Washing Water to Wedding Wine

“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee.” Mary, the mother of Jesus, is there along with her Son and His new disciples. On the third day – the creative day in which the Word called forth vegetation, including the grape, from the earth. “And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so.” The third day, the day of fulfillment and resurrection. “After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up.” “Destroy this temple and in three days, I will raise it up again.” On the third day big and important things happen. Got it? Good!

At Cana in Galilee. Not in Jerusalem, not in the temple, not in Rome, the seat of political power. In lowly Cana, in backwoods Galilee in the north, despised, looked down upon, a land of half-breed Israelites and religious heretics. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light,” the prophet Isaiah said. “On those dwelling in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” In the circle of the Gentiles, Galilee of the nations. That’s where Jesus first shows His glory, at Cana in Galilee.

It’s all set up perfectly. The location, the timing, the event – a wedding. What better event than a wedding? God often referred to his relationship with Israel in terms of bridegroom and bride. “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” And this is a wedding with an impending disaster. The wine had run out prematurely. It was a social gaffe beyond bad. No more wine and the feast was still going on. Maybe it was due to an unexpected number of guests. Perhaps it was Jesus’ disciples.

Mary gets involved. “They have no wine,” she says to Jesus. And Jesus appears to be rather snippy toward her and the whole affair. “What’s that to us, woman. My hour has not yet come.” It’s a strange way of putting it. First, Jesus seems rude to His mother, but He actually isn’t. Hyper-respectful, certainly. But not rude. He does not address her as mother, and does not permit her to pull her apron strings on Him. He is Lord to her, even as she is His mother. Women is a title of respect and dignity, a formality. The next time Jesus addresses Mary this way is at the cross where He entrusts her to the care of John. “Woman, behold thy son.”

“My hour is not yet come.” His hour is the hour of His glory, the hour of His death. This is why Jesus came. Not to fix every little problem, including a wedding party that ran dry before its time, but to die as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And in dying, He takes care of everything else as well. And so even this sign – changing washing water to wedding wine – costs Jesus His life. Miracles do not come cheaply. They are signs of who He is and what He has come to do, and that all point to the cross.

Mary is confident Jesus will do something. We don’t know why, but Jesus must have done something to indicate His willingness to help. “Do whatever He tells you,” she says to the servants. These are the last words of Mary recorded in the Scriptures. “Do whatever He tells you.” If you want to heed Mary’s advise, you would do very well to heed these words, “Do whatever Jesus tells you.” For example: “Trust in me.” “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” “This is my body, my blood….Do this in remembrance of me.”

There were six large stone jars at the feast. Six, which is one shy of seven. Awaiting fulfillment. They were for the Jewish rites of purification, whether for the guests and their hands or for the bride and her wedding night, we don’t know. All we know is that there were 180 gallons or so of washing water prescribed by the Law. “Fill the jars to the brim,” Jesus says. He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets; to fill them up with His own perfect life and obedience as living water come from heaven.

And then He says, “Draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” Nothing else. No further words, no actions. Jesus doesn’t lift a finger. Just fill the jars with water, then draw some out. “Do whatever He says.” It all rests on Jesus, and the servant’s obedient trust in His word. What happened was that washing water became wedding wine. Instantly. Not by fermentation, as happens with ordinary wine. But in an instant, without the intervention of a middle man or a grape.

And this is no wine flavored water, either. No diluted wine,dealcoholized wine or (God forbid!) grape juice. Wine. Vintage wine. No two buck Chuck but the best. 98 on the Wine Spectator ratings wine. “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely (better translated “have freely drunk and now are a few sheets to the wind”) then the lesser wine is served.” But hear’s the clincher: “You have kept the good wine until now.”

Now there’s a fully loaded sentence if ever I heard one. “You have kept the best for last.” God has reserved the best for last, pouring out the finest vintage at the end. Everything in this event points to the cross – the day, the hour, the use of “woman” to address Mary. God’s vintage wine is Jesus Himself, poured out for the life of the world in His death, in the water and the blood that came from His side that fills the baptismal font with washing water and fills the chalice with wine from heaven.

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17) That’s the theme of this sign. This is what changing washing water to wedding wine reveals. Someone greater than Moses was here. Someone greater than the commandments and the religion of the old covenant. The Law of Moses, signified by the six stone jars of washing water cannot bring joy to the wedding feast. Cleans hands yes, but not pure and joyful hearts. Who wants to drink bath water anyway? The Law cannot save us. Commandment keeping cannot bring us life. Oh, we think it can, and we’re all suckers for the rules and regulations of religion. But it won’t work, any more than 180 gallons of bath water can gladden the hearts of wedding guests at a feast gone dry before its time.

The Law of God leaves us dry in a joyless system of dos and don’ts, thou shalts and thou shalt nots. This doesn’t mean the Law is bad. It’s not. But it can only clean thehands at best; it can’t purify the heart of a sinner. And that’s where the problem lies for us. Perhaps you’ve experienced this for yourself. You read the Law, say the 10 commandments or their catechism meaning or some book or article that dwells on what we must do. And as promising as it seems in the beginning, you find yourself becoming weary and desperate and frustrated. You might even find yourself becoming angry and judgmental of others. You start to measure and compare how you are doing with how every- one else is doing. And there is no joy. The Law with all its measurements and standards and qualifications and condemnations has sucked all the joy right out of life.

It’s like a wedding feast run dry. And some might expect Jesus to say, “Good, they’ve had enough to drink. Let them sober up.” We expect Jesus to say, “You need to shape up and keep the commandments. You need to work hard and improve yourself. Be all that you can be. Do what I do.” But that’s not what He does. He does something completely unexpected. He fills the Law up with Himself. LIke those six stone jars filled to the brim with water. Jesus fills up the Law of Moses with something greater than Moses, His own perfect sinless life. And then He draws out of those stone jars something wonderful, not more rules and regulations to follow, but wine. Joyous, glad wine. The vintage wine of HIs blood given and shed for you in His “hour” upon the cross.

Truly God has saved the very best for last. For now. For you. “The Law came through Moses, but grace and truth through Jesus Christ.” And you, as baptized believers, are privileged to taste and see that the Lord is good, to sample His vintage, and have a foretaste of a marriage feast that never ends but goes on forever. You are part of it; you are in on it. Like those surprised guests at Cana in Galilee who got to drink wine from heaven that day because Jesus was among them.

“His disciples believe in Him.” They trusted Him; they took Him at His word. Notice not everyone believed in Him – not the guests, the wine steward, or even the bride and groom. HIs disciples. They were the ones who heard and saw what happened. The miracle alone doesn’t create faith in Jesus. Only faith in miracles. But the disciples made the connection, that this Jesus whom they followed was the Lord of creation, the One who called forth plants and vegetation (including the grapes) on the third day. He is the One who created and orders all things, who His the Word in the Flesh dwelling among us. He does what only God can do in a way that only God can do it.

At Cana in Galilee, on the cross, here in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, Jesus manifests His glory for faith. He is here to feed you with the Bread of His Body, to gladden you hears with the wine of HIs blood for the forgiveness of your sins, to bring you joy overflowing and unending, so that you might believe on Him and live.

In the name of Jesus,
Amen

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