Sunday 10 January 2015 Epiphany 2
Jesus transforms our water into his wine
With awesome deeds you answer our prayers for deliverance, O God our Saviour; you that are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the far off seas. Psalm 65:5-6 (NZPB p. 564)
God of all mercy,
your Son brought good news to the despairing,
freedom to the oppressed
and joy to the sad;
fill us with your Spirit,
that the people of our day may see in us his likeness
and glorify your name. (NZPB p. 564)
What business is God in? A consistent answer to this question through John's Gospel is the business of transformation. The 'miracle at Cana' - our gospel reading today - in which water is transformed into wine is repeated throughout that gospel as hungry people are fed, paralysed people get up and walk, blind people see and even the dead are raised to life. Even in the Epilogue to the gospel (John 21) a night's fishing without success becomes a morning's abundant catch!
Isaiah looks ahead to God transforming Israel: no longer to be called Forsaken or Desolate, God's people will known as My Delight Is in Her and Married.
The psalmist does not speak of transformation as such but celebrates the continuing foundation of Israel's faith in God the Transformative God: God's steadfast love. In two verses, 8 and 9, the psalmist anticipates an aspect of the Cana miracle in which water is turned into abundant, fine wine: when people take refuge in the God of Steadfast Love, 'they feast on the abundance of your house' and thus 'drink from the river of your delights.'
Paul's teaching on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 could yield many sermons (on spiritual gifts, on what each gift consists of, on the contribution of spiritual gifts to the life of the church, on the core confession and creed of the church, Jesus is Lord, etc).
If we take the perspective of Transformation as our guide then this passage speaks of the transformative work of the Holy Spirit, enabling people to become Christians (see verses 2-3, 'pagans' to those who confess, "Jesus is Lord",) activating gifts within Christians which serve 'the common good' (12:7) of the church, each of which has transformative potential (not least a gift Jesus himself demonstrated at Cana, 'the working of miracles' (12:10), and all of which contribute to the change in which individuals are transformed into the 'body' of Christ (though this last matter is the subject of the remainder of 1 Corinthians 12).
As for the wedding at Cana itself in John 2:1-11, the bare story of water being turned into wine is a marvellous story of God's power to transform situations. But in John's narratival hands the story also conveys other messages. Here we note (1) the miracle is a 'sign' (verse 11; the first of, depending how we count them, seven or eight signs in this gospel), that is, it has significance beyond a demonstration of God's power; (2) the sign 'revealed his glory' (also verse 11 but see also verse 4), that is, Jesus the ordinary bloke is, in fact, Someone else as well, which we the readers already know (e.g. because of the Prologue to the gospel, John 1:1-18) but which the disciples are scarcely recognising (although they knew enough to have become his disciples); (3) the sign, like all the signs in this gospel, is purposed to elicit 'belief', and so we find that the disciples 'believed in him' (verse 11); but all this (4) is a partial or anticipatory disclosure of the fullness of God's glory which awaits 'My hour' which 'has not yet come' (verse 4): that is, only in the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ will full and final disclosure take place of who He is.
In other words, one aspect of transformation in this story is the transformation of the disciples. Turning water into wine is (in a literal sense, as here in today's passage) a party trick if it happens in such a way that people marvel at it and then carry on their lives as previously. But the water transformed into wine is symbolic of lives transformed through encounter with Jesus.
Further, the miracle is an abundant transformation (lots of water is changed, and what it is changed into is high-quality wine), this too symbolises lives being transformed through Christ because what he brings is 'abundant life' (John 10:10).
To what transformation in our lives through Christ can we testify?
The Rev Dr Peter Carrell is Director of Theology House in Christchurch.