Wedding receptions can be interesting events. The mixture of excitement … lots of young people … laughter and joy … all fueled by gallons of booze … can create all kinds of unusual experiences. At my first call right out of seminary I had three weddings during my three year ministry at St. John’s. What stands out most clearly from my early wedding ministry was the reception which accompanied the third and final wedding.
That reception was held in the house right across the street from the church … the house in which the bride and groom lived. The couple I married had been living together for twenty years (before it was fashionable as it is now) … they were older, earthy, simple folk. The husband had a serious accident earlier in that year, while lighting his BBQ with gasoline and he ended up in Hershey Med Center for a month recovering from third degree burns and skin graft surgery. His first week in the hospital was touch and go due to the severity and magnitude of both his burns and his treatment, along with the high risk of infection which accompanied them. I went to visit him off and on during that month, since he was our neighbor and he had no church home. While he was there he had a come to Jesus moment, realizing how close to death he had come. And that encounter with Jesus led him and his partner to re-evaluate their life choices … and they scheduled the wedding a couple of months later, after he was discharged from the hospital.
The wedding was small and uneventful with maybe two dozen people in attendance. When it was finished and pictures had been taken, Nancy and I walked across the street to the couple’s home for the reception. Upon arriving we were immediately ushered into the front sitting room of the home, where we spent the next couple of hours with two pregnant nieces, two young moms, and their toddlers. Once we were seated, we barely got the chance to stand up, because a couple of the family members and friends kept checking in on us every 10-15 minutes to see if we needed any food or punch or desserts. We thought we were receiving this treatment because at that time, Nancy was pregnant with Jess. Eventually, nature demanded that I escape the room so as to go to the bathroom. On my way back I got mixed up in the hallways and accidently walked through the kitchen. It was then that I suddenly realized why we had been sequestered in front sitting room the entire afternoon. For the kitchen, you see … was the location of the keg of beer … the keg the good reverend was evidently not supposed to know existed. As I stepped into the kitchen everyone froze like they were statues at a wax museum, with only their eyes moving from the keg to me, to see my reaction. I smiled and said it was all good … went and got Nancy … and we immediately went home so that the real party could start for the happy couple and their friends. I thought about grabbing a beer as I left, but I was afraid someone would have a heart attack.
Yes, weddings and wedding receptions can be interesting events. Because there is often a second drama occurring behind the festivities of the wedding itself. It may be infighting among two estranged parts of the family that has been brewing for years. It could be Uncle Benji who drinks too much … especially at weddings. It might also be Aunt Matilda who is about to lose her house because she has been out of work for six months. The perfection that we aspire to on wedding days, is typically tempered by some other story playing out at the same time which offers an entirely different narrative for the day.
That is what happens in our Gospel Lesson today. We see Jesus attending a wedding in the town of Cana. And in first century Palestine, weddings often lasted a week. So the presumption is that Jesus has been there for most of the week, because the wine is starting to run out. Jesus’ mother seems to know this and she asks Jesus to do something about it. One wonders … did she anticipate this miracle? … or was she simply inviting Jesus to make a run to the Wine & Spirits Shoppe to grab a few bottles to get through the night? We don’t know … the role of Mary in this miracle story is yet another back story to this particular wedding. What we do know is that after a little heated banter with his mom, Jesus decides to open his own Wine and Spirits Shoppe and kicks off the grand opening of the Stone Jars Winery in the final days of the reception he was attending in Cana. In moments maybe as much as 180 gallons of great wine arrive, and the new winery was in business. Boom! Problem solved.
We notice this immediately, of course … because we live in a booze obsessed culture. Think for a moment about how many pictures you see on your friend’s FB pages, while they are doing what? … sitting at a restaurant raising a glass to each other or to life … and it usually isn’t Mr. Pibbs in those cups. Yeah, we love our booze … and so this is our dream miracle. But if we look closely at the story, the plot line is that no one really noticed what was going on … no one, that is, except a few servants … and Mary. And that is the plot line which invites us into a deeper message in this story. Because maybe … just maybe … what God is suggesting to us is that we are looking in all the wrong places for our encounters with Jesus and the divine presence of God. We are looking for the fireworks shows … the Super Bowls of life … the mega-millions lottery tickets of faith … the million member marches that solve our problems. We want God to step onto the big stages of the world and flatten us with power and potency and irrefutable truth. We want a faith extravaganza that once and for all will knock the world for a loop and wow us with an offer we can’t refuse. That is what we look for … what we crave.
And then God comes quietly in a back story of the drama … God arrives in a one-on-one encounter at a homeless shelter … God changes the life of one family through the support they receive from a few neighbors that care. God’s voice doesn’t thunder in the night, but whispers in our ear. God’s mighty hand doesn’t slap us silly, but nudges us into the place where faith comes alive. Mary … is our model for this kind of quiet and faithful obedience. She only shows up twice in St. John’s Gospel drama … the first time is today at the Cana wedding.
Guess when Mary next shows up ………. the crucifixion. She in not named in either story, but referred to simply as “mother.” Jesus himself doesn’t even call her “mother” in John’s Gospel, but refers to her as “woman.” But Mary is present and invested in the first “sign” in John’s Gospel … the first miracle Jesus performs … the event that starts off Jesus earthly ministry And Mary is present at the end … at the crucifixion … the final event which concludes Jesus earthly ministry. She is there in the more quiet drama of salvation, which unfolds away from the limelight, and apart from the schemes and trappings of the power players in first century Palestine. And while Mary doesn’t say much, her words today to the servants who filled the six clay jars with water is quite possibly the best summary of discipleship that we have in the Gospel. Do you remember what Mary says to the servants? “Do whatever he tells you.”
Not bad advice for those of us who take Jesus’ name as our own. Admittedly, it is not always easy advice. But it advice that invites you into a drama that is the best story you are ever gonna hear. And that drama will change your life. Amen.