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The Wedding in Cana

Ordinary Sunday 2: 17th January, 2010
Bishop Graeme Rutherford,
Assistant Priest, St Peter's, Eastern Hill

John 2:1-11

We are still in the part of the Church's liturgical year known as Epiphany. It is the season in which we recall how something of God's glory was manifested — first to Gentiles, represented by the Wise men; then glory was seen as the 'heavens were opened' at his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist; today — we read how the disciples saw glory at the miracle of the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. Three key stories that are epiphanies of God's glory. John sums this season of epiphanies up in the prologue to his Gospel when he writes: 'We have seen his glory'.

So much for the Church's Year. What about the real world? Today, Christian people all over the world come to worship with heavy hearts as they struggle to make sense of the absurd and shocking suffering in the wake of the cataclysmic earthquake in Haiti — we don't seem to be seeing too much glory! Instead we see suffering of a paralysing magnitude. Sadly, we can anticipate that the coming weeks and months will reveal still more tears of anguish. From the very depths of caring souls rises a groan, too deep for words, and, eventually, a haunting question, 'where was God in the earthquake?'

When the Tsunami struck the rim of the Indian Ocean on Boxing Day in 2004, Peter Holden, a Christian man living in Gosford, wrote this anguished poem. His tormented words can apply equally to the darkness which is Haiti today.

O God, that great Tsunami

O God, that great tsunami has stunned us one and all;
our neighbours reel in anguish while homes and cities fall.
O God of wind and water who made the sea and sky,
amid such great destruction, we mournfully ask "Why?"

How many folk have perished? We can't their bodies find:
Life will not be the same now for those they've left behind.
More than a million mourners are grieving to their core;
O Jesus, Friend and Saviour, you suffer with the poor.

Economies are ruined and lives in tatters lie,
Sewage is washed down-river while lonely orphans cry:
O Spirit, send your comfort and give us faith that cares.
For when our neighbours suffer, our lives are bound with theirs.

No doubt there will be those who see this and all such natural disasters as evidence against the God in whom we trust. They will portray the earthquake as 'Exhibit A' in their case against our claims of a good and loving God.

We must admit that there seems to be a pernicious degree of cruelty in what is referred to euphemistically as 'acts of God'. Rowan Williams' comment at the time of the 2004 Tsunami, "Every single random, accidental death is something that should upset a faith bound up with comfort and ready answers ... how can you believe in a God who permits suffering on this scale?" is therefore very much around at the moment, and it would be surprising if it weren't; indeed, it would be wrong if it weren't.

The Scriptures leave us in no doubt about the occurrence of random sufferings. The Old Testament writer of Ecclesiastes faces the reality of unexpected calamity when he says: 'For no one can anticipate the time of disaster. Like fish taken in a cruel net, and like birds caught in a snare, so mortals are snared at a time of calamity, when it suddenly falls upon them' (9:12b). The writer claims that unexpected disaster happens, catching us out like animals that do not notice the hidden net or snare awaiting them.

But if the scriptures speak of the reality of random suffering they also speak emphatically of the future promised by God. In the punch line of today's Gospel reading about the wedding that Jesus attended in Cana of Galilee, the headwaiter says to the Bridegroom, 'most hosts serve the best wine first and the poorer stuff when the guests are drunk, but you have saved the best until the end.'

Every Jew understood that the promised future messianic age would be characterised, in picturesque terms, by an abundance of good wine. God, this wedding story assures us, has a cellar full of the best vintage waiting for us! This is the ultimate hope of the scriptures and it both critiques the present and entices the present towards it.

Let me illustrate from a true story how the future can impinge on the present. David MacKenzie was a Newcastle Christian who contracted Motor Neurone Disease (MND), a neurological illness that steals like a thief into your body and robs you of mobility, freedom and a future.

In his book, 'This terminal life' he wrote: 'It's a good thing my life philosophy and coping mechanism don't revolve around getting better. They do, however, revolve around having a valid visa for entry into heaven. That's what I hope in: an eternal visa with no expiry date' [1] and he adds, 'the Grim Reaper can go and get stuffed'. [2]

David had grasped the meaning of this first miracle of Jesus in Cana, Galilee. The best wine kept until the last is a pointer to the great Messianic feast — to what the author of the book of Revelation called, the 'marriage feast of the Lamb'. It is the promised 'new creation' when the world is taken beyond random suffering and tears and death. 'Our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed', so in David's graphic terms, 'the grim Reaper can go and get stuffed'.

Professor Richard Bauckham fills out a little more delicately and articulately than David, the meaning of John's 'best wine that has been kept to the last'. He says:

All that has ever happened throughout the aeons of this world's time will be taken, through transformation, into eternity. Nothing will be lost. Every thing of value in God's creation, all that God treasures, will not disappear into nothingness but will be gathered into the new and eternal creation. (Similarly, eternal life is not a temporal line extending forwards from the moment of death, but the whole of a person's life is somehow taken through healing and transformation. The person who dies suffering from Alzheimer's disease, will in the resurrection be who he or she was in the whole of his or her mortal life, not merely who he or she finally was at death.) The whole of what has happened, in the lives of all creatures and in the whole of the time of this transient creation, will be gathered up, healed and transfigured, into eternal life and eternal time.

None of this must be understood in terms of easy escapism, pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die.

Every time we participate in the Eucharist we 'proclaim the Lord's death until he comes' and with this future perspective, we are summoned to be part of the answer to our own prayer. We do not see our prayer as a plea for magical solutions that will make the world totally safe for ourselves and others. Rather, we seek, with God's help to do all that is humanly possible to bring about approximations to God's 'new creation' here and now. We do what we can for its own sake, believing that we are called to be the loving and living hands of Christ — giving and as best we can — praying:

'O Spirit, send your comfort and give us faith that cares.
For when our neighbours suffer, our lives are bound with theirs'.


Notes:

[1] David MacKenzie, This Terminal Life, p.171

[2] ibid., p.189


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