Wedding in Cana of Galilee

30 January 2011

Westminster Abbey

‘There was a wedding in Cana of Galilee; the mother of Jesus was there and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited.’  John 2:1

It won’t surprise any of you to know weddings are rather on our minds at the Abbey at the moment. Despite all the pomp and ceremony of a wedding in this stunningly beautiful, holy and historic place, the heart of a wedding anywhere and any time is really no different: the pledging of one life to another ‘for richer, for poorer in sickness and in health till death do us part…’  Archbishop Rowan said in his Christmas Day sermon ‘Christian marriage is a sign of hope since it is a sign and sacrament of God’s own committed love.’ And through it we may, he says, learn why ‘lifelong faithfulness and the mutual surrender of selfishness are such great gifts.’ We can believe that every such occasion, every couple who come in sincerity and truth to make such a courageous and generous commitment are graced with the divine presence…..

‘There was a wedding in Cana of Galilee.’ Weddings/marriage are endlessly fascinating, for, apart from the romance, they touch on the universal, the archetypal. We see them acted out by children. Little girls dress up as brides in lace curtains and their mothers’ high heeled shoes and prance around, perhaps dreaming of the day when it will be for real. In my case there was a procession of film stars (Gregory Peck and Tyrone Power were two favourites) and celebrities I dreamed of marrying. These included the Australian pianist Richard Bonynge (unsurprisingly Dame Joan Sutherland got in first). Then there had been a little friend, David. I was about 5 and he a couple of years older, ‘Who will you marry when you grow up, David? I’d say, and he would reply, ‘You, Judy. Who will you marry when you grow up Judy,’ ‘You David.’ Then one day he said to his mother, ‘Do I really have to marry Judy when I grow up?’ There is a Website on the Internet for those troubled by Forced Marriage! (I do realise it is no laughing matter). Christian Marriage has to be entered upon willingly by both parties for it is a covenant, a solemn undertaking involving two parties.

‘There was a wedding in Cana of Galilee.’ The prophets image the bond between God and God’s people, including you and me, as a marriage bond, a solemn covenant, a covenant of love. In the first instance we know this applied to Israel as a whole nation, but later also to individuals within it. The prophet Hosea whose experience of marriage had been far from happy, nevertheless writes, ‘I will betroth you to myself for ever, betroth you with integrity and justice, with tenderness and love.  I will betroth you to myself with faithfulness and you will know me as your God…..’  

The  rituals for nuns making their Vows mirrors some aspects of the marriage service. As the ring is in placed on the finger the Bishop says, ‘Take this ring as a sign of the covenant of faithful and eternal love between you and your Lord.’ The words said in response are attributed to St. Agnes, ‘ I am united to the One whom mortals and angels serve; to Him alone will I keep faithful, to Him alone with entire devotion I now offer myself.’  A monk writing of the correspondence between marriage vows and religious vows reminds us that in both cases it is not something done once for all in a grand ceremony and that’s it. It has constantly to be renewed when the shine has disappeared and we are fed up with it all.

This monk, Dom Hubert Van Zeller of Downside says that ‘Religious Life like married life has to begin anew every morning.’ The heart of married life and of Religious Life  is complete surrender constantly repeated. We know that human beings make a mess of commitments, married people get divorced and people under religious Vows ask for dispensation. It is not a simple matter but full of complications and we can wonder if it is possible. ’God does not ask a perfect work but infinite desire.’ said St. Catherine of Siena whose Feast Day is 29th April. A much needed encouragement.

‘There was a wedding in Cana of Galilee…’  The author of St. John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus is setting up a series of clues or signposts about himself pointing to moments when heaven and earth intersect, when the transforming power of God’s love bursts into the present world. How lovely that this first sign takes place in a village wedding and one to save the blushes of a young bride. For the wine had run out, a social disaster, threatening to disgrace the young couple, a sad beginning to their married life. The servants turn to Mary who must have held some place of importance and she, naturally, turns to her Son. His response seems a bit harsh, ‘This isn’t really any business of yours, mother, or of mine.’ Yet Mary has total trust and confidence in him, shown in her words to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you to  do.Do whatever he tells you to do. What would that be at this moment?  Whatever he tells you to do, DO IT.

What he tells them to do in Cana must have seemed extremely odd ‘Fill the 6 water pots with water up to the brim;’ (750 litres!). the water pots used for the Jewish laws of purification, symbols of the old order which Jesus was transcending and transforming. God is doing through him a whole new thing. The transformation of water into wine is a sign of the effect that Jesus can have on human lives. If we need evidence of it, Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s recent book, Made for Goodness will provide it. But we could pray through this story with our own failures and disappointments in mind. Transformation came when someone took Mary’s words seriously, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’

But there was something else about it – it was excellent wine, such wine was usually served first ’You have kept the good wine until now’ they said. According to some scholars who comment on the Greek text, the word used has the sense of ‘just exactly now.’ ‘You have kept the good wine until just exactly now.’ The very best had been kept to the last. The renewal of the Covenant with God, for instance, is never too late and the same may be said of the healing of human relationships, though that can be trickier.

Archbishop Rowan said in the sermon I mentioned, ‘Christian Marriage is a sign of hope’, and we might expand that to include every Christian commitment: a sign of hope not only for ourselves in some privatised area of spirituality but hope for society, for our battered world and its battered people for whom we are to hold hope. ‘You are keeping the good wine until exactly now, this moment..’ Amen. So be it.

Sister Judith CSC