It's a Miracle - of Abundance

Sunday, January 14, 2007 - Epiphany 2C

Six stone water jars each holding twenty or thirty gallons and, we are told, the servants filled them up to the brim with water. To give you some perspective, I did a little math this week: one gallon is the equivalent of 3790 milliliters and a bottle of wine contains 750 milliliters. So, six jars holding twenty to thirty gallons gives us somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons of water which Jesus changed into wine. So Jesus’ now famous miracle at the Wedding at Cana involves the production of somewhere between 6 and 9 hundred bottles of wine. And, as if this weren’t amazing enough, we learn from the steward’s conversation with the bridegroom that this is not some cheap, inferior wine. No, this is good wine.

On the one hand, I suppose we could look at the details of this story that John is so careful to provide and conclude that Jesus’ first miracle – “the first of his signs” as John tells us – overshoots the mark and, in fact, is wasteful. After all, the guests are already drunk. What possible use could they have for good wine and what possible use could they have for 6 to 9 hundred bottles of good wine? But this, of course, is not a story about a miracle gone wrong nor is it a story about the way in which Jesus was wasteful of resources. Instead, it is a story that provides this kind of detail so that we can see and appreciate the abundance of God’s grace in the person of Jesus. The abundance of gifts we receive through the incarnation. We are invited, in hearing this story, to look for the abundance in our own lives, the richness we have received as God’s children.

There’s another message here as well. Let’s take a moment to examine the scene in more detail. First, Mary, the mother of Jesus, lets Jesus know that there is no wine left and she tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them. Jesus tells them to fill the jars with water and they do. Imagine that – 6 stone jars to be filled [this image hardly does it justice!]. There is no garden hose, no faucet. This is no easy task. But the servants do the job – filling the jars up to the brim. Next Jesus tells them to take some out and give it to the chief steward. They do so. The steward tastes the wine and calls out to the bridegroom, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Mary, the servants, the steward, and the bridegroom. Each has a part to play in this miracle. This miracle of abundance is the culmination of a process that unfolds through the work of many persons each with their own role to play – their own gift to contribute. The wine doesn’t just appear. Could Jesus have made that happen? Maybe he could have just waved his hand over the jars of water and ‘hocus-pocus’ Wine! A miracle! Maybe he could have – but he did not.

Something similar occurs at the Eucharist. It is not the action or the words of the priest. Lane and I, standing behind the altar, saying the words we say, do not make the wine become the blood of Christ. That too is a process that unfolds. The altar guild prepares the bread and the wine and sets it on the table in the back. Then, the ushers carry forward the bread and the wine as our offering to God while John and the acolytes prepare the table. And then, Lane or I stand before you and begin the opening dialogue of the Great Thanksgiving and all that we say and sing from that opening “The Lord be with you” through the doxology and the great amen is part of a single prayer of consecration which Lane or I lead on behalf of all who are gathered here. But the moment the wine becomes the blood of Christ is not some magical moment – there are no magic words that must be spoken to make it so. In fact, all of us together are the celebrants at the Eucharist. For this reason, in the Anglican tradition, there is “no celebration of the Eucharist unless at least one other person is present to receive communion with the presiding priest”.[1] “God consecrates in response to the whole Great Thanksgiving prayer” which includes both the words of the priest and the words of you – the gathered community.[2] It is a process that unfolds before us and we are the servants who prepare the table for the great miracle and we are the stewards who then taste the body and blood of Jesus Christ – the abundant gift of grace given to us as God’s children. Or, as the words of ours Psalm this morning expressed, “We feast upon the abundance of your house; you give us drink from the river of your delights.”

Through this abundant feast of the Eucharist and beyond, we continue to be called forth as God’s servants and God’s stewards. The words of our post-communion prayer make this clear: “Now send us forth . . . that we may proclaim your love to the world and continue in the risen life of Christ our Savior.”[3] Last week, Lane spoke to us about the meaning of epiphany [using this analogy] – as that time of the church year in which we celebrate the ways in which Jesus is manifested in the world – after his birth, by the arrival of the magi with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh; at his baptism, by the Holy Spirit descending as a dove while a voice declares from the heaven’s, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”; and today, by the first miracle – turning water into wine – all of these signs that Jesus is the Son of God.

But there is another aspect of the Epiphany which today’s reading and the words from our opening collect this morning point us to. From the Opening Collect, “Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth.” Just as the magi, Jesus’ baptism, and the wedding at Cana were all signs that Jesus was the Messiah so too, you and I, through the way we choose to live our lives and through the way we minister as God’s servants and stewards are signs that Jesus is the Messiah. Through the miracle at Cana, his disciples believed in him. Through our own lives – shining with the radiance of Christ’s glory - who else might come to believe?

[1] From A New Zealand Prayer Book - He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoat, p. 517 quoted in Bosco Peters, Celebrating Eucharist: A Guide and Supplement to the Eucharist in A New Zealand Prayer Book - He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoat, p. 85 accessed online on January 10, 2007.
[2]Peters, p. 85.
[3] Standing Liturgical Commission 1997, Enriching Our Worship 1: Morning and Evening Prayer, The Great Litany, The Holy Eucharist (New York: Church Publishing, 1998), p. 70.