Wedding Wine

John 2:1-11

Weddings are joyous events, but they also can be enormously stressful. Groom, bride, parents—they want everything to go “just right,” perhaps as a sign of blessings to come.

When I counsel a couple about to be married, I try to help them put some of that stress aside. Something usually goes wrong, I tell them. Don’t worry about it. The unexpected event gives you something to talk about on your anniversaries.

Often in my experience, the problem has something to do with the rings. I have seen a ring bearer drop the ring and let it roll under a pew, forcing a tuxedo-clad groomsman to soldier crawl after it; I also have presided where the best man forgot a ring and had to leave for several minutes to find it. While we all waited, I gave a long and very extemporaneous meditation on the symbolic meaning of an endless circle of gold.

Other problems arise, too. My own beautiful bride forgot her bouquet because the pastor was rushing her. (He had scheduled back-to-back weddings too close together.)

Anticipate the error and try to laugh, I tell brides and grooms to be. How you deal with such problems says a lot about how you choose to live life. The most recent wedding I performed is a positive example. I and my son hiked with a couple near the summit of Rocky Top Mountain, where they were to be married, only to discover the groom had left the rings with the backpacks near base camp. The groom quickly made two rings out of birch bark for the ceremony. They now wear the metal rings, which I blessed later, but they also keep the bark rings as a memento.

Jesus, of course, is the all-time master of making good out of bad. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus and his disciples, along with his mother, were guests at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, not far from Jesus’ home in Nazareth.

In Jesus’ day, weddings were extended parties, and how the party went was believed to be a sign of how the couple would fare in life. Families would pour their resources into such an event, often straining themselves financially to the breaking point.

At this particular wedding in Cana, something went terribly wrong. At a party like this, the wine should not run out. The wine was there for more than just the pleasure it brought the guests; it was a symbol of the abundant life and ongoing joy the families prayed the couple would experience. Someone in charge of planning the catered part of the event had made a horrible miscalculation, and uncorrected, the embarrassment would have stayed with the couple the rest of their lives.

For reasons unknown to us today, Jesus’ mother knew what was going on behind the scenes of the event. When the wine ran out, she went to her son, who in his response seemed initially annoyed. He had not planned to kick off his ministry as the vintner of Cana.

We learn a couple of things from this exchange and what follows. First, while we call this Jesus’ first public miracle, he likely had been performing miracles privately as a child or young adult among his family. Mother Mary knew her son’s capabilities, and she expected him to do the impossible.

Second, we learn that even if you’re God in human flesh, you ultimately honor Momma by doing what she tells you to do.

To me, the miracle of water turned to wine is beautiful, for Jesus did in miniature what he would one day do for the whole world, taking away shame and replacing it with abundant joy. It is no surprise to me that when Jesus used his last meal with his disciples to explain what he was about to do on the cross, wine once again was in the story, this time as a symbol of his life-giving blood that was about to be shed.

The miracle also is splendidly perplexing for people who want to put Christian faith into some kind of rule-bound box. Yes, Jesus made the kind of wine that can make you drunk, as the text makes clear. Anything joyous God has created can be abused, and frankly, if you cannot use some aspect of God’s creation without abusing it, then you should avoid it. Let’s not be dour, legalistic people, though. The creator of the universe made this very good wine for a reason.

The wine was and is a symbol of the love God pours out on us. Sometimes, it seems as if the wine has run out in our lives; know that Jesus wants to restore our joy and hope.

Whether or not you drink wine, be sure to drink up God’s grace; indeed, become giddy on it, knowing God has rescued this broken party we call life so that it may go on for all eternity.

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