Epiphany 2, Year C, 2010

My husband and I planned our own wedding.  We wanted the wedding to be a low-key, fun affair, but it turns out that planning low-key, fun affairs for 130 guests requires an enormous amount of effort.

I traveled to vendor after vendor, choosing tents and lights and tables and chairs and table cloths and forks.  I did not think I was the kind of bride who cared about such things, but suddenly I had very strong feelings about whether the ribbons that were wrapped around the bridesmaid’s bouquet were white or pink.  It’s even possible to say that I got a little. . .controlling.  We may or may not have had several, extremely complex spreadsheets in which we recorded every detail of our planning.

We were able to control a lot about our wedding.  We were able to choose Memphis-style barbeque for the reception, complemented by Whole Foods vegetarian side dishes.  We were able to choose Whiskey Rebellion, the band that played bluegrass covers of such classics as “Cheek to Cheek” and “Sweet Child of Mine.”  By the generous offer of a friend, we were even able to choose an incredibly beautiful outdoor location for the reception that overlooked the rolling hills of Albemarle County, Virginia.

While there was a lot we could control, there was one thing that worried me.  The one thing I had no control over:  the weather.  I looked at almanacs.  I found the special wedding planner part of The Weather Channel’s website, I followed the weather as close as humanly possible.  Having an outdoor reception, I was afraid of two things:  heat and rain.

Well, sure enough, June 8th, 2007, was the hottest June 8th on record in Greenwood, Virginia, with the thermometer breaking 100 degrees.  As I was getting dressed in the air conditioned parish hall, I kept asking my bridesmaids, “It’s really hot outside, right?”  And bless their hearts, they just bold faced lied to me.  They even ran a perimeter of defense around me.  If anyone came into the parish hall, they immediately intercepted them saying, “Do NOT discuss the heat!”

It was so hot, that when you look at our formal wedding photographs, even though Matt and I are madly in love with each other, we’re holding each other with about six inches of space between us. Taking pictures, we noticed thick clouds rolling in, and sure enough, as we stepped into the car to take us to the reception, the skies opened up and huge drops of rain started to fall and the sky started to crack with thunder and lightning.  My worst fears were coming true.

The author of the Gospel of John doesn’t mention the weather at the wedding at Cana of Galilee, but the bride at was probably none too pleased that at her wedding, the wine ran out way earlier than they had planned.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ miracle at the wedding is the first public act of his ministry.  He and his disciples are invited to this wedding, as is his mother.  Mary somehow overhears the drama about the wine shortage and decides that this would be a good time for her son to actually do something about those special God-powers of his.  And while the grumpy interaction between Jesus and Mary is really fun to read, it does not explain why this story, of all possible stories of Jesus before his public ministry, was chosen to be included in the Gospel.

The jars Jesus has the servants fill up with water are jars that held water for purification.  You might remember that Jesus was berated by Pharisees because he did not make his disciples wash their hands with special purification water before they ate.  Well, here, Jesus makes a similar statement by transforming all the purification water into delicious, quality wine.  Jesus boldly flouts the Pharisaical rules and traditions around purity.

Imagine if you were visiting someone at Princeton hospital and you stopped by one of the many Purell stations, gave it a squeeze, and realized your hand was full of sticky crushed grapes, not hand sanitizer.  Imagine if when the acolytes ritually washed the celebrant’s hands here at Trinity, instead of water, out poured a nice Bordeaux.

Water and wine serve very different purposes.  Water is for keeping clean, keeping pure, keeping respectable.  Wine is for sensual enjoyment.  Wine is for celebration. And, of course, wine evokes the image of the last supper.

Jesus’ actions solved the problem of the breach of hospitality, but they also reveal an enormous amount about Jesus’ priorities.  Jesus’ business is to redefine the relationship between God and human beings.  No longer will it be necessary to perform complicated rituals, dictated by those in power, before one can have access to God.  Jesus’ business is to show the radical, abundant love that God has for us.

The poet, Richard Wilbur, wrote a poem as a wedding toast for his daughter based on this text that gets at this idea of abundant love. The first three stanzas read:

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 sweet excess
That can without depletion overflow

Which is to say that what love sees is true;
That the world’s fullness is not made but found,
Life hungers to abound
And pour its plenty out for you.[1]

This is the hardest lesson for me to learn about God and probably why I preach about it so much!  Believing that the love of God is abundant and overflowing can be difficult to remember as we learn about the massive destruction of parts of Haiti.  Believing in God’s provision can be difficult when a person is looking for work, with no leads in sight.   I find it much easier to believe in a God who punishes us for our bad behavior, who wants us to live tightly controlled, pious lives.  But over and over again, Jesus tells us that is not what God desires.  God desires to be in a loving relationship with us.  God’s love pours out—for the people of Haiti, for those in our country who are out of work, for us, wherever we are on our journey.  We may not always be able to feel that love, but it is there, for us.

And while it is a shallow illustration, the weather at my wedding remains a metaphor for me, about God’s love.

The night of the wedding, after the rain stopped pouring from the sky and the lighting stopped threatening people’s safety and the electricity stopped flickering, the temperature dropped twenty degrees, the clouds parted, and the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen blazed across the sky.

The wedding pictures we treasure that day are not the stiff formal ones, but are photos taken during that half hour before the sun went down.  There is one of us against the red and purple sky and countless photos of people softly illuminated, gazing the sunset with wonder.  Without the heat, without the rain, we never would have had that gorgeous sunset.

No planning on my part could have created that moment.  Just as I could not control the awful heat and violent storm, I could not control the beauty that followed.  The sunset was pure gift.

I highly doubt that God was so personally invested in my wedding that he manipulated the skies for us, but for me the sunset is a metaphor for the radical, abundant, surprising blessings that God pours out for us throughout our lives, often out of the darkest places.

We could not have stopped the economic crisis.  No amount of control on our parts could have stopped the earthquake that has ravaged Haiti.  But I guarantee you, that even in the middle of despair and epic suffering, God is at work, redeeming that which seemed irredeemable, saving that which seemed unsalvageable, and pouring his abundant love out, even for the seemingly unloved.

And so, I return to Wilbur’s poem:

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

Amen.


[1] Wilbur, Richard, Collected Poems:  1943-2004, Harcourt Inc.:  New York, 2004, p. 136.

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