. Immediately after tasting what had miraculously become wine, the amazed steward approached the bridegroom and complimented him on his surprising action of saving the best wine for last. The day was saved! The celebration could continue with an overabundance of exquisite wine, over 120 gallons of wine, we might add! The wine, indeed, overflowed!
By changing this water into wine, Jesus did much more than help this groom save face or help the people party longer. This miracle of creating wine was a visible proclamation that the Heavenly Bridegroom had come in human flesh. Jesus was saying, “I’m your Creator, Your Redeemer, Your Eternal Husband. I’m the One ushering in the New Kingdom. I’m the One who makes the mountains flow with wine. I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
What better time or occasion for the true glory of Jesus to be manifested than at this wedding in Cana. The very Heavenly Bridegroom was being made manifest in wine. The wine flowed typifying that the love and favor of God was flowing upon His people, His Bride, in this son of Mary. The Heavenly Bridegroom had come to redeem His Bride, His people, and to adorn her with the wedding garment of His righteousness “that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she would be holy and blameless...” (Eph. 5:26,27).
With the arrival of the Heavenly Bridegroom, the promised eternal banquet, the marriage supper of the Lamb, has now been made certain. The revealing of Jesus’ glory in the wine, has made the prophecy of Isaiah more than a promise but a certain hope and reality for all of us who believe in Jesus. That promise reads: “And the LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; a banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine. And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples, even the veil which is stretched over all nations. He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces.”
At Cana Jesus took empty jars and miraculously filled them with the wine in which His saving power and grace as the Heavenly Bridegroom was revealed. So, this Bridegroom has come to fill the empty jars of your life and mine. He has come to fill the depravity of our souls caused by sin and guilt, with His righteousness.
The apostle Paul writes: “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus emptied Himself of His divine glory in suffering and death so that you and I might be filled “to the brim” with His grace, forgiveness, and life. He became poor that we might become rich. As our Bridegroom He rejoiced to pay the price for us. As the writer to the Hebrews states, “…for the joy set before Him, (He) endured the cross…” (Heb. 12:2).
Jesus has done all this for us also by coming and revealing His glory in the simple and ordinary things of this life, like water, bread, wine, and the words of a man. You see, this Heavenly Bridegroom has honored you by betrothing Himself to you personally in the Sign of Holy Baptism. Through that water comprehended in His command and connected with His Word of promise, He has given you new birth into His Kingdom of grace and life, sanctified you to be a member of His Holy Bride, the Church, and adorned you with His glory.
Through the Sign of the Holy Supper, He has manifested Himself to you personally in the ever flowing wine of His blood and the life-giving bread of His body, imparting to you the forgiveness of your sins, as well as providing you an ongoing foretaste of His Heavenly Banquet. In the continual announcement of forgiveness, the Holy Absolution, uttered by His human servant, your pastor, Jesus continues to lavish upon you the forgiveness of your sins and provides you true reconciliation with Your Husband.
There is no way, then, that we can consider the wedding feast at Cana just another wedding. Not unless we think Jesus is just another man and not our eternal Husband! God continue to bless you all in your wedded relationship with Jesus Christ. Amen.