Sermon for the Second Sunday of Epiphany – January 20, 2019
Isaiah 62:1-5, John 2:1-11
It is one of my favorite wedding blooper videos ever. The bride and groom are facing each other, the bride in her beautiful white dress, the groom in his crisp suit and bow tie. The pastor is behind them, leading everything with great seriousness and solemnity. They have come to the biggest moment of the day on the biggest day of their lives. They take each other’s hands for the exchange of vows, the most important words they will ever say to each other. The pastor asks the groom to repeat after him. The nervous groom tries to follow along, but he flubs the words! He says, “I Andrew, take you Melissa, to be my waffly wedded…” There’s a pause. The whole room is thinking, Did he just say ‘waffly?’ ‘The bride starts to giggle. The groom knows he botched it, so he just rolls with it: “I take you Melissa to be my waffly…and pancakey wedded wife. With this, the bride completely loses it. She throws back her head and bursts into uncontrollable laughter, and the entire congregation with her.
This humorously flubbed word could have turned into a disaster. It could have been a source shame and embarrassment. The groom could have got all red-faced and upset. Instead of laughing, the bride could have cried or scowled. After all, the groom had botched the most solemn and serious part of the service! After all the time and money and effort put into this couple’s special day, this guy had blown the big moment! But instead of it being a disaster, instead of it becoming a source of shame and embarrassment, it turned into an occasion of pure joy. In fact, if you watch the video on Youtube, it ends with words superimposed on the screen: “And so began their joyful marriage.”
Andrew and Melissa have some things in common with the unnamed couple in our gospel reading for today. They too were celebrating their wedding. They too had put a lot of time and money and effort into their celebration. We often bemoan how much modern people spend on weddings – and it’s true, at times it can get pretty ridiculous – but this is nothing new. In fact, weddings in the ancient world were just as extravagant! They didn’t spend $5,000 on dresses, but they did spend a lot on other stuff! Entire villages were invited to come, and the party went on for several days! The wedding couple and their families were expected to keep their guest’s plates and wine glasses full for the entire duration of the celebration. It was the biggest party these families would ever throw, and perhaps the biggest expense they would ever incur in their entire lives.
The wedding in Cana was on the verge of disaster. Not because of a flubbed word, but because they had run out of wine. It is hard for us to imagine what a major cultural faux pas this was. All of these people had come expecting a weekend-long feast, and instead they would have to be sent home early because there was no more wine. It would be a blunder that would bring incredible shame and embarrassment to the families involved. It would even have been seen as an omen hanging over the young couple’s marriage – and not a good one!
Thankfully, the couple invited the right people to their wedding! Mary was there. Jesus was there. The disciples were there. Mary sees this disaster brewing and tells her son. She knows what he can do! Jesus is reluctant to intervene at first. His hour has not yet come, he says. But like all good Jewish boys, he ultimately obeys his mother. He turns water into wine – and not just any wine, but the best wine! And so what could have been an occasion of shame and embarrassment became on occasion of great joy.
This is more than just some parlor trick Jesus pulls. John tells us that this was a sign. It was the first of Jesus’ signs. Well, what kind of sign is this? What does this sign mean? This sign is more about the wedding than the wine. Jesus saved the wedding! Jesus saved the couple and their families from the shame and embarrassment they would face for coming up short, for running out of wine. And this sign of Jesus blessing and restoring this wedding, this marriage, points to the far greater work he would accomplish when his hour did finally come.
You see, the prophets often used the metaphor of marriage to describe the relationship between God and his people. God is the husband, the people are his bride. The people of God are often described as having broken this relationship – only they have done something much worse than the mere flubbing of a word. They’ve done something even worse than running out of wine. They have been unfaithful to God! Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Hosea all preached about how the people of God have committed adultery – in some cases literally (remember David?), but more often spiritually as they became intimately involved with other gods. The people of God had spurned their spouse, bringing not only shame and embarrassment upon themselves, but also judgement and condemnation. As Jeremiah thundered: “They broke the covenant, though I was their husband, says the Lord.” (And that’s the nicest quote I could find!)
Isaiah takes up this wedding and marriage imagery in our first reading for today, but in a more positive way. Isaiah preaches the beautiful promise that God will restore the relationship that the people have broken. God will not only bring them home from exile and restore them to Jerusalem, but he will restore the relationship once and for all through the savior he would send. As we heard in our first reading, God says to the people through Isaiah: “You shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”
The sign at Cana is not just about Jesus’ special powers. It is not just about the wine. It is about the wedding. It is a sign, John tells us. It is a sign of what Jesus had come to do. Jesus is the one who has come to restore the relationship between the bride and the groom. He is the one who has come to save the wedding, to save the relationship, between God and his people.
And that’s why this story is not just good news for the bride and the groom and their families in this story. It is good news for all of us! This story is a sign for us. We might call it an epiphany, as it sheds light on what Christ Jesus has done for us.
There is much that we flub when it comes to our relationship with God. There is much that we botch and it is no laughing matter. We are given opportunities to witness to our faith, and we are silent. We are given opportunities to speak words of kindness, words of forgiveness, and in our anger and our stubbornness and pride we garble them.
There is much that we run out of. We run out of patience. We run out of generosity. We run out of concern for the neighbors we are called to serve. When it comes to obedience to God, we all come up short.
Even worse, we betray God in the way we are always turning to other gods. Martin Luther taught that all sin always goes back to the first commandment, the commandment to have no other gods. We may not be turning to Zeus or Thor. We may not be worshiping statues. But we do indeed make all kinds of things more important than God: our desires, our security, our personal happiness, our ideologies. We become intimately involved with these false gods again and again.
All of this would lead us to nothing but disaster. It would lead to nothing but shame and embarrassment. It would lead us only to judgement and condemnation. Except that Jesus has come. The wedding at Cana is a sign of what he would go on to do for all of us when his hour had come. Jesus has come to save us from all the ways we’ve flubbed up, all the ways we’ve botched things. He has come to save us from our shame and embarrassment. He has come to fill up our emptiness with the abundance of his grace. He has come to forgive us for all the ways we have come up short. On the cross he has taken our judgement and condemnation upon himself so that our joy would be restored. Christ has done all of this for you. His hour came as he went to the cross, suffered and died, and three days later rose again. All of this happened for you and for me and for all people, so that we would be restored to right relationship with God.
This wedding story we hear today is a sign, John tells us. It is a sign pointing to all this, pointing us all to Christ. As John says at the end of his gospel, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book, but these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you would have life in his name.”
The book of Revelation describes the restored relationship between God and his people as “the wedding feast of the Lamb.” It is described as a wedding feast that never ends, a wedding feast where God and his people are together forever. We get a foretaste of that wedding feast in the Lord’s Supper. At this table we are given forgiveness, life, and salvation. At this banquet we are filled with everything we lack. At this wedding feast, God rejoices over us as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.
Our sin is no laughing matter, but we can throw back our heads and laugh today as we come to this table – not because of our sin, but because of our savior. We can come to this wedding feast with nothing but pure, unadulterated joy, because it is here that we receive the best wine of all, which is Christ himself. At this wedding feast Christ comes to us once again to renew his vows to us, and to fill us up with to the brim with his love and mercy.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church