The Wedding At Cana
John 2:1-11 (1/18/15)
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
St. John 2:11 This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… The wedding at Cana is a very familiar text. It is the first of our Lord’s miraculous signs recorded in John’s Gospel. The miracle, of course, is that Jesus changed water into wine at a wedding where the wine ran out. And it was done, as John records, so that Jesus “manifested His glory.” That is the main reason this text is in the Epiphany season of the Church year, the time when the Gospels record Jesus being manifested and being made known to man.
But there are some lingering questions brought on by our text. If the changing of water into wine was the way our Lord manifested His glory, then why did He do it in such a way that only a few servants and His mother knew what He had done? If the point was to make known that He was the Christ of God, then why didn’t Jesus perform this miracle more out in the open, more straightforwardly, so that everyone at the wedding could acknowledge and confess Him as the Son of God?
And if this was the first of several signs of evidence that Jesus is God in the flesh, why did the disciples only learn of this miracle second-handedly, from the Jesus’ mother?
These questions are not unimportant. For today our Lord Jesus continues to manifest His glory – yet not in a way that is obvious to everyone, and not in a way that is designed to draw a crowd. Today our Lord no longer changes water into wine as He did at this wedding. Instead, He declares wine to be His holy, precious blood; He declares it to be His new and everlasting covenant poured out to be our drink. But who knows this? Who tastes the difference? Who realizes and confesses that the Lord now supplies us with superior and unmatched wine?
In light of what we know about Jesus from Scripture, we sometimes wonder why He wasn’t more forthright and obvious in His epiphany, His manifestation, His self-disclosure and revealing and appearance in our midst. Doesn’t it seem strange to us that our Lord continually places Himself in the background, seemingly not wanting to be noticed? Being that He is fully God, we would naturally expect Jesus to be front and center all the time, basking in the limelight, making a name for Himself.
And then there is the matter of why He would insist on hiding His saving works in mere earthly and simple things: water, bread and wine, and the absolving word of His pastors. Certainly these things are too simple, too uncomplicated, and too mundane through which the Son of God would choose to work. But He has chosen them nonetheless.
And further down the list of curiosities is the question of why our Lord, more often than not, chooses to show His charity and kindness, His acts of mercy and His compassion, through the likes of you and me? All these things go directly against what we have been conditioned by our world to expect from greatness, much less a God.
And certainly we would think that Jesus could have gained a greater following if only He had just marketed Himself better. Certainly He would get a better hearing and perhaps even persuade and win a few more converts if He was more up-front and obvious. And certainly the ranks of Christians would grow if Jesus would increase traffic flow into the churches by spicing things up a little. You know, signs and wonders, spectacles and strange phenomena, the unexplained and fascinating – THAT’s what we want to see, THAT is what tickles our fancy. Those are the things that make us feel good and make us want to come!
And we must admit that those are the types of things we would naturally want to hang our faith on – some captivating and extraordinary manifestation and revealing appearance of our God. Certainly then we will know and be convinced that He is our saving God, for we will have been amazed and stupefied and mesmerized into believing.
But that is exactly what is wrong with so much of what is being passed off for as “church” today. So many people are simply looking for nothing more than a “feel-good” experience, something that will give them a happy feeling just for the sake of the feeling with little or no regard for the truth. Get rid of those stodgy old hymns; we want excitement! Bring in the praise band and throw out the organ; come on, get with the times! Open up the communion rail and let everyone belly up to the bar! Give us 12 steps to a more exciting walk with the Lord instead of sermons based on the day’s readings. Don’t shove the Catechism into our children’s faces, because our kids don’t want that stuff anyway! Give us a show. Give us what we want.
That is very much like a weak-kneed parent who gives into his child’s demands for candy and cookies instead of solid nutrition. Oh, sure, the kid will be temporarily satisfied, but the calories he gets are empty and will leave him wanting for more, and ultimately will not help him grow and be healthy. No, a parent is the parent who must give the child not what he wants, but what he needs.
Dear friends in Christ, the church is the same. We are not here to get what we want, and that includes the pastor. We are here to receive what God our heavenly Father requires us to receive in order that we may grow and remain strong in the faith. We receive God’s holy Word read and preached. We receive His Holy Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Altar for forgiveness and strength. And we do it His way, not our way, and certainly not the way our culture would demand it be done. We receive God’s Absolution through the voice of His pastor. And we receive the Word of God solidly laid out in the historic liturgical forms in our hymnal. There is nothing better, and we do well not to go looking for anything better; it can’t be found.
Today’s Gospel teaches us that our Lord does not do miracles and signs and wonders to astonish or impress us. He doesn’t do them in order to prove that He is the saving God; He doesn’t need to impress anyone or to prove Himself. And we have no right to expect Him to either.
The glory of God that He manifests to us – the glory of God that our Lord Jesus shows and demonstrates to us – is not a glory designed to attract us by its ability to “wow” us. Rather, the glory that our Lord manifests to us is a glory designed to melt our hardened hearts, and revive our dead faith; it is designed to enkindle a lively hope and renew a right and godly and holy spirit within us. But most of all, the glory Our Lord desires to show us and manifest to us is Himself.
And that is the point of Jesus changing water into wine – not to draw attention to the event, not to astonish and wow the audience, not to say, “See, I can do this; and now you must believe that the glory of God has come down on Me and is in Me.” Our Lord changes water into wine in order to demonstrate that He Himself is the glory of God. He changes water into wine to demonstrate that the glory of God is not some power or some idea or some spiritual pyro-technique. The glory of God is Jesus Christ Himself, a fleshly, tangible, living, real person who is both God and man.
But there is more. The glory of God is ultimately located not in a brilliance that overwhelms you, but in a grotesque event that repulses you. That is why Jesus changed the water into wine, for in so doing He is pointing to the ultimate manifestation and appearance of God’s glory – when this same Christ Jesus lies dead on the cross, so dead that out of His side pours water and blood.
It is there, in the bloody death of our Lord, God’s glorious and astounding mercy is wondrously made known. There in our Lord’s death is when His hour comes. For there, in the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of our Lord and God – when the lamb of God is slain for the salvation of the world, when the Father sacrifices and kills His own Son – that is when the Father glorifies the Son, and when the Son glorifies the Father, and when the glory of God is out in plain sight for all the world to see.
For the preaching of that glory, the preaching of our Lord’s suffering and death on the cross is foolishness to all who are perishing, but to us who are being saved by the water and the blood that pour from His side, that preaching is both the power of God and the glory of God. And this is what pleases our Lord – to draw us to Himself, to have mercy on us, and to save us from ourselves and help us in our need – not by a sensational light show or by signs and wonders, not even by exciting worship experiences.
Our Lord and God is pleased to be our merciful, saving, compassionate, and loving Father simply by putting His Son to death. For there, in that event, is the true and everlasting manifestation of His glory. And every good thing about that event is continually given to you not by going back to the cross and re-living what cannot rightly be re-lived, but by receiving Him in the ways He has chosen to come to you: by Baptism, by Holy Absolution, by bread and wine, by His preached and spoken Word. That, dear fellow redeemed, is where God does His stuff.
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.