On the Third Day…

John 2:1-11

It was the words which introduce John’s telling of this story which captured my imagination this week.  For it is so that you and I who have lived in these stories for a while know that they have been uttered again and again… “On the third day…” Indeed, it seems that every prediction and every retelling of Jesus’ resurrection begins with these words: “On the third day he will be raised..” At least this is so in Matthew and in Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles and in 1 Corinthians. It is also deeply ingrained in our memory and imagination as we repeat the words of our faith most times when we gather in the words of the Apostles’ Creed… “on the third day he rose from the dead…” With all this playing in the background, it does seem significant that John begins this beautiful story with the same words…

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee…

  • On the third day the mother of Jesus was there…
  • On the third day Jesus and his newly called disciples were also there…
  • On the third day (or maybe in actuality the 5th or the 6th day of the festivities by then) the wine gave out…
  • On the third day Jesus turned massive amounts of water — held in jars meant for the Jewish rites of purification — into wine (perhaps as many as 180 gallons)…
  • On the third day, yes, Jesus revealed his glory…

On the third day.

And I got curious. I checked on those other places where on the third day served as a point of reference. In particular, I wondered if there were other times and places in our shared story where the world also ‘turned’ on the third day. This is what I found:

In the story of the near sacrifice of Isaac, it was on the third day of their journey that “Abraham looked up and saw a place far away.” A place where he understood God telling him to sacrifice his only son. A place where God provided a ram instead. As problematic as this story is, isn’t it something that this happened ‘on the third day?‘ (Genesis 22:4)

In the story of Joseph and his brothers we hear that “on the third day, Joseph said to his brothers, “Do this and you will live…’ sending his brothers home with grain in the midst of the famine. Oh, his demand was conditional, yes, for he kept Simon back to help secure their pledge that they would not return without their youngest brother, Benjamin. Even so, his words which promise life resonate with all that will follow … (Genesis 42:18)

In the wilderness we hear the promise to the people that they are to wash their clothes and prepare for the third day, because on the third day the LORD would come down from Mount Sinai in front of all the people (Exodus 19:10-11) In the end, only Moses and Aaron would be allowed to see God, but even so, the promise holds doesn’t it? For on the third day — in water turned to wine transforming the old ways — in Christ breaking open the bonds of death — don’t we see the face of God?

In the story of  David we hear that it was on the third day that a messenger arrived with the news that Saul and Jonathan had died in battle. Oh, this prompted profound mourning on  David’s part, but even so it cleared the path for David to become King. And yes, for all of his faults, David’s rule is remembered as exemplary. (2 Samuel 1:2)

And again, it was “on the third day  (in this case, following three day of fasting that Esther herself had decreed) that Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace” (Esther 5:1) in a place where she could be seen by the King, putting in motion the events which would lead to the saving of her people.

And these powerful words from the prophet, Hosea:

“Come let us return to the Lord;

for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;

he has struck down and he will bind us up.

After two days he will revive us;

On the third day he will raise us up that we may live before him.” (Hosea 6:1-2)

Could the promise ring any more true than it does here?

Oh, isn’t it so that throughout our shared story there is something to this ‘third day’ as an answer to prayer, as a holding up of hope, as a renewal of joy?  And it is important to recognize, it seems to me, that in the each and every time even as the sun rose on that third day, such hope must have seemed awfully far away…

Just imagine Abraham walking with his son, Isaac, who was the bearer of God’s promises to him. If you can, step into his grief, his fear, his doubt as he looked up and saw that ‘place far away’ before he heard the instructions to turn around to see that ram caught by its horns in a thicket…

Or just think of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph who had persevered through the unimaginable to get to this day and his brothers carrying the guilt of what they had done to their brother, not knowing yet, of course, that it was him before them. Just imagine how the words of a promise of ‘life’ — not only in the grain in their packs — but perhaps something more, sounded in their ears…

Or travel with me back to the struggles of David before he ascended to the throne. Consider his ongoing battle with Saul and how he must have wondered if the prophet Samuel knew what he was doing when David, out of all of his family, was chosen for this. And oh, the word that came carried powerful heartbreak, but it was also the beginning of a whole new life for David and for the people of Israel…

And we already have a sense, don’t we, of the struggle of the people in the wilderness before the promise was theirs that one day they would, in fact, see God face to face? Although it didn’t come to be that time, perhaps they got a glimpse of that wonder in the exchange between Moses and God in thunder and lightning even then?

And can you even imagine the inner struggle of Queen Esther before the ‘third day’ when she put herself out there in the sight of the King? Not to mention the suffering of her people which necessitated her taking this risk on their behalf…

And why is it, do you suppose that Hosea speaks of the powerful gifts of God arriving on ‘the third day‘ as he speaks to a people ravaged by war?

Indeed, in a vivid and celebratory and powerful way, Jesus at a wedding in Cana of Galilee and all that went before point to the final ‘third day‘  when death would finally be defeated once and for all!

And isn’t it a wonderful thing that it would happen on a day of simple human celebration: the sort of occasion that happens every day the world over — where love and devotion are celebrated often in the best and most beautiful way we can imagine now? Oh, isn’t it something that Jesus takes even what may be the best we have now and turns it into so much more, pointing to the promise of life which we can hardly begin to imagine?  I mean, really. Isn’t that something?

  • My imagination was ‘caught’ right at the start of the marvelous story before us now? Did something else capture you? What was that?
  • For me, at least, the fact that it was ‘the third day,’ is a reminder that sometimes there is a time of wondering, of doubting, of suffering even, (the 2nd day) before God’s best gifts are ours. What do you think?
  • Whether it was meant to or not, this simple phrase, ‘on the third day’ helps me tie all the Biblical narrative together. Is that so for you? Is there anything you would add or take away from what I have offered above?

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *