John 2, 1-11
The fourth Gospel is probably the most demanding book in the New Testament. The reader is expected to recognise the references in the text – to have studied what we call the Old Testament – and to know more than a smattering of history and philosophy and contemporary literature too. So a deceptively simple story like the wedding at Cana, which we are invited to read during Epiphany, is worth a few minutes (read John 2, vv1-11). It has the atmosphere of a typical village celebration, such as happens across the world in every culture at a wedding. But it is, of course, not an episode of The Archers! There’s much more going on than meets the eye, which is why John calls it the first ‘sign’, the first serious evidence of what the coming of Jesus into the world was going to mean for his own people and for us all.
The core message of the fourth Gospel is that in Jesus God is building on the history of Israel to the point of transforming it into a new, universal faith, bringing forgiveness, hope and eternal life. We can all believe, whoever we are, whatever our personal background; and that includes you and me, thank God. The fourth Gospel is a book about transformation. Lives are changed for the better as Jesus is recognised to be God’s Christ.
So, not surprisingly, at the heart of this first sign is a transformation. The water which symbolises the old religion is changed into the wine which symbolises the new. And, as the cynical master of ceremonies comments, the new is pretty damn good! What we have here is more than an everyday story of country folk. This is a signal – a better word than sign – of what God is planning to do. This Gospel (like the other three) is written with the hindsight of what eventually happened in the life, death and resurrection of this Jesus. If Christmas means anything at all, for us it must mean that history and life have moved on, that God has spoken, that love will prevail with hope and faith, that timeless three.
As Epiphany passes we are launched into John’s story of transformation, water into wine, darkness into light, mortality into eternity, reluctance into love.
God has spoken; listen out, and respond!
Revd Peter Brain