If we were able to go to church this morning, which we might try to do in a couple of hours if we can dig out, or we might not if it’s still really slick, it’s kind a toss up at this moment, we would get to hear Isaiah 62 read opposite John 2. The snow has ruined our winding way through John 6–that should be a book, Six Weeks In John Six: Watch Jesus Disappoint Everyone.
It’s providence probably, because John 2 is a nice place to go if you are roiled—one way or the other—about that Gillette commercial, and about the relationships between men and women in general. The woman doesn’t really appear, except as The Mother, and in the meta-theological way of Jesus being the bridegroom and the church being the bride. Anyway, there is an actual real groom in the story, and his life is basically a disaster.
It’s the same old sad tale. The poor man had a whole year to get ready for this one event. Sure, it wasn’t just one day, it was more like a whole week, and it was the family from miles around, which adds up when everyone is basically related anyway. And it was kind of a big deal. And it was entirely on him. If someone wanted to wander into a vortex of stress and performance anxiety, the groom probably could have gone on social media to complain. But nobody would have been too sympathetic. You had a year to get your Pinterest board ready. There was plenty of sand to pour into your mason jars. There were plenty of people willing to glue burlap on everything. You only had to ask.
Except that it wasn’t mason jars and burlap—that was last year—it was wine. Gallons and gallons of wine. It’s so interesting how Jesus bookends his own ministry. There is wine on both occasions—for joy and for sorrow, for celebration and for redemption. Except that the redemption is there in the first place as well as the last. Indeed, it is almost as if the wedding at Cana is a much more cheerful, but nevertheless profound, preview of the crucifixion—nobody knows what’s going on, nobody sees who is doing the work or why, nobody understands who is pouring out the wine or that its dark, bitter dregs are covering the failures and ruination not just of a single human life, but of those of everyone who finally and desperately drinks it down.
That’s the one thing in life that never is a mystery. The failure. That’s always really clear, both to the individual and to everyone surrounding him. You can always wander by and easily see how it was that everything fell apart. Especially with some concentration, a gift with which all human people are more than amply endowed. Peer at something long enough and you’ll be able to figure out what’s wrong with it. Even after several barrels of wine.
The mystery is how Jesus covers over the failure and makes the tragedy of human sin, moral bankruptcy, and sorrow into a time of laughing, into a relief-drenched party. How does he do it every week?
You hobble down the aisle and stand, or better yet, kneel there, your head in your hands, enumerating all the troubles and defeat, out of excuses for failing to do what was so obvious. Some other inadequate person walks by you with a cup—an ordinary cup, one that’s been washed over and over, one that will sit back in the cupboard all week long—the holder of the cup offers, and you recoil in faint disgust because the little kid next to you who dumped her whole communion wafer in it, and then tried to fish it out. So you don’t drink, you dip, because you may be a failure but you’re not an idiot. And then you stand up and walk back to your pew. And that’s it. You don’t even know how it works. How it is that you’ve been fortified, strengthened, how it was that your strange and scattered and failed personhood was…what…accepted?
The master of the feast is satisfied. This is great wine, he says. He thinks it is the groom’s wine, and it is. The Groom stepped in and poured his wine into that cup. When the Master tastes it, it is perfect. It is exactly what he wanted.
So you failed to stand up to the evils of your day. So you failed to be there when you should have. So you failed in the work set before you, both inconsequential and of overwhelming import. It’s not over for you. You can go to the feast—and how strange that it is a feast, the kind of place where shame and sorrow are not usually mentioned—and, entering in, ask the one who’s blood is the redemption, the mysterious, powerful, rejoicing elixir of eternal life, to let his cup be for you, his life count for yours, his wine be brought before the Master. You, crushed to earth, whisper—I have no more wine—and he, who has all the wine, raises you up and joins you to the one who never fails, who is never inadequate, and yet who stoops to take away your guilt and shame.
Man, don’t shave your beard. Go to church and drink the wine.