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

A primary theme of this Season after Epiphany is God’s glory being revealed to us through Jesus. The glory that was revealed to the shepherds that first Christmas, when they found a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. The glory that was revealed to the Magi, when they followed the God-given star to Bethlehem. The glory that was revealed at the River Jordan, when Jesus was baptized by John, and heard a voice from heaven declaring him God’s beloved son (the story that we heard last Sunday). 

And today, the glory that is revealed through the miracle in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11). Where there was a wedding, destined to be known as the wedding where Jesus turned water into wine. 

The Wedding in Cana

We all know this story, I am sure. It is a wedding just down the road from Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. Jesus and his mother were attending, along with many others. Weddings were a big deal then, as they are now. But a wedding in Jesus’ time would typically last seven days. Lots of food and wine for the guests who traveled, usually on foot, to attend this social event. Not all of the guests would stay the entire time, making it hard to predict how much food and drink to have on hand. But to run out of wine at a wedding like this would be deeply embarrassing to the host. 

So, when the wine gave out at this particular wedding, Mary wanted Jesus to do something about it. He resisted, telling her that his hour had not yet come. But as is often the case, a mother’s request was met. And Jesus turned those six stone jars of water into wine, the best wine yet. A true miracle. 

This miracle is called the first of Jesus’ signs revealing his glory. But what kind of sign is this? And what kind of glory is revealed? This famous story is one that is often read at weddings, of course, and with good reason. In fact, there is a famous poem inspired by this story called “A Wedding Toast” by the former poet laureate, Richard Wilbur. It was written for his son and daughter-in-law’s wedding. Here is his poem: 

A Wedding Toast by Richard Wilbur

St. John tells how, at Cana’s wedding feast,
The water-pots poured wine in such amount
That by his sober count
There were a hundred gallons at the least.

It made no earthly sense, unless to show
How whatsoever love elects to bless
Brims to a sweet excess
That can without depletion overflow.

Which is to say that what love sees is true;
That this world’s fullness is not made but found.
Life hungers to abound
And pour its plenty out for such as you.

Now, if your loves will lend an ear to mine,
I toast you both, good son and dear new daughter.
May you not lack for water,
And may that water smack of Cana’s wine.

“May you not lack for water, and may that water smack of Cana’s wine.”  That is a wonderful blessing for a couple getting married, isn’t it? But it’s also a wonderful blessing for life. May our life smack of Cana’s wine; may our life not lack for water, and may that water smack of something greater. May our life be more than mere water, in other words. May it abound with joy, and with life, and with love, and with all that comes from a life lived with Jesus. 

This miracle seems rather unimportant in the grand scheme of things, I suppose. Jesus isn’t saving a life. He isn’t giving sight to the blind, or helping the deaf to hear. He isn’t feeding five thousand, or casting out any demons. It’s not very practical, I guess you could say. 

But this miracle teaches us so much about the life of faith, because it provides us with this powerful image for what a life with Jesus looks like: It is extraordinary. It is wine, not water. The good stuff, too. It is more than what we can see, more than what we can find on our own. Life with Jesus turns our plain old water life into a rich, wonderful, bountiful life. This may not be the most needed of Jesus’ miracles, or the most practical, but it is essential; and it is the first of his signs, revealing his glory. 

Other Signs that Reveal Jesus’ Glory

I want to take us on a quick detour right now, and look very briefly at some other signs mentioned in John’s Gospel. It is an important theme in John’s Gospel, because these signs reveal Jesus’ glory and help us to believe in him. 

In John 4, we are told of a second sign that Jesus performed, the miraculous healing of the royal official’s son (John 4:46-54). His son was back in Capernaum, at the point of death. Jesus was in Cana, and approached by the son’s father, begging him to heal his son. And Jesus did. This, we are told, “was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee” (John 4:54). 

Not long after that, in John 6, we are told that “a large crowd kept following [Jesus], because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick” (John 6:2). One of his important signs is found in John 11, the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45). Fast forward to the end, and we read in John 20 that “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).

That is the purpose of all of these signs – to reveal Jesus’ glory, and to help us to come to believe. Each sign or miracle recorded in the gospels reveals another aspect of Jesus’ glory. His compassion for the sick, and for the hungry crowds; his power over nature; and even his power over death. 

But each of these signs also came at a cost. And every sign, every miracle that Jesus performed, drew him closer and closer to the cross. 

In fact, it was the sign of raising Lazarus from the dead that directly led to the plot to kill Jesus. In John 11, after Jesus raised his friend Lazarus, we read this: 

The chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, ‘What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation’.
… So from that day on they planned to put him to death” (John 11:47-53).

And their plan would succeed soon enough. Jesus knew that these signs would eventually lead to his death. But it was what he was sent to do. It is what he came to do, to die for the sins of the world. 

His Hour Had Not Yet Come

Even back at the start of it all, at this wedding in Cana, Jesus knew all that lay before him. When Mary approached her son at this wedding, and told him that they were out of wine, Jesus said to her: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4). Jesus was reluctant to perform this miracle because his hour had not yet come, meaning it was not yet time for him to set in motion the events that would lead to his death. 

Fast-forward to John 13, and we are told the time when his hour did come. This chapter of John’s Gospel, which records the events that took place in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, begins in this way: “Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father” (John 13:1).

Listen to the next few sentences of this chapter, telling us what Jesus did when his hour had come: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet” (John 13:2-5).

The hour had come for Jesus to be betrayed, and for him to be arrested and crucified. And what did he do? He washed his disciples’ feet. No more turning water into wine; no more walking on water or feeding five thousand. Now it was time for Jesus to humble himself, and to show us his love. 

The Greatest Sign

Today, as we hear the story of the first of the signs recorded in John’s Gospel, I have to ask: Is there a greater sign, in all the world, than the Son of God washing his disciples’ feet? Is there a greater sign, in all the world, than the Son of God dying on a cross for us all? Is there a greater sign, in all the world, than Jesus, offering us a simple meal of bread and wine, and declaring this bread and this wine to be his very self? 

Jesus turned water into wine, and it was a great sign. One that we still remember, all these years after it happened. But if we really want to see a sign involving wine, I can think of no greater sign than what we find on this altar every Sunday morning. When we give thanks, and remember the cup that is the new covenant in Jesus’ blood, shed for us and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. It turns out that it is not wine that makes life extraordinary, but Jesus. The blood of the Lamb, shed for you and for us all, for the forgiveness of sin, for life and for salvation. 

I want to share Richard Wilbur’s poem one more time, as a kind of final blessing. And as I do so, I want to draw your attention to a line in this poem, that  “this world’s fullness is not made but found.” This world’s fullness is not made. Not by us. This world’s fullness is made by Jesus, and given to us. Not made, but found, and found always in Jesus. The one who turned the water into wine, and the one who offers us the wine that brings salvation. Here, one more time, is Wilbur’s poem:

St. John tells how, at Cana’s wedding feast,
The water-pots poured wine in such amount
That by his sober count
There were a hundred gallons at the least.

It made no earthly sense, unless to show
How whatsoever love elects to bless
Brims to a sweet excess
That can without depletion overflow.

Which is to say that what love sees is true;
That this world’s fullness is not made but found.
Life hungers to abound
And pour its plenty out for such as you.

Now, if your loves will lend an ear to mine,
I toast you both, good son and dear new daughter.
May you not lack for water,
And may that water smack of Cana’s wine.

Amen.

One thought on “The Glory Revealed in Cana: My Sermon on John 2:1-11

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