They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
Psalm 36:8, for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany
“I have run out, and it is my fault, and I ruined this wedding.”
I wonder if anyone at the wedding at Cana was about to get in trouble for not stocking enough wine for the party. Maybe the father of the bride, a well-meaning uncle, a hired ancient wedding planner, or maybe even the bridegroom himself. I wonder who looked into the wine barrels with a gasp, and gossip spread from mother to mother that there isn’t enough, they planned a wedding and ran out of wine.
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
John 2:1-11, Gospel text for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany
I’ve been in charge at events where things have gone wrong and it’s been my fault. Ministry can feel like a series of never ending “running out” – running out of nametags, losing half your email database, forgetting to pick up communion bread (“whose job was that??”), and the copier ink disappearing halfway through printing bulletins.
Stomach sinks, shame hits. We’ve run out, it was my fault!
Ministry also can be a series of running out of more serious things – patience, hope, energy. We wrestle with the same sins, of ourselves and our communities, and are discouraged. We don’t see progress, and we get frustrated. We watch our communities backslide, and we lose patience with them. We wonder if we’re getting more holy, and we feel like we aren’t. The people we are called to serve don’t seem to be getting holier, either, and we’re getting short-tempered.
It is so easy to preach stories about Jesus as if they’re a series of instructions of how we ought to act in the world, as if Jesus came to give us a better blueprint for how to be a good person. God knows that we do need a blueprint for being a better person, but sometimes we need a helluva lot more than more just instructions.
If Jesus is just a role model for our activism, than Jesus can’t help when we’ve run dry, scraping the bottom of the barrel.
If this story about Jesus creating wine at a wedding is just a reminder to create joy everywhere we go, than our Jesus is only useful for the people with inner resources who are good at making plans, and who never run out of supplies.
But this is a story precisely for the ones who run out of supplies because they didn’t plan very well. This is a story precisely for the ones who are scraping the bottom of the barrel. This is the ones who need more than an example and more than motivation. This story is for everyone who needs a miracle.
Beloved, we can’t show up to emptiness and create fullness. And our Jesus is not expecting us to.
Our Jesus has come, and He is making all things new.
Our Jesus is here, and He is turning scarcity to abundance.
Whether you had your shit together or not.
When there is no practical solution, when the problem was your fault, when you’re halfway through a party and the celebration is about to end because of your short-sightedness and lack of preparation – look, Beloved, and see Jesus, laughing and turning water into wine, even though it wasn’t His plan to start His ministry like this. But our Jesus does improv, and our Jesus does it on our behalf.
Jesus doesn’t take our emptiness and turn it into an object lesson about how we should have made better plans. Jesus takes our emptiness and turns it into abundance. Jesus is not giving out rewards and punishments, Jesus is pouring out grace.
Sometimes, at that moment, a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying, “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now, perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything, do not perform anything, do not intend anything. Simply accept that fact that you are accepted.” If that happens to us, we experience grace.” – Paul Tillich
The first time I think I ever “loved” Jesus was when I watched Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of the Christ. It was the wedding at Cana scene that did it. It was the first time I ever saw a portrayal of Jesus laughing – not a tender laugh, or a gentle laugh, but a belly laugh like you do when you’ve been dancing all night and are a little tipsy and someone you love says something so funny that you totally lose it. It’s the kind of laughing you can only do when you feel so safe, and so loved, and also have had a few glasses of wine.
I think about that Jesus every time that I read this passage now. This joyful Jesus, who wasn’t assigning blame to anyone. This belly-laughing Christ, who would hold up another cup of wine a few years later and say “this is my Blood, poured out for you.” This Jesus has a serious mission, but it’s never so serious that He forgets us, or forgets our joy, or blames us for messing up, or does anything but show up in the places that we’re deficient, and create abundance. This Jesus is only reckless, foolish grace.
This is a Jesus who laughs, and invites us into laughter, and invites us into abundance.
Help me hold the silly drama of being human lightly,
with more laughing and less rigidity.
Teach me to step away and laugh,
instead of getting embroiled in things that don’t matter.
May the Christ who brought the wine to parties grant me playfulness & perspective.