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What will we do with all this wine?

Second Sunday after Epiphany (Year C) 2013

John 2:1-11

By Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones  ©

Audio file

Today’s sermon was inspired by a question posed at the clergy lectionary study group I attend.
The question was  “I wonder what they did with all that wine?”  Now that’s a midrash question, one of those questions  that points to a ‘gap’ in the biblical text,  and wonders, if by filling in that gap with faithful imagination, we might be able to uncover  yet more of the Godly liveliness of this holy text.

To explore that question,  we need to travel back from here to the village of Cana, about thirty years after the events of the story. Give me a moment to help us do that……
(a ‘stage’ is set, with a large “jar” (a 32 gallon bin!),  a pitcher, and stone wine goblet, a bottle of wine).

My name is Rivkah.
It was my wedding.
I am the third and youngest daughter of my parents.
Mine was the third wedding they’d had to pay for.
Weddings were expensive back then, just as they are for you in your world.
Seven days is the length of a typical wedding feast here in Cana, in Galilee

That’s a lot of food!
My sisters and I baked for a week to make the challah.
Our lemon trees were stripped bare,
and the olive presses  creaked into the night!
We raised four lambs that spring and a brood of hens
just for my wedding feast.
My uncle, whose land slopes west, makes wine from his little vineyard,
it’s not the best – though it’s drinkable, and it certainly helped….

Why am I telling you this?
Because I want you to know it was a good wedding.
Our guests – relatives for sure,
but also my mother’s childhood friends from her home town of Nazareth,
arrived the first day, and they kept  on coming!
Mine was the only wedding in Cana that year,
and I’m sure the whole town joined in.
My father would never turn a soul away.
“Feasts are God’s blessing! Signs of God’s bounty!”  he’d always say.
And my wedding was his last chance to throw a party.

By the third day of the wedding festivities
the weather grew hot, roasting the ground well into the night.
It was the night of the ceremony, our blessing under the canopy,
the night that covenant wine would flow.
Did you know that at a good wedding,
you would pour a pitcher of wine into the ground,
a sign of God’s gift of the earth,
a promise to bless the couple with the fruitfulness and faithfulness?
Mine was a good wedding!
The pitcher was poured into the hot ground.

But as the revelling continued my father was worried… for the wine was running out!

I didn’t know, I was the bride, young and in love,
enjoying all the fuss and attention.
I didn’t even see his mother talk to him,
or see our servants carrying all the water from the well
to fill the purification jars, lined up behind the north wall of our house.
And I never saw what he did, that third day of my wedding.

Except when he hugged my new husband,
-  a man hug, three pats on the back,
and then with a wink,  and a bowing of the head,
he cast a smiling, laughing blessing at me!
Then he moved back among the partygoers.

I do remember the commotion, though.
My father’s  gasp and laugh,
and my mother crying,
and my new husband looking for all the world
like a landed fish, opening his mouth, but saying nothing
as he  held out a cup for me,
“Take, drink! “ He said.

I remember how it tasted!
Warm, and smooth, rich ruby red like pomegranate juice,
with the taste of earth and sun that lasts on the tongue and down the throat.
It was good wine!
But when it was over, our water jars
Six of them – this size! – were still almost filled to the brim
with this harvest of wonderful wine from…. heaven knows where.

“What are we going to do with all this wine?!”
My mother wailed.
My father, who was still enjoying the afterglow,
said “Honey, not our problem!
It’s Rivkah’s wine.”
“What am I going to with all this wine?!
What we will do with it?”
I asked my brand new husband…

Well, let me tell you what we did with all the wine that Jesus made.
Eleven months after our wedding,
we filled pitchers from one of the jars,
poured one into the ground in thanksgiving
to God for the safe birth of our first child.
And we invited our neighbours
to celebrate God’s goodness  with us.
That was another good party!
My son, now grown,
earthy, and warm and strong,
like the wine of his blessing.

Then there was the day we knew would come
all too soon, when we sat Shiva for my father.
He, who would never turn a soul away,
and so the wine – our Cana wine, flowed
like our tears, with everyone who came to sit with us.

Wedding wine, birthing wine, mourning wine.
Cana wine, rich to the last drop,
a gift given with no fanfare,
but with a wink, a grin, from Mary’s Son,….
Wine, ….of course!
To our people, wine has always been
God’s eternal sign of blessing, overflowing.

My mother came for Passover, the year the harvest failed,
and all in the town were scrawny with hunger.
She said “What will we do for wine for the Passover meal?”
And my husband laughed, and said,
“Not your problem, Mother,
we have  Rivkah’s wine!”
And we poured, and poured, enough for the whole town,
the night we remembered God’s rescuing grace
from slavery and counted ourselves among the blessed, again.

We’ve used it bit by bit,
every birth, every Passover, every death, since.
Including the Passover when Mary’s Son
The winemaker Jesus
was killed in Jerusalem.
Slaughtered like a Passover lamb.
When we heard of his death, I half expected the wine to turn sour,
but still it flowed, blood red,   earthy, and strong,
blessing even in the midst of tragedy.

Wedding wine, birthing wine, mourning wine,
Passover wine, Cana wine, Jesus wine.
God’s promise, overflowing.

John never told you, did he?
What happened to the wine.
Or maybe he did, in a roundabout sort of way…
He told you about the one who made it,
with a wink, hug and a grin;
he who lived his whole life
like good wine poured in blessing.
Jesus, who said “I have come that you may have life,
in all its fullness, abundant life!”

Abundant like six huge jars of the best wine you’ve ever tasted.
Abundant and real, like the deaths we mourned, the harvests we lost,
the pains and sickness we nursed.
Each moment sweetened with a  cup of Cana wine.
We’ve lifted a  cup in the face of suffering
and demanded its blessing anyway.

One jar remains, 30 gallons or so.
Enough for my burial, enough for the
party of thankfulness they will have,
my own life pouring into the ground in blessing,
mingling with Cana wine.

© Elisabeth R. Jones 2013

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