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  • Writer's pictureChurch of the Incarnation

What is Marriage all About: signs, signs everywhere a sign

One of the things I’ve been encouraging folks to do this year when reading the Scriptures, is to seek the spiritual meaning of a passage. Most of us have been trained to read everything, except maybe poetry, quite literally, looking for concrete facts or take aways from the passage we’ve read. This only gets us so far with Scripture though and to stop at the literal would be to miss God’s deeper meaning for us.

We can really see this in our gospel lesson this morning. When we interpret the passage literally, this is a story about a wedding, Jesus doing something rather miraculous in turning water into wine, and the credit for that act going to the bridegroom rather than to Jesus as it should have.

But there are hints throughout this passage that there’s much more going on here than just that story. The key to getting to the spiritual meaning is finding connections between the text you’re reading and other parts of Scripture, where the relationship between these is made clear by Jesus’s coming into the world and his day-to-day life with people right up to his death and resurrection.

The key passage for getting to the spiritual meaning here is this: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” What did Jesus do? Well the steward – who had tasted the water that Jesus had turned into good wine – gives us the truth, even in getting things wrong! The steward says to the bridegroom (not to Jesus): “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

The truth the steward unknowingly reveals is this: this one who turned water into wine is also the one who is the glory of God revealed, fulfilling the signs that have been given to people all along. We know this because we hear it revealed to Israel when God uses, as he frequently does, a marriage analogy to speak of his relationship to his people: “For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you … You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.”

So while the steward in our Gospel lesson is addressing some random bridegroom – in our literal reading – we can see that he is unknowingly, and ironically, actually addressing the true bridegroom; the prototype for all bridegrooms: Jesus. For in Jesus Christ the body of his people, the Church, the land, are united or reconciled, “married” to continue the analogy, to God.

The steward, however, also symbolizes every human being both in his ignorance of God’s truth, and in falsely attributing to the random bridegroom i.e. to human capacities, the power and glory of God. The steward is a mirror for us, showing us our own sin of ignorance, and presumption of control and power. This sin is the wine run out, becoming mere water, like that which would pour out of Christ’s chest in death. Jesus turning the water into wine is his overcoming death; giving his own body symbolized here and as we do in the Eucharist, marking this as a sign, of God’s glorious redemption of his people, of us.

So at one level – the literal reading – this is a story about a marriage and all the celebration that comes with it. But at a deeper level, the spiritual meaning is one of profound hope. The hope that the future would have blessings greater than anything that had come before; that God would claim and redeem and gather his people. So ultimately the wedding party and the wine are signs that stand for the joy of Christ’s coming into the world and transforming it.

This transformation is hinted at when Jesus says to his mother: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." Jesus isn’t berating his mother here, despite how this sounds to modern ears. He’s saying, mother, don’t worry about this. My hour isn’t yet here, which foreshadows that it is coming. And what is this hour? It is of course his death. But also his resurrection. Do not worry. God feeds, clothes, and saves you. Do not worry, God says to Israel, I will become your bridegroom and thus we shall celebrate. Hear what God says in another passage from Isaiah: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever,” (25:6-8a).

When I come and take you to myself, your death will be swallowed up forever for your life will be restored in me. Let us celebrate this truth with joy, with the good stuff, with the good wine! The very best wine isn’t really wine at all. It is Jesus Christ who comes to us and who unites us to himself so that we can taste and see in and through him, that the Lord is good; and that goodness is our life and our hope.

It is in that light – of having been joined to Christ – that we can see through the still perilous journey of life – filled with celebrations and yet still losses – that God has already brought us to the wedding banquet himself. It is that reality, that truth, that allows us to bear our struggles, the loneliness and frustration of another lockdown, the loss of capacity, the lack of knowledge of when it will end or how it will all turn out. To drink of the good wine here is to face into God’s enduring grace, lifting us from the literal readings we have become dulled by, into his holy embrace.

As we give ourselves over to drinking the holy wine of Christ’s body and blood we are filled with the Holy Spirit who directs our life in the Church so we might grow in spiritual maturity and our life with God in Jesus Christ. Of this we are given a foretaste, snippets of holiness, that gird us in our faith if we open ourselves to God’s coming to us over and over. What a glorious promise to behold; to set our hope and our thoughts and actions upon. I pray that in the midst of the struggles and challenges and frustrations COVID has thrust upon us yet again, that you might come to drink ever more deeply this holy wine of Jesus Christ who poured his very life and love our for us on the Cross and then into us by his Holy Spirit. In this union, let us walk, and share this love with others. AMEN.

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