What are we to do with a story so familiar?
Not knowing quite where to begin with its meaning for us, this time through I found myself simply standing still with each of those upon whom the story seems to turn.
Or not, as the case may be.
I wondered about the mother of Jesus who is never actually called by name in John’s Gospel. About how she must have been standing on the edge of the celebration so as to be able to take in what was happening and the sure embarrassment to the host when the wine ran out.
And oh, of course one’s attention cannot help but be drawn to Jesus who is always at the center of the story, but who, at this point, expresses hesitation to even consider what his mother is suggesting: that not only is the wine running out but that the consequence of this has anything at all to do with him.
And the mother of Jesus, Mary, again, who clearly knows what Jesus is capable of and with sure confidence tells the servants to do whatever he tells them to do.
And the steward and the host who have no idea about what has taken place behind the scenes to save the celebration, but are no doubt inclined to take credit for the excellent wine which is now being served the wedding guests.
And those servants, those often-invisible ones, who then simply do what Jesus tells them to do.
For with all of this, knowing that the main point of the story is the nearly incomprehensible abundance of God, I am drawn as I often am to the servants.
- Those who stood on the edge of the celebration.
- Those who were there not in response to an invitation, but out of obligation.
- Those whose job was to ensure that the host, the steward, the guests had what they needed.
- Those who did what few truly saw or likely thought to appreciate.
- Those who were probably the first to be blamed should something go wrong and the last to be given credit when it didn’t.
Indeed, those servants who doing what Jesus told them to do, would have had the unenviable task of carrying the water to fill those six stone water jars.
Because the jars were made of stone, yes, and would have been heavy in the first place.
And because one certainly would not have wanted to carry them once their weight had been multiplied by 20 to 30 gallons of water each.
- And so, I picture them now walking back and forth, forth and back to the well toting bucket after bucket after heavy bucket of water.
- I imagine their exhaustion, for this is not the first day of the wedding celebration, after all. They have been responding to the needs of the host, the steward, the guests non-stop for days by now.
- I cannot help but wonder at their skepticism, for by now they know the problem, that the wine is running out, and while water is a component of wine, such wine is not made in a day or an hour.
- And I cannot help but stand still in their astonishment as they realize that something has happened right before their eyes which they could neither have imagined nor anticipated. That even while their muscles still ached from the exertion of filling those stone water jars, what a wonder it must have been to see that there was now more wine than they had ever seen in one place before.
And I consider the truth that maybe many of you who read this now can picture yourself in the place of those servants who, already exhausted from having served so long, like them find yourself now walking back and forth, forth and back, ‘carrying the water to fill those stone jars.’
Trying to trust that the One who has told you there is a reason for all this hard work is worthy of that trust.
But because you know what the servants do not yet know when they first listen and respond to Mary’s urging to do what Jesus tells them to do. Because you know that God’s very glory has been revealed in unimaginable abundance before, perhaps it is so that even in your, even in our exhaustion, we are sustained for another hour, another day even now.
For it is so, isn’t it?
We have been ‘carrying the water’ to fill the stone jars for a long time now.
What began as a rumor of a disease has changed the way we do so very much and continues to do so, eroding our reserves as we pivot once more. Indeed, by now we may sense that the ‘wine is running out.’
At least I know this to be so for me for I had believed that by January surely things would be closer to ‘normal:’
That by now we could gather over coffee and bagels again without masks after worship.
That we could move our children into regular classrooms and reclaim the social hall for such socializing and adult learning.
And that this now seasoned pastor could just go and call on people without wearing layers of PPE or could back off on doing quite so much pastoral care over the phone.
Quite simply, I had hoped by now that we could linger longer without worry.
Instead, we are postponing funerals again and moving back to Zoom meetings wherever possible because a highly contagious new variant is filing up our hospitals, wearing out not only health care workers but teachers who have walked into a powder keg every day for months and months and parents who wonder and worry about sending their children and all those everywhere who are trying to keep moving forward all the while businesses of all sorts are scrambling with not enough staff. With not enough product. With what seems to be ‘just not enough.’
Oh yes, it seems as though the ‘wine’ is running out, doesn’t it?
And yet, it is now in the midst of this present exhaustion that it seems Jesus sends us for water yet again.
All the while reminding us to be ready for the miracle, the sign, which will reveal his glory!
And just as with his first followers, seeing that ‘water turn to wine’ will also strengthen our belief and our hope and our resolve to keep ‘carrying the water.’
Because we have seen what Jesus has done before and we live in hopeful anticipation that Jesus will do so again.
And oh, maybe we are seeing it even now:
- In dear ones who now without hesitation postpone funerals in a heartfelt effort to keep others safe — even as it breaks their hearts to do so.
- In partnerships which were forged or deepened in the challenge of these last years which remain strong in part because of all the difficulties which have been faced together.
And yes, even in this.
- In our now knowing even more deeply what it is to keep ‘carrying the water’ in the midst of our exhaustion, all the while not knowing what will come next. For isn’t there an unexpected abundance which can only come from the heart of God in the empathy this engenders in us for all those who make hard decisions every day without nearly enough resources to do so, making tough choices weighing one real danger against another? As do the poor, the marginalized, the immigrant, the refugee, day after day after ‘water carrying’ day. And from that empathy perhaps we begin to see abundant hearts and wills to shape a different world where this no longer would be so.
So, to each of you who has ‘carried the water’ back and forth, forth and back, these many months, know that what you are doing matters, that there would no ‘wine’ without it. In courageous, hard decisions implemented, in too many funerals where too many shouldn’t have had to die just yet, in all those ways you have done new things, stumbling through at first, but finding your footing again and again, and on and on…
May you be encouraged by the certain truth that along with those servants at the wedding at Cana so long ago, you will be among the first to see the miracle.
For you already know the One who turns water into wine. And the promise is that this will be so again. And maybe, just maybe, already is.
- I know it is presumptuous to compare many of us who ponder this familiar story in preparation to preach or teach this week with those on the margins who are represented by the servants in today’s Gospel. And yet, I cannot help but wonder if these last couple of years haven’t opened our eyes, our hearts to some of their hard experience of the world. What do you think? Is this possible?
- If it is possible, how has the ‘water carrying’ been for you? Because of where you have been, can you understand the exhaustion and/or the skepticism those servants must have felt? Can you better understand the experience of those on the margins now? This being so, how have you been changed by all of this? Or is it too soon to say?
- Have you been able to catch a glimpse of ‘water turned to wine’ just yet? If so, what have you seen?
May we all be sustained by the promise that the One who turned water into wine will do so again, bringing plenty where there is need.
Again and again and again.