Sunday, January 20, 2013
My wife will tell you that I don’t need much of an excuse to celebrate. In fact, like many of you, I am old enough now to celebrate if, when I wake up in the morning , I can see the ceiling and my name is not in the morning obits. I’m a happy man when I awaken to greet the new day. Cindy’s grandfather was a stonecutter from Carrara, Italy; where some of the finest stonecutters in the world were born and nurtured. When he woke up in the morning he’d take the newspaper and a cup of coffee and he’d count up the dead Irishmen and the dead Italians and so long as there were more of the former, he’d let out a holler and tell his wife; “We’re ahead!” For him it was like seeing if the Red Sox or the Celtics won the game the night before. There’s always a good reason to celebrate!
And so it is that we come to today's Gospel passage where Jesus found himself in one of the greatest celebrations of a human lifetime; a wedding in Cana of Galilee. I remember our wedding day. It was the last time on this side that my whole family, as I remember it from my childhood, was all together in one place. Cindy’s whole family was there too, and that number dwarfed mine. Our best friends were there and there was that one memorable table where things got a bit out of hand after a bit of an excess of liquid indulgence. That, of course, was a group of my friends.
So here we are likewise, with Jesus and his friends and family. It is early in his ministry as we are early in the church year. Just last week we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. Now we find ourselves in Cana of Galilee, a town nearby Nazareth. Things were going strong when the unthinkable happened. They ran out of wine. Mary, the Blessed Mother, tells Jesus. Then Jesus uses the most respectful form of the word “woman” that there is in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus and his contemporaries; a word that suggests the sense of “my beloved” the same word used for wife, and he reminds her, “My hour has not yet come”.
His ultimate Epiphany is yet to come. Here he reminds Mary, later he has to remind his disciples again and again. He is here to be handed over into the hands of power and violence, to be tried, found guilty, even though perfectly innocent, to die a torturous death, and then to rise again for the forgiveness of this very violence (another word for sin), and then as a free gift to us all, for our eternal life. He has probably already explained this to Mary. He will later explain it plainly to his disciples.
“Do whatever he tells you”, she tells the servants.
Then he tells them to bring him the jars used in the Rites of Purification. It is as if Jesus were sanctifying that solemn moment when we commend ourselves to one another in love and devotion for the rest of our lives. How pure is that! How sacred is that moment when, in our youth we declare our love for one another, and live out that declaration for the rest of our days. At least that’s the theory. It works itself out in varying ways then as now, but the intent and the hope are pure. God knows Jesus can redeem us no matter how far we fall from that blessed estate.
So they do as he bids. They bring him the jars used in the rites of purification and, as instructed, they fill them to the brim with water.
“Now draw some off”, Jesus tells them.
And when they did, the caterer of the feast was impressed. “Whoa,” he might have said. “This is good wine. Usually you serve the good stuff first, and when the taste buds are anesthetized by copious imbibing you can then serve the inferior vintage until the party gives out in the wee small hours of the morning.”
Not so here. This vintage is of God. It is the very best vintage of all. God honors the wedding guests with generosity. The party continues. It is such a memorable celebration that in the wake of the death and resurrection of Jesus, his first miracle is recalled by the early church because the imagery of marriage is central to the Proclamation of the Gospel itself.
Jesus is the Bridegroom and the Church is his Bride. We are the beloved of God. He, like any man or woman worth his salt will give his life to protect his family. And so he did.
Our enemy is human violence, aka “sin”. That which is within us that seeks to destroy ourselves or others needs redemption. We need this salvage operation. And as we come to Jesus, one by one, week by week, altar rail by altar rail, that salvage work continues all the days of our life. After all the only thing that can effectively deal with that predisposition to violence is the love of God and the love he demands of us for one another.
Wonder of wonders God’s salvation plan is for everyone. This marriage is not just for one sort, it is for all. Just this week the National Cathedral announced that all legal marriages will be celebrated there. For God’s sake lets celebrate that!
But as we celebrate that, lets not forget those who cannot love everyone. There is a young man I would like to ask you to pray for this week. His name is Terrance. He died on Monday. He couldn’t take it. I mean, there were those who felt they needed to “out” him. He lived in West Virginia, and one of my son’s friends knew him well. I can tell you from personal experience that there is an exception for many to love those like Terrance. There are families, schools, workplaces, and yes, even churches where some folks cannot embrace people like Terrance.
And yet there are so many, like Terrence, who have given the church and the world so much art, literature and music, how could we do anything but thank the likes of Terrance. As Blessed Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles put it; "There are many gifts, but the same spirit."
For all too many God’s grace does not always embrace people like Terrance. It cannot embrace two of my own sons who happen to be like Terrance. It cannot embrace Charlie, a dear friend of my sons and a dear friend of Terrance. Charlie tells me he was a good guy.
This kind of restriction on God’s love gives the Church a bad name. And as the prophet said in today’s first lesson; “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent.” So too for Terrance’s sake, I will not keep silent.
“Your love, O God, reaches to the heavens
Your faithfulness to the clouds
How priceless is your love O God”.
So says the Psalmist today.
Therefore we celebrate with Jesus at the Wedding in Cana of Galilee. We celebrate with Jesus who invited common fisherfolk, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, eunuchs, poor folk, prisoners, and all other sorts and conditions who live at the margins of this and all social orders in every age.
Interestingly enough, these very people were driven away from the Temple. The Pharisees, the Sadducees, The Scribes, and the Doctors of the Law, why the whole Sanhedrin; all these biblical literalists of the day looked askance at Jesus for the company he kept. And yet it was all the above he brought to the Temple precincts at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem; these very same sorts and conditions who spread palm branches at his feet as he rode on in majesty on a common donkey.
You know, we have done the right thing. We are embracing the teachings of Jesus. We believe that all people are included within God’s saving embrace. Now, all can enjoy the benefits and responsibilities of membership and ministry at every level in the Episcopal Church. Granted we are a tiny percentage in the world of faith. But we are not here to be successful. We are here to be faithful. God will reward such faithfulness as many will be drawn to this total and unconditional love.
So then, lets celebrate. Lets come to this Table of our God and feast with Jesus and all his friends. This is because Jesus is still alive in each and every one of you. For as long as you have the courage to love all God’s people there is hope in this tired and sin sick old world.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.