Wedding at Cana
April 19, 2015
I wonder who knew. At the wedding party, I mean. By the way, this was not a politely pleasant one, two, three hour social event. We’re talking about seven days of hearty celebration. And on the third day the wine has run out. I wonder who knew. The servants, surely. And Jesus’ mother (who is never named as “Mary” in the Gospel of John). Probably the bride and groom are getting a little nervous.
But not all of the guests had figured it out yet. If the wine shortage had been common knowledge, Jesus’ mom wouldn’t have had to tell him, “They have no wine.” I can imagine the scene with one small group of anxious people huddled up to discuss the wine problem while the rest of the guests continue on, unaware of the impending crisis—and from what I’ve read, running out of wine at a first century Jewish wedding was, indeed a crisis; much more serious than when Ryan and I ran out of punch at our wedding reception.
It’s always that way in a near-crisis. Think about pretty much any suspense movie you’ve ever seen. There are a few people working to dismantle the bomb or thwart the attack or divert the meteor while everyone else goes about their business, oblivious to the impending doom. Only the movie stars and the few million people who watch the movie are aware that the dad and his baby in the park, the couple arguing in the coffee shop, the businesswoman rushing to her next appointment, came this close to sudden and violent death.
I heard a story on The Moth Radio hour by Paul Knoll. He was working as a guidance counselor at a high school, and one day as he was preparing to meet with a college representative, his secretary pulled him aside and whispered that there was a student in the front office with a gun and 5 hostages. Just like that, he snapped out of his happy ignorance. Four and a half years before Columbine, Paul had no idea what to do in this situation. He called the police who told him that he had to get everyone out of the building, but he couldn’t pull the fire alarm or otherwise alert the armed student to the fact that people were leaving. He had 800 students to get out of the building—and he was on crutches. A couple of other people got pulled into the “in the know” group and they went from classroom to classroom: “Listen closely. Don’t ask questions. Leave the building as quickly and quietly as possible. Now.” And they all got out safely. Most of the students were safe before they even realized they had been in danger.
It can be nice to be oblivious. To be the one playing and arguing and sitting in class while other people worry and try to figure out how to divert the meteor or disarm the shooter—or get more wine.
So I apologize in advance for what I’m about to do—for the fact that I am going to pull you out of this oblivious state. I know that churches, of all places, can be somewhere we particularly want to remain oblivious. So, like I said, sorry about this.
But I think you should all know about the impending crisis. . . . O.K. I am exaggerating a bit. I don’t think it is actually a “crisis,” but it is an issue. I would even go so far as to call it a conflict—which just means that there is a problem to be solved and different people have different ideas about how to solve it.
The problem being that this space, this building, is not as big as most of us would like. The worship space gets crowded, the kids Sunday school meets in the kitchen. Some people have told me they hesitate to invite friends to church—especially families with young children—because it is hard to know whether there will really be room for them on a Sunday morning.
Our problem, like the problem at the Cana wedding, revolves around the issue of enough. Not enough wine. Not enough space. And when there is not enough—or we are afraid there is not enough—then anxiety sets in.
Now this is a good, calm, non-anxious group. But there are some undercurrents of anxiety around this issue of enough. Some people are afraid that if we don’t get a bigger space, we won’t have enough people to do the good and faithful work we feel called to do and we won’t have enough money, either. Others are afraid that we don’t have enough people or money to really make any movements toward getting a bigger space. Some people think there is not enough time—we need a new place yesterday others think we aren’t taking enough time—we are moving too fast. It’s a crisis of enough.
And now we’re all in on it. None of us get to be the oblivious wedding guests, laughing and dancing and not realizing that when we next go to refill our wine glass, the bottles will be dry. Now we have all heard Jesus’ mom say to him, “They have no wine.” And we hear her say to us, “Do whatever he tells you.”
I think that’s about where we are in our story right now. We are the servants waiting for our instructions; listening for what Jesus will tell us about how to avert the crisis—how to keep the party that is Peace Mennonite Church going strong.
There’s a piece of this story that I think people often miss. We hear Jesus’ instructions for the servants to fill the six stone jars with water. And then we see the jars filled to the brim—skipping right over the part where the servants—some of them surely women—fill six stone jars that hold at least 20 gallons of water each. With no faucets, no garden hose.
What we often miss is the back-breaking work. We move from Jesus’ instructions to the full water jars just like that. But it took a lot of work to fill those jars.
A few of you have been part of this church from the very beginning. You heard Jesus’ call for a Mennonite church in Lawrence. And then there was a Mennonite church in Lawrence. But you know it took a lot of work.
Several years ago, Jenny heard Jesus’ instructions to re-start children’s Sunday school. And now if you come early on Sunday morning you can see Jenny and Carol working with the children on an art project or sharing a Bible story or you might hear Sara leading the kids in a song. But between the instructions and the final product, there is a lot of work.
That’s the other thing about being in the know. Not only do you forfeit the happy ignorance of those who are oblivious, but once you know about the problem or potential crisis, you become one of the people expected to do the work necessary to avert the crisis.
Once we know about a problem or potential crisis, we have a responsibility to listen for Jesus’ instructions and then do whatever hard work is necessary to carry them out.
Of course, Jesus is not physically here in the room with us, so listening to his instructions can be tricky. We need each other for that. We need help listening for God’s guidance through the words of scripture and the movement of the Spirit and the details of our circumstances. As people in the know, what instructions is God giving us?
It’s probably not to fill up a bunch of water jars—though something that concrete would be nice.
I hope you have had a chance—or will soon take the opportunity—to look at the document from the building group (or space cadets) that lays out three options we are presenting in terms of moving forward: status quo; buy vacant lot; sell and share space until we find a permanent facility.
Maybe none of these options are what Jesus is telling us. But its where we are now, and it is our job together to try to hear the voice of Jesus in our midst, pointing the way to enough.
We will hear this voice by grounding ourselves in prayer and in scripture; by listening to each other with openness; by speaking our vision and wisdom with honesty and humility. The listening itself is hard work.
And then, once we have sense of the instructions we are being given, we will have more had work to do. The jars are big—there will be a lot of water to move. Or rather, a lot of meetings to attend, phone calls to make, checks to write . . . maybe boxes to pack . . . there will be work to do.
But we should remember that through it all, we are at a party! We are celebrating our life in Christ and our life with each other. Even through the difficult listening. Even through the back-breaking labor. We are at the party.
We should also remember that, as biblical scholar David Lose writes, “Whenever there is need and Jesus is on the scene, resurrection and abundance are right around the corner.” With Jesus at the party, there is always enough. Somehow. Enough wine. Enough bread and fish. Enough time. Enough life.
As insiders at this party, we do give up our role as oblivious by-standers. As insiders at this party we are expected to be the ones to listen to Jesus’ instructions and to do the necessary work. But we also, as insiders, will experience the miracle of abundance from scarcity. The God-reality of enough when we thought there was not enough.
The steward may not know where the wine comes from. But when the instructions have been heeded and the work has been done and the wine is flowing freely—we will know. We will know that we have participated in a miracle. We will know that we are in the presence of the Holy One.
There is a lovely poem by Kathy Coffey called “The Cana Couple Reminisce.” How did being part of this miracle effect the newlyweds who became an old married couple? How will being part of this congregation in the midst of the conflict and into the miracle affect us in the years to come when we are old and settled? Listen to the final stanza of Coffey’s poem:
Our union was not singular; we fought
And sulked, sickened like the other folk.
But in every glass of common water,
We tasted hints of garnet-gold.
May it be so. Amen.