St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church, Wedding of Derek and Li, June 19, 2021
Sermon John 2. 1-11. The Revd. Canon Claude Schroeder
“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory; and his disciples believed in Him.” (John 2.11)
I guess that first thing that strikes us about our Gospel lesson today where at the wedding at Cana in Galilee, Jesus miraculously transformed something of the order of 180 gallons of water into wine, is that there was obviously no public health order in place forbidding the serving of beverages at religious ceremonies!
“Wine”, according to the Scriptures, “makes glad the heart of man.” (Psalm 104.15). How natural that the wedding guests at Cana in Galilee were found to be drinking wine. Would you raise your glasses for a toast to the bride! Would you raise your glasses for a toast to the groom!
But then, as we heard, they ran out of wine. We all know what that means. When the wine runs out, the party is over, and it’s time to go home.
This for us is the real point of identification with our story today. These last 15 months of COVID the wine had been running out all over the place. It’s been running out on our jobs, it’s been running out of on our friendships, it’s been running out on our marriages and families. When the wine runs out, the party is over, and it’s time to go home. And then, what? As many have been doing under COVID, we go and buy a puppy dog.
But it was Mary, wasn’t it, who made the astute observation, “They have no more wine” and interceded with her Son to take action.
And so here we are. We have come out of our homes on this Saturday afternoon to St. Mary’s Anglican Church to celebrate the wedding of Derek and Li. Something beautiful is happening here today. And it’s not just this beautiful church, or the beautiful music and the beautiful singing, and the beautiful flowers, and the beautiful couple. We have these beautiful words from the marriage service in The Book of Common Prayer, which form the highlight of the service, and which we are all longing to hear:
“I, Derek, take you Li to be my wedded wife. I, Li take you Derek, to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poor, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.”
Who of us could argue that, humanly speaking, what we are witnessing today is something of great beauty?
But just as at the wedding of Cana in Galilee, there is more going on here than meets the eye.
Do we see what is going on?
Jesus is manifesting something of His glory, that is His divine beauty, to those with the eyes to see it.
What is that glory? What is that Divine Beauty?
It is the glory, it is beauty of self-emptying love.
This is the love that says, “This is my Body given for you. This is my Blood shed for you.” (Luke 22, 19,20)
“Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing…” (Luke 23.24)
IN preparing for this day, one of the things I have learned from Li is the importance of numbers in Chinese culture. There are good numbers and there are bad numbers, isn’t that right? In the Bible three is really good number. John tells us that it was on the third day that there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. Third day… Third day…Where have we heard that before? Oh yes! On the third day He rose again from the dead. And when on the third day, Jesus rises from the dead, sin is forgiven, death is defeated, and God, and God, floods the earth with His all holy, good, loving, and life -giving Spirit. This is the manifestation of His glory par excellence!
In the Old Testament Scriptures, the prophet Amos, speaking of the coming of the Messiah declared, “Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “when the ploughman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.” (Amos 3.13).
That’s very strange! The ploughman overtaking the reaper? The treader of grapes him who sows the seed? What’s going on here? The natural order of things is being transcended in a continual harvest of sweet wine dripping from the mountains and flowing from the hills.
The prophet Joel said something similar, “And in that day the mountains will drip with sweet wine, And the hills will flow with milk, and all the brooks of Judah will flow with water; and a spring will go out from the house of the Lord.” (Joel 3.18)
And so it should come as no surprise that in the first of the signs in which Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, manifested His glory, He should provide a superabundance of wine, thus fulfilling the Scripture…. The natural order of things is being transcended in a continual outpouring of sweet wine, that is to say an overflowing joy, an overflowing spiritual joy!
The steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” (John 2. 10).
John is playing a little joke on us here, isn’t he? Because the bridegroom in the story would have had no idea what on earth the steward was talking about!
Because who is the real Bridegroom here?
The Bridegroom is Jesus Christ, and the Bride? That would be the Church, who says to her husband, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil, and my cup shall be full! Surely your loving kindness shall follow me all the day so my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” (Psalm 23. 5,6.)
In the Scriptures, the marriage of the Bride and the Bridegroom is the image par excellence of the kingdom of God. And what is the kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is the union of God and man in the person of Jesus Christ. The kingdom of God is the marriage of heaven and earth, of things human and divine. The kingdom of God is the joining together of the Spirit of God with the spirit of Man, the transformation of the natural into the supernatural, the physical into the spiritual. And whether you are married, or whether you are single, or whether you are widowed, or anything in between, it is this kingdom that has been given to us to celebrate and bear witness to in the Church.
So, it is that for some time now, Derek and Li you have joined this little company of Jesus’ disciples here at St. Mary’s, (who have come to celebrate with you here today,)where together with Angels and Archangels, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, and all the Saints, and the whole company of heaven, we join together before throne of God in heaven in the worship of the Trinity, singing the triumphal hymn, “ Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” (Rev. 4.8) And have been given to drink of the sweet wine of God’s Holy Spirit. At Easter this year, on Holy Saturday, Derek you were united to Jesus in His death and resurrection in Holy Baptism, and were anointed with His Holy Spirit, and given to eat of the flesh of Jesus Christ, and to drink His blood. And today we celebrate with you and Li the Holy Mystery of Marriage.
What is that mystery? What Jesus did with the water at the wedding at Cana in Galilee, He intends to do with you and through you. Mary told the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” Jesus instructed the servants to fill the six stone jars with water, and they filled them to the brim! Taken as a symbol, water, represents our every-day, ordinary lives: we bathe with water, we drink water, we clean withy water. But water, our everyday lives, is transformed into something extraordinary, through the mutual love of husband and wife.
In the Diary of a Russian Priest, Alexander Elchaninov writes,
“Everyone serves the best wine first, and then it gets worse and worse. Such is the law of this world, the law of progress. The child, who has the likeness of an angel, acquires, when it grows up, traits of coarseness, falsehood, the taste of evil…It’s simple wholesome nature, having passed through school and university, through life, loses all the marks of its original integrity, displaying instead complexity, falsehood, cowardliness. Such also is the history of nations. Such is likewise sad to say) the majority of marriages… In the beginning there is mutual drawing together, a facility of communion with each other; but this is followed by dullness, indifference, boredom, or – still worse- by irritation, often hatred, and even a final break.
But the laws of the Kingdom are different. Water, a natural, simple element, is transformed into something higher, into the material of the Eucharist. So it is also with marriage. In its natural state, it is not evil, but simply human. We must take care not to degrade it to a lower level; and we must strive, on the other hand, to attain a genuine communion of spirit, so as to be not only ‘one in body,’ but ‘one in soul,’ making our marriage a reflection of the marriage between Christ and the Church. We must create our marriage.”
This involves us in a struggle, a spiritual struggle. And it’s why St. Paul’s exhorts us all today, “not to be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of our minds, that we may prove what is the will of God. Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good, love another with brotherly affection, outdo one another in showing honour, rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer, contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality, rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep…” (Romans 12.2, 9, 12-15). This is how the water of your marriage is transformed into the abundant, sweet wine of the kingdom!
Alexander Elchaninov put it this, and with this I will close,
“May the festive joy of today last all your life, may triviality and boredom never enter it, may you remain, every day of your entire life, new and unusual in each other’s eyes. There is but one way to achieve this: a deep spiritual life in each of you. Work hard to develop your own personality, take an interest in other people, study the Word of God, educate and train yourselves.”
And it is this, Derek and Li, for which we will make our prayer for you today. Amen.