Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Jesus Saves the Best for Last” (John 2:1-11)
January 20, 2019
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Apostle John structured his account of the gospel around seven signs, or miracles, Jesus performed, each of which revealed in a different way his glory as the Son of God. Today’s gospel lesson recounts the first of these seven signs: Jesus’ changing water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.
For many of us, our wedding day is one of the most important and memorable days of our lives. And yet in spite of all the planning, weddings often contain some unexpected moments. After Steph and I married on a scorching July afternoon, as we rode in a limo to the reception she had a glass of champagne and I, so excited and happy that I was not paying attention, polished off the rest of the bottle. Steph asked for some more, but…there was no more—oops. Shortly thereafter at the receiving line each person appeared to me as three people, all blurred and wobbly, and I tried my best to smile at the “middle” person and shake the “middle” hand proffered to me as they said, “Congratulations! Lovely wedding, just lovely!”
Once I presided at a wedding where the bride and bridesmaids got stuck in traffic and I spent a very tense 45 minutes with the groom and groomsmen waiting in the narthex a remote country church with no cell phone coverage. Thankfully they all eventually arrived. At another wedding I presided, when we got to the part of the liturgy when the priest says, “If any of you can show just cause why they may not be married lawfully, speak now; or else for ever hold your peace”, someone actually spoke up. A (how do I put this politely?) extremely inebriated gentleman stood up in the back of the congregation holding up a beer and did his best Larry the Cable Guy impression and shouted, “Let’s get-r-done!” Classy.
Some weddings have an expected moment that does not happen, like the very first wedding I performed when I forgot to say, “You may kiss the bride”…a wedding with no kiss…because there is not a rubric for it in the prayer book, and I had gone “by the book.” Needless to say, I added that rubric to my prayer book.
As some of you may have seen online, last month there was a wedding in Alabama at which something unexpected happened. The bride, Mary Bourne Roberts, gently guided her wheelchair bound father, Jim Roberts, who was in the final stages of incurable brain cancer, out onto the dancefloor for the bride/father dance. Jim was wearing a grey tuxedo with a white rose boutonniere. Mary Bourne, a professional dance instructor, held his hands and beautifully danced to the title track of Lee Ann Womack’s 2000 country album I Hope You Dance. As Mary Bourne held her father’s hands she swayed and sashayed and twirled, an incessant smile beaming from her face the whole time, as you heard these lyrics being sung:
I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Living might mean taking chances but they’re worth taking
Loving might be a mistake but it’s worth making
Don’t let some hell-bent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to selling out, reconsider
Give the heavens more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
At the end of the dance, Mary Bourne gave her father a big hug and kiss, as he beamed back at her, his eyes brimming with tears. Mary Bourne later said, “We had always planned to use the song. We weren’t sure how he was even going to feel that day. We just knew that we were going to do it somehow.” And they did.
At the wedding in today’s gospel passage something unexpected happened: “the wine gave out.” Running out of wine at a wedding in biblical times was a major faux pas. Mary tells her son Jesus, “They have no wine” and Jesus responds in a curious way, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” First of all, lest you think Jesus was being rude and dismissive to his own mother, the Aramaic word for “woman” he used was a term of respect and honor, albeit not one we would use with our mothers today. Later Jesus would address his mother in the same way, and later, what Jesus meant by “My hour has not yet come” would be made clear. But Mary knew Jesus would do something to help with the wine running out, which is why she told him in the first place…and also why she told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:1-5).
(As a side note, Mary’s words to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” is sound advice for all of us when you sense the Lord telling you to do something, like apologize to that person you know you offended, or help out that person you know is in need, or let go of that grudge you have been nursing for years).
Then Jesus himself does something unexpected. He tells the servants to fill up the “six stone water jars” with water, each of which, as John noted, held “twenty or thirty gallons.” The servants did so. In fact, “they filled them up to the brim” (John 2:6-7). (Another side note, metaphorically if the Lord tells you to fill up some water jars don’t “sort of” fill them; fill them “up to the brim”).
