Texts: Isaiah 62:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
Jewish literature, both in the Bible and in other books, talks about the Day of the Lord as a time of abundance: as a feast full of rich foods filled with marrow and well-aged wines strained clear (Isa 25.6), as a time when the mountains shall drip sweet wine and the hills flow with milk (Joel 3.18). When Jesus pulls this “stupid little miracle,” the result is about 180 gallons of wine. Regardless of how many people are at the party, that is enough wine to keep the festivities going for a very, very, very long time.
Now, of course there are the parties we’ve been that have been kind of dead or just terribly awkward, and there are those moments when we know we’ve stayed too long because one of the kids threw a tantrum from being up too late or somebody had too much to drink and passed out or because you’re about to fall asleep standing up, but that isn’t the kind of party that John is talking about. He’s talking about the kind of party that only seems to get better the later it goes, the kind of party that continues for days and days, the kind of party where the host saves the best wine for last.
I’ve been to a lot of great parties, but one of the first that comes to mind for me is my sister-in-law’s wedding. Stephanie and I were wedding attendants when her younger sister Lisa and her wife Kelsey got married. Lisa and Kelsey are both substantially younger than us, and of the dozen or so wedding attendants we were by far the oldest. They also mostly knew one another, and we didn’t know any of them, so it was a little awkward at first, but I have a hard time remembering when I last had as much fun as I did at that wedding.
We spent the day with the wedding party getting ready, taking pictures, setting up the church hall, scurrying around doing last-minute errands for the couple, and then standing proudly by their side for their vows. At the reception, everybody was laughing and dancing and having fun; we were able to visit with cousins and friends that we hadn’t seen for quite some time, and the entire evening seemed suffused with gladness as I watched the little kids dance adorably with their parents and listened to the toasts.
Above all, I remember all of Lisa and Kelsey’s 20-something friends celebrating and having fun with the kind of energy and gusto that I haven’t seen since I was in college. It made me deeply happy to be able to share that joy with them. Even as the party wound down, the fun continued as we took down decorations, cleaned floors, returned tables and packed up belongings together. When we parted ways later the next day, it was with some sadness because over the course of the wedding preparation and celebration, those strangers had become friends.
That’s the kind of party that John is talking about. The first of Jesus’ signs in Cana of Galilee gave that handful of merrymakers the briefest glimpse into the party that God has in store for all creation. Although their wine did eventually run out and everyone returned home, the meaning of that sign lingers as we await the promised wedding feast that will have no end.
That is the promise around which we still gather as Christ’s Church. The party that began on that day in Cana still, in some way, continues to bring us together as a community. Although it’s not always a joyful celebration like that wedding feast, Jesus is still the eternal life of the party, still gathering people together from all sorts of different walks of life, not unlike all those people Lisa and Kelsey invited to be attendants at their wedding. At this feast, Jesus continues to provide the good wine—but the best is still yet to come.
Unfortunately, even in the midst of this party our anxiety over salvation casts a pall over the festivities. It sometimes seems as though we can’t or won’t believe that God could simply want to celebrate with us, and we begin thinking of our invitation to this party as a reward rather than a request.
This is the kind of nonsense Paul tried to warn the Corinthians against. The Corinthian church was the kind of wedding reception where everybody starts making suppositions about who the bridegroom likes more based on where they are seated and who gets to start the buffet line. The Corinthians divided themselves into cliques around everything from income and status to citizenship to who baptized them (whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas). They even saw their skills—whether teachers or prophets or speakers of tongues—as signs of God’s favor and argued over which spiritual gifts were better than others.
Paul gently but firmly reminds them throughout this letter that they have not been invited to this party so that they can bicker among themselves who God likes more or who is more pious or obedient or important to the community. God has brought them together to celebrate God’s salvation. Next week we’ll read about Paul’s explanation of how God intends each of their individual gifts to complement one another.
We also benefit from hearing Paul’s message. Although we don’t necessarily consider the relative worth of being healers or prophets or of speaking tongues, I think we do still evaluate ourselves and one another on things like how many committees we’re active with, or how much money we contribute, or even how often we show up for worship. Paul reminds us alongside the Corinthians that the diversity of the body of Christ is not an accident or a mistake; it is the result of God’s calling specific people together in this specific community for the purpose of celebrating together.
Any such evaluation—whether of our neighbors or ourselves—belies a fundamental flaw in how we think about what it is we are doing here. Most, if not all, of us have been taught that religion is a private affair. Our faith is our own, and it is up to each one of us individually to work our own salvation with fear and trembling. What we don’t see is that when Paul says stuff like that, he’s speaking in the plural. We are not called here to pursue our own spiritual goals or agendas alongside others who are doing the same, we have been invited here to celebrate together what God is doing. You don’t invite people to a party so they can stand in the corner thinking about how glad they are to be invited, but so they can laugh and dance and meet people!
Private faith becomes a competition, each of us measuring our success against the others, but faith was never intended to be private or competitive—it’s cooperative. Christianity is a team sport. Each of us has been called to this community and to this faith because of what we have both to give to and to receive from one another. Private spiritual growth and ultimate salvation are not God’s goal for us; they are the byproducts of the main, central, overarching purpose for which God has called and is calling us. And that purpose, clearly stated throughout Scripture, is to announce through the Church to the wider world that God and God alone—not Caesar or nationalism or capitalism or anything else—is indeed its wise, loving, and just creator; that Jesus has defeated the powers that corrupt and enslave it; and that the Holy Spirit is at work to heal and renew it. In short, to proclaim, as Paul says, that “Jesus is Lord.”
Our very existence as this loving and beloved community is not an accident or a coincidence or some stupid little miracle wasted on the oblivious; is Jesus’ implicit promise of that God is still at work, and that the best is yet to come. This is the party where Jesus serves us the good wine. That wine that will not run out and this celebration will not cease until the real party starts: until the day when God lays the feast for all peoples of rich food and well-aged wines, the day when the mountains drip with wine and flow with milk, the day when all people will be made whole by being brought together into God’s kindom and all the earth rejoices at this marriage feast of the Lamb.