Texts: Isaiah 62:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
Then we find ourselves at a party in Cana. Cana is a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere—a backwater within a backwater. It probably makes Nazareth look like a metropolis. The bridegroom’s friends are supposed to provide the wine for the reception, but they must also be from Cana, because what little they can scrape together isn’t enough even to last the night, let alone the customary seven-day celebration. It’s not hard to imagine that whenever little Cana did have a wedding, they probably all ended like this.
This time, however Jesus intervenes and they end up with 180 gallons of wine—that’s the equivalent of about 900 bottles. 900 bottles. For a tiny wedding in a tiny town like Cana. That’s enough wine for the party to last a very, very, very long time. And on top of that, this is—in Jesus’ own words—before his hour has even come.
John is painting a picture for us with this story. Perhaps more accurately, he’s reminding us of pictures we’ve already seen, the pictures painted by Isaiah and Amos and Joel, for a start, perhaps others like the picture painted by John of Patmos of the Marriage Feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19). John wants us to see that, before his hour has even come, Jesus is bringing God’s reign to life around him. The beginning of his work—the very first thing he does—is to embody the abundance of that reign and point to the greater abundance yet to come.
When you think about what heaven will be like, what comes to mind? We are usually told that it is a beautiful place, full of joy and happiness. All the ice cream we can eat, all the beautiful art we could ever look at. That abundance is still for us a characteristic of how we imagine God’s reign. There is plenty of everything, including happiness.
What I find fascinating as I read this text is how it fits together with our cultural attitudes. We are a society of consumers. Everything around us tells us that we deserve the best and should settle for nothing less. If your mechanic charges too much, try another one. If the produce at your grocery store is not fresh enough, complain to the management. If your waiter gives you poor service, don’t leave a good tip. This isn’t a bad thing, but I think that it helps us feel entitled. When we find ourselves in heaven, we naturally expect that we will be the ones sipping margaritas on the beach, we will be the ones eating at the feast that never ends, we will be the ones in the banquet hall drinking our fill of the best wine.
This is also true with churches. Most of us are here because we get something out of it. That’s great! I hope we all get something out of being here. However, our consumer-brains tell us that we are getting something out of church if there are youth programs for our kids and small groups and bible studies for us, if they play the music we like during worship and the sermons make us leave feeling uplifted or challenged or enlightened, or even if the people are nice to us. These are all good things, but if that’s all we are looking for, are we missing something?
Notice what the story says. Of all the people at the wedding, nobody knew what had happened. The guests probably didn’t even notice there was a problem; the head steward tasted the wine, but had no idea where it came from. The only people who knew the whole story were the servants. That detail—an afterthought in parentheses—makes this story what it is. Of everybody there, only the servants can truly appreciate what has happened. Only the servants—the waiters, the janitors, the bussers, the jar-carriers—are in a position to see Jesus’ power at work. What if instead of aspiring to be the ones at the tables, John is suggesting where we really want to be is hauling the water jugs?
Ever wonder why Jesus is so big on this service thing? I just listened to an interview with Ray Liotta on Fresh Air. He was adopted as an infant. He said he can remember as a small child feeling frustrated with his Saturday chores and saying to his parents, “The only reason why you adopted us was to do all this work.” It might seem sometimes that the only reason God adopts us is to “do all this work,” like we’re minions of the Almighty, or something. But I think that the real answer is deeper.
When we think about abundance, we focus on the wine. In this story, the wine is the sign that shows us the abundance Jesus gives and the abundance of God’s kingdom; but I think real abundance the story is pointing to is different. I think the real abundance is found in that little, half-forgotten, mostly overlooked parenthetical afterthought, the part that says, “The servants knew where the wine had come from.”
I think that if someone were to search for conclusive proof of the existence of God, the only hope of finding it would be through service. People talk about searching for God in things like rainbows or sunsets or the smiles of babies, but unless you already have a sense of God, finding God in those places is as likely as finding God in the stench of a homeless person passed out on the sidewalk or in the vitriol of a political campaign advertisement.
The servants, however, are the people in the position to see both God and the abundance God gives. God’s glory was revealed to the widow who shared the last of her oil and flour with Elijah; to the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair; to the people hauling the water jugs. God’s glory was revealed through the Son of God who lived his entire life in service.
Through service, we place ourselves alongside Christ—God who came among us—and we open ourselves to the experience of God’s glory. And when we experience it, the abundance of God overwhelms us--900 bottles overwhelms us. That experience of God is so abundant that we see God’s presence not only the sunset, but also in the stench of the homeless person. This is the reason Christ trains us to be servants through the Church, the reason he feeds us with his body and blood at this table, so that we might become like him.
In baptism, we have been adopted by God to do all this work, not because God is demanding or lazy, but because God is generous: only as servants do we have the hope of experiencing firsthand the abundance God brings. I am reminded of a poem by the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. He writes: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”
As Christians, it is worthwhile for us to ask ourselves: What if, when God’s reign is established, instead of sitting in the banquet hall drinking the wine, we will be the ones waiting tables? What if this is the really, truly good news?