Download or listen to the Second Sunday after Epiphany, “Water and Wine” (John 2:1-12)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s the third day, and already the wine has run out, the barrels are empty, and the cups are dry. The bride weeps, and sorrow and shame cover the house. This wedding celebration was supposed to go on for days, but it has already come to an end because the wine is gone. Mary notices and tells Jesus that they have no wine. But Jesus says, “What does that have to do with us? My Hour has not yet come.” This all may sound a little dramatic, a little exaggerated. But we can get a sense of what was going on by considering: what if you threw the wedding reception for your child, and you invited all the people, but you didn’t have enough food to eat for all the people you invited. You can get a little of the embarrassment, though it was multiplied in that culture.
But isn’t this just how it goes? The wedding celebration never lasts as long as we want it to. Recall the day that you made your marriage vows, maybe the happiest day of your life, and then think about everything that’s happened between that day and this one. The joy and happiness of that day never last. In fact, we expect it; we call those early days the “honeymoon period,” and then reality sets in and things go downhill from there, right? But this is how it’s been from the very beginning, since the original marriage, which really was made in paradise. When God joined Adam and Eve together in one flesh in the Garden. And what did they lack? What did God not give to them, except a single tree in that whole good creation. God had given them everything, and they lacked nothing. But one day they began to listen to the whispers of the serpent, who put the thought into their minds that maybe God was holding out on them, maybe He hadn’t really given them everything. Did God really say that? You will not surely die! And Adam and Eve turned away from the promises of God and the Word of their Creator, and they listened to the lies instead.
And all of a sudden, this wedding celebration, which was supposed to go on and on, is over. The bride weeps, shame and sorrow cover them, and they are separated from their God and each other. And so it goes, on through the story of the people of God, the bride called Israel. She always weeps, because she is continually unfaithful. She is continually whoring after other gods; her default position is adultery. She constantly forsakes the promises and the word of her Husband in search of something else. She refuses to be satisfied and to rejoice in His gifts to her; instead, she is always seeking some other happiness, something she thinks will be better. This wedding celebration was over a long time ago; the wine is long gone.
But that doesn’t keep us from pretending. We take the water of the Law and drink it like wine. And that works pretty well when we’re pretending to be good people out in the world, especially when everyone else is drunk on open immorality. The water jars of purification, the ritual washings of the Jews, were meant to remind them that they were impure, that they were unholy, that they needed to be washed and cleansed by someone outside themselves. But they took that reminder of their impurity, and they made it instead a mask to hide their impurity. We sometimes do the same thing with our rituals. The best of them are meant to remind us of our sin, and our need for a Savior. Take “going to church”: this is meant to remind us of our sinfulness, and our lack, and that we have no holiness or righteousness of our own; that we need Christ’s gifts which He promises to deliver to us here week by week. Instead, we make our church attendance a mask of our holiness, rather than a reminder of who we are and who Christ is. And then the people outside the Church see only holy hypocrites, rather than sinners who have a Savior. We are very good at twisting the accurate accuser of the Law into a moralistic master, pretending that we are following the Law, rather than being put to death by it.
But the Law always puts to death, fueled by sin. It must and will kill sinners. But when it comes to accuse sinners, it only finds one: the eternal Sinner, baptized to be our sin and death. And when the Law kills this Sinner, as it does on the cross, it accuses Him of all your sin, and mine, and the entire population of this planet, covered in shame and sorrow. When His hour does come, He drinks the whole, bitter cup of God’s wrath against sin, drinks it all the way down, full-strength, 200-proof death. And when the Law has accused and killed Him, when it has spent all its strength on all the sin He bears, then He rises from the dead. And He takes all those empty vessels, all your empty graves, and He fills them with the wine of life that gladdens men’s hearts. He turns the water of purification into the wine of His blood, to take this old, adulterous whore and cleanse and remake her as His holy and blameless Bride.
It is the Third Day. That’s why we’re here, after all. To celebrate what happened on the third day after His death, when His resurrection began a creation that is only waiting to be revealed. On the mountain of God, the veil that covers this whole creation, death itself, is swallowed up, and the people of God eat the good food and the well-aged wine of the wedding feast. Shame and sorrow have no place at this celebration! Oh, I know the Bride still weeps; I know she still sees only shame and sorrow, and sin and death; but that is why Christ continues to come into this place. He has signs to show you, the signs of His glory; the signs that His hour has come, that He has been glorified, and that your hour is coming. It is not yet, but even now, He gives you the signs: the water of His baptismal wedding ring; the wine become blood and the bread become body; the words that forgive you all your sins, even now. Here is joy that extends into eternity; here is wine that never runs out. Come to the banqueting Table, where His banner over you is Love. Your Lord has begun a celebration that will never end. You will no longer be called Forsaken or Desolate. Your name, with the rest of the Bride, is “Yahweh Delights in Her.” As a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so your God rejoices over you. Forever.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/19/13