Revd. Caroline Titley
Reflection for 24 January 2021
Revelation 19:6-10 John 2:1-11
Celebrations. They have been in short supply during the pandemic.
I am sure that we can all think of family gatherings that had to be cancelled or reduced drastically in scale. For many of us, our circle of relatives, friends and acquaintances has become narrower over the past 10 months because large gatherings have not been allowed. And in our church context, we cannot accommodate all the people who would like to come to our major services because of social distancing, although our comparatively large church is a blessing at this time.
It is in this context of living constricted lives that we read John’s account of the Wedding at Cana: the type of celebration that we cannot, at this time, attend. I must confess to a certain wistfulness at the prospect of attending a wedding celebration. The possibility seems like a past age.
The wedding at Cana was a typical example of a Jewish wedding, with the extended family present: a privilege, a gift for all who were invited, an occasion of joy. The mother of Jesus, Mary, seems to be the senior family member present and interestingly seems to call the shots. Jesus and his disciples ‘had also been invited’, the gospel writer tells us. It was a gathering of the clan.
A question we should ask ourselves is what lies behind our longing for these celebrations?
The author of John’s gospel can help us here. First a bit of background. The writer went through a very careful process of deciding what he would include in his gospel about Jesus’s life. In the very last verse of his gospel he writes, ‘’there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written’. So the choice of the wedding at Cana, a story not included in any other of the gospels, was deliberate. It is the first of the 7 signs (or miracles of Jesus) that John chose to include in his gospel, along with 7 sayings of Jesus – 7 being the symbolic number for divine plenitude, divine abundance.
The story builds on John’s picture of Jesus so far, his cosmic significance– in the beginning was the word- then the role of his forerunner, John the Baptist, and then the calling of the first disciples. There is no nativity story. Jesus’s mother, and his extended family, are introduced in the Wedding at Cana.
The celebration was a gathering of family members but it pointed to more than this. While we are individual children of God, we are also part of the people of God, part of something greater than ourselves. Meeting together in fellowship was and is an expression of this.
For the people of Israel, Yahweh, the LORD, was connected deeply to them. A metaphor used was Yahweh as husband. And this idea was developed in the New Testament where Jesus was identified as the Bridegroom, with Christians, not Israel, as the Bride.
The wedding at Cana points also to the character of God: to a generous LORD, rooted in the teaching of the Old Testament. A good example is found in the prophecy of Isaiah who has a vision of the LORD helping his people following the oppression of exile:
‘on this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-natured wines strained clear.’ (Isa 25:6).
The Wedding at Cana culminates in a revelation of God’s glory. Jesus turned the water into plenteous quantities of wine and, in the words of the Gospel writer, ‘revealed his Glory’.
So where might this lead us? The Book of Revelation encourages us to ‘rejoice and give him the glory’. ‘God’s glory can be reflected in the radiance of a single face but it is also expressed in the joy of our communal life.
So, both in our families and friendship circles, and in our life within our local church communities, I think we would do well to hold in our heads the vision of God’s glory from Scripture, and to look forward to the time when we can gather together. In this way we maintain hope that we can collectively, once again, rejoice and celebrate his glory in person, whilst also welcoming those who are housebound, working or living away from home, or for another reason want to join us online.
We can look forward to God’s abundance in the full panoply of our music, part of worship from the earliest times, and particularly the singing as a congregation which we cannot do at the moment. We can look forward to re-opening our smaller churches at St Catherine’s, St Peter’s and St John’s Priory for public worship. We can look forward to sitting beside one another, and to sharing the peace in the ways we wish. And, most of all, we rejoice in the prospect of worshipping in joyful communities, welcoming back those who have had to stay away for so long and greeting with open arms all who want to explore the glory that is God’s.