Then Jesus told the servants, “No draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” They did just that, and the water had been changed wine, not watered down cheap wine but top -shelf wine, wine so good the steward said, “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” (John 2:8-10). In other words, Jesus saved the best for last. There were 120 to 180 gallons of top-shelf wine. It must have been an Episcopal wedding. It certainly was not a Southern Baptist wedding.
John then concludes this passage, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11). John goes on to record six more signs Jesus did, each of which also “revealed his glory” as the Son of God. Jesus healed a little boy who was dying (John 4:46-54), healed a lame man who had been unable to walk for thirty-eight years (John 5:1-13), and fed a crowd of five thousand people with a kid’s bag lunch of bread and fish (John 6:1-15). Jesus walked on water in the middle of a storm to rescue the swamped and frightened disciples (John 6:16-21), healed a man who had been blind his whole life (John 9:1-7), and in the seventh and climactic sign, raised Lazarus from the dead—calling out to him by name, “Lazarus, come out!” and as John understatedly wrote, “the dead man came out” (John 11:38-44). Each of these seven signs revealed the glory of Jesus, the Son of God.
But even after all these signs—and as John later noted, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book” (John 20:30)—Jesus was not yet done revealing his glory. Remember what Jesus told his mother Mary at the wedding? “My hour has not yet come.”
Later in his ministry Jesus experienced intense resistance, to the point of some people wanting him arrested, but as John wrote, “no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come” (John 7:30). This happened again later when Jesus was teaching in the temple but in the same way, “no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come” (John 8:20).
But eventually Jesus’ hour did come.
Five days before his death, right after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus told his disciples Andrew and Philip:
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit…Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I come to this hour (John 12:23-24, 27).
And a few days later at the Last Supper, as John poignantly wrote, “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). And what did Jesus do at the Last Supper? He washed his disciples’ feet and then instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion.
And right before Jesus was finally arrested, he prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you” (John 17:1). And a crowd of false accusers and armed soldiers arrived and arrested Jesus and took him into custody. He was falsely accused, beaten, mocked, and sentenced to be crucified.
And although Jesus indeed feared the mountain in the distance, Calvary, he refused to “settle for the path of least resistance.” Instead, Jesus gave his life for a world full of hell-bent and bitter hearts. Some dismissed it as a cosmic mistake, but apparently Jesus believed what Lee Ann Womack sang, “Love might be a mistake but it’s worth making.” And in the same way Jesus addressed his mother at the wedding in Cana, he did so again, this time from the cross—“Woman, here is your son.” (John 19:26-27). Jesus was not sure how he was going to feel that Good Friday, but he knew he was going to do it somehow.
And he did.
Jesus’s death on the cross on Good Friday remains the ultimate demonstration of the glory of God. Jesus atoned for the sins of the world, including yours, and demonstrated once and for all that God is a God of love, that as scripture tells us, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
And on Easter morning something else unexpected happened as Jesus was raised from the dead, and revealed his glory yet again as the One who not only changes water into wine but also changes death into life.
Back for just a moment to the father/daughter wedding dance of Jim and Mary Bourne Roberts …just twelve days after that beautiful dance with his daughter, the hour came for Jim Roberts, and he passed away. And one day the hour will come for each of you as well. It may be on a windy Wednesday afternoon or a frigid Friday evening or a silent Sunday morning—but your hour will come.
But even the hour of your death will not be your final hour, for as John recorded, Jesus also proclaimed, “Very truly , I tell you…the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear (my) voice and will come out” (John 5:25, 28). In other words, what happened for Lazarus will happen for Jim Roberts….and will happen for you. What an hour that will be!
Jesus Christ, the One who changes water into wine, changes death into life, and changes hell-bent and bitter hearts with love.
And Jesus always saves the best for last.