Water to Wine: Let's Keep the Hope
Updated: Feb 18
180 gallons. That’s the number 180 gallons of wine. And not 180 gallons of MD 2020 but a hundred and 80 gallons of Laffite Rothschild. Anyway that you want to hear it, that’s a lot of wine to drink! And, I have been to dinner with some of you!
Day 3 of the wedding and there is no more wine. You may be asking yourself “So what’s the big deal? Three days is enough partying for everyone. Just call it a night and go home.”
Keep in mind that weddings were not just a social event, they were the social event. As soon as a child was born the trek to get married was undertaken. Parents began to either save for a dowery or eyed a suitable bride. Weddings were not just a social event, they were the only social event. Weddings were the time when entire communities took a break from the toil and labor of living in poverty. They were a foretaste of what life was supposed to taste like. Hope for better times in a hopeless town during a hopeless time. They were a break from the mundane and brutal days of trying to make ends meet in a time of totalitarian tax testing every thin penny.
Much has been written about the shame endured for the host when the wine ran dry. And indeed, in a culture where reputation was everything and public conduct was the only status, a failure such as running out of wine was not only just poor planning, it was a curse, a moral failing. A doomed wedding party meant a doomed marriage. It was more than shame, it was a cycle of blame, maiming every reputation.
The guest would have not gone home disappointed. They would have gone home empty, depressed, even despondent.
The mother of Jesus (btw we are not given her name in John’s Gospel) turns to her son in what must have been a moment of extreme disappointment, a moment of sympathy for the host and a moment of grief for her community. There is no more wine. Hear the disappointment? Hear the empathy for her neighbors, the loss of hope.
Mary’s words are not just “we are out of wine. Somebody, run down to Sparrow Liquors and get some more.” No, her statement is that there is no more to be found. None! The wine is finished. The town is dry. There is just no more to be found. In this vast void of vacuous desperation, Jesus steps in.
Let’s go back to the unnamed Mary for a moment and her role in this the first of seven signs in John’s Gospel. He does not call them miracles. Miracles by definition are something magical. A product that seemingly comes out of thin air. Signs on the other hand are something deeper. The change the trajectory of thinking and conventional wisdom, The point to something larger than a temporary reversal of an unfortunate situation. Signs point to the presence of God. And God is surely needed in the mass of disappointment, shame and foreboding that will soon envelope Cana as this news gets out.
Each of the signs reveals something about the human condition, ourselves in particular. They invite us to take on the role of the people Jesus encounters in each case. Many scholars believe this is why, in several cases, these people remain unnamed. The man by the pool, the boy at the feeding of the 5,000, the Galilean official and his son, the blind man—these people all presumably had names. But we will never know what they were. We are to fill in the blank with our own name. It may well be that John leaves them unnamed to make it easier for listeners to step into their space to stand with them in the experience of the scene. So, step into Mary’s space. Her disappointment.
Barbera Keller, an ELCA clinician and researcher in environmental and evolutionary biology-whatever that means- has been giving workshops on dealing with anger. She says the glimmer of hope brought about by the vaccines has made the situation worse. We believed that this pandemic, this constant negation with our existence and safety was coming to an end and that failed hope has made the situation worse. We thought we were able to grasp the day that this worry would end but it has dragged on to another dismal year and we are tired, we are disappointed. We are in grief that so many people remain sick. We are not our best when we live on the scaffold of constant trauma. The balm so sorely needed has not come. The dashing disappointment has only made matters worse.
Disappointment is grief. Grief over what might have been, what could have been, what should have been.
And like the wine running out, our patience has run out, our tolerance has hit the bottom, and our hope is in short supply.
Mary’s words: we are empty, we are weary, we are dried up.
In this void she reaches to Jesus. In a culture not accustomed to recording a woman’s words, John does just that. “There is no more” she says. Woman, the first word out of his mouth. That sounds harsh to our modern ears, but it is not. It is a recognition of her humanity and an acknowledgment of her voice. Is this our business? A question even asked of a woman, asking her opinion is radicle.
Fill the jars with water, fill them and serve them. And out flowed 180 gallons.
From the beginning of this Gospel, we heard the good news that God has pitched a tent among us. The Word became flesh and lived among us. The verb there is to strike or pitch or set up as one does a tent. Set up housekeeping among. And the signs point to what this looks like. What God among us means to us. How we can see and understand God in visible and concrete ways. We can know God’s desire for us and according to this sign that desire is for empty vessels to be filled, weariness replenished with hope and there is enough for all.
Yes, it is hard to see sometimes, maybe even most times. Our lack of sight does not negate the goodness that flows around us. A little detail in this reading. None of the partiers ever new about the water to wine. The servants knew but not the guests. In ways they could not see or understand God was working around them. In this is the hope that things will turn out all right, that the best is yet to come.
Tomorrow is MLK Day. In church we commemorate the date of martyrdom. The church does not celebrate martyrs on their birthdays but on their heavenly birthdays. In this fashion, the message is clear, all is not as it appears-God wins, death and hunger and want do not have the last word. The wedding feast brought back to life from the dry wineskins.
In the speech he gave the night before his assignation he eloquently and emotionally acknowledged that everything is not as it appears. The promise of Gods extravagant abundance and love for all is breaking in around us despite the perils posed to the wedding party.
Dr. Kings witness that night was that he was standing on the promise made by the one who turned water to wine, emptiness to fullness, disappointment to party. Using the reference of Moses who fought and toiled for better times. Mosses only got a glimpse of the promised land but that was enough. And like us we are given the same promise
The recording of his speech is worth listening to. Its power is accentuated by the sounds of thunder and rain from the prophetic clouds that rained down on Memphis that night. Highlighting the sincerity of his belief that God will always provide.
He said, Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
Water to wine, hopelessness to hopefulness, disappointment to fulfillment, mourning to laughter. You might not be feeling that today but hear the promise. I will not leave you empty.