Based on John 2:1-11
Suppose you are at a great party and then you discover that the guy you were sharing raunchy jokes with none other than Jesus himself. Would you leave early, like someone getting off the elevator 20 floors early because you changed its air quality? Would you spin it like a politician caught on a secret recording saying what he or she really thinks? Would it be like after Christmas with all our children and grandchildren when our older grandkids invited me into a game of Cards against Humanity and I discovered they knew things I thought they shouldn’t, and they discovered the same about me? Would it be like a beer hall sociable lately where even a Shakespearean version of the same game led me not to share aloud the card in my hand? Then I had another beer.
If (when!) we are at such a party, Jesus, it seems by our gospel text today, just smiles, stretches out his hand, and pours us another glass. In other words, we are reminded today that Jesus is not only not bothered by a spirits-stimulated party. He even takes steps to amp it up. What the Gospel of John wants us to know is that God wants for us abundant life. Jesus Christ’s mission was and is to amp up human transparency, human community, human celebration, human gratitude, and human joy, all for a purpose infinitely more meaningful than mere self-satiated drunkenness.
Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana is about abundance. It was no short term party. Wedding celebrations lasted for days. It was the host’s responsibility to have enough food and drink supplied for the length of days. It was also the usual custom for guests to bring something, not only a wedding gift, to add to the celebration. Whatever the matter here, the host and guests just did not have enough to keep the party a party. Maybe they consumed more alcohol than your average Green Bay Packers or consumed more crawfish than a Cajun. Or maybe the host was stingy and the guests cheap. Whatever the case, on the third day—catch that—the third day, the human capacity ran short and the divine inclination for grace upon grace took over. The humans in charge did not know what happened. But the workers who depended on the barest daily bread knew. There was a stranger in the house who defied convention with theretofore unknown generosity.
Some 200 gallons of water in vessels reserved for religious ritual washing had become fine wine; what was set aside for baptismally-like washing a person’s outer parts were transformed into the joy that washes one’s interior humanity. It would make people happy and make a new joyful truly human community. If the words were not so explicitly said, their meaning would fill the house. “This wine is for all of you” would be the meaning taken as the wedding attendees would become a community, a congregation. As food and wine made them whole and real, words would come personally for each there. “For you as you are, poor, sad, shamed or sleepy, tender, or teary. This is for you. This, this joy, this vulnerability, this honesty you now express, this you is whom I accept, affirm, love. This joy in this restored community where all dance and sing and eat and drink together is what I made you for, and for the work you will do after this party is what I made you for, so that, so that, you can live a truly abundant life not merely on the limited basis of stuff you buy at the best places or take from the trash heap. I make you abundant in God’s grace so you can graciously care for all your brothers and sisters at this party and where parties need yet happen. This, this wedding party, is the sign of what I created all of you for and for which I give you the true and meaningful abundance of divine love and compassion.
When we realize that the abundance we presume to have made by our own hands is also gift from God, we realize we are gladly at Cana. When we do not get that, when we’re “me first” or “us first” –meaning really “only me or us”—we actually refuse both true joy and true justice. Where there are both joy and justice, there is the true abundant life that Jesus means for everyone. Per John 1:16, “we have received from his fullness, grace upon grace.”
Our national remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr. tomorrow should remind us always of this basic Christian truth made manifest at Cana. God intends and gives cause for abundant joy, which then manifests justice; and God intends and gives cause for abundant justice, which then manifests joy; all this, no matter what we can or cannot, or do or do not, bring to the party. As brother Martin wrote about just and unjust laws, quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” (Letter from a Birmingham Prison). The same thing, of course, can be said about all human behavior.
A number of us will march tomorrow to make more public our desire to take the Cana party public. It is a non-partisan point. It is a Christian and Jewish and Muslim and black and white, and yellow and all around human and divine point—in other words, a Jesus Christ point, that God intends the whole human community to have joy and justice; God intends us all live inspired and uplifted. We are inspired. And we will uplift. These tasks belong to those who live in and from A Healing Place. There were many on Friday who marched from a different place and conviction, including young men who bullied and degraded a Native American Veteran who fought in Viet Nam. Those boys remind us why every school system still should require reading Lord of the Flies and they remind us that the Gospel must be preached yet more clearly than it is in what is or had been Christ’s church. As a wonderful Pentecostal Christian sister, Beth Moore, wrote yesterday about that, “To glee in dehumanizing any person is utterly antichrist.”
She’s not one given to hyperbole. Today, we stand with one foot in that shadow land outside Cana and the other foot in the beautiful light of God’s new day. Our faces are pointed that direction! Toward Cana! Go there with me! Go there, with water having washed you from the outside in and heavenly wine from the inside out. Because the light, the joy, the justice of Cana, is where Jesus points and pushes and pulls us. To go there to Cana, the starting place again is from his word, his body, and his blood right here. This way, the right way, God’s way, is all love, for love, with love. It is how God makes abundant life.
The great and now, sadly, late Mary Oliver wrote, “I don’t need to know what happens to the bread and wine to experience the oceanic love of God that I feel when I receive it, any more than a newborn needs to know the mother’s name and address to see and feel the adoration in her gaze.” So just party. Drink this wedding wine full. You are accepted and loved, and so God provides abundantly what is needed. Just as you are. Without embarrassment. Then freely do more of what must be done for joy and justice. Because all of Jesus’ cards are for humanity.
Duane Larson Christ the King Lutheran Church, Houston TX January 20, 2019