Amos 9.13-15

John 2.1-11

The Life of the Party

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

            Yikes!  What a party that was!  What a party that was!  I haven’t danced and laughed and sung that much, or enjoyed such good food and fine wine – actually, incredibly fine wine – in years, if ever!  More about that wine in a minute, but boy, was that ever fun.  You would never expect a celebration like that in such a sleepy little village as Cana; that’s over in Galilee, one of those little blink-and- you’ll-miss-it towns on the other side of the river, between Nazareth and Capernaum.  Who knew?  Who knew little old Cana could throw such a great party?  Nathanael said it would be a good one; but then again he was born in Cana and grew up there, so of course he’s partial to it, but for the rest of us, most of the big parties take place in cities like Damascus or Jerusalem.  Those are the destination weddings, but Cana?  In Galilee?

            I will say one thing – it may be a small town, but what I saw happen there last week never happened in Damascus or Jerusalem, or even those two cities synonymous with good times and parties, no, not even Sodom and Gomorrah! 

But you look puzzled.  Maybe I should tell this story from the beginning.

            So I went to a wedding last week.  The daughter of someone I work with was getting married, and as a friend of the family I was invited.  I’m not sure if you are familiar with our customs, but they may be different from your own.  You look like a friendly group of folks, so I’m guessing most of you have probably been to some pretty nice wedding receptions:  formal evening wear, excellent food, maybe a raw bar, carving stations, plenty of passed apps, top-shelf open bar, The Lace Factory all decked out, Old Dog New Trick playing everyone’s favorite music until the wee hours, and then as the sun comes up, off to a beachside breakfast of quiche and mimosas, and maybe one or two Advils.  But we do things differently at our weddings.  First, we pace ourselves; sure, there’s lots of laughing and dancing and singing and eating and drinking.  But then at the end of the day, we know when to call it quits… until the next day, when we get up and start the party all over again, with more laughing and more dancing and more singing and more eating and drinking, and then we do it all over again the next day for an entire week!  Yes, an entire, week – this is how we celebrate weddings in our Hebrew tradition.  And that’s what I call a wedding reception!

            Of course, there are challenges for the couple and their families.  I mean, trying to provide enough food and drink for all the people who will wander into the celebration over the course of a week is no easy task.  For example, if a lot of people arrive early, there may not be enough food or drink to last the entire week.  Or if too many come fashionably late, how do you keep all that food fresh?  In fact, this very thing happened at the wedding last week:  the party was going great, and the number of guests was just about what the hosts expected – of course, with a celebration so big and so long there is always the possibility of crashers, but you do try to factor them in.  Well, late in the celebration – late in the week – a whole caravan of guests showed up just as the supply of wine was beginning to dwindle.  And you and I both know what nothing good comes to a wedding reception when the wine runs out!

            But apparently one of the late-arrivals, Mary, Joseph’s widow – came with one of her sons, who was invited, but wouldn’t you know it, he brought a dozen friends with him who were not!  In itself, that wasn’t really so bad; like I said, the hosts kind of expect it.  But just as they got there, the supply of wine began to get dangerously low.  I won’t say it was their fault alone, but still…  It was kind of embarrassing.  I think Mary sensed this, because I happened to see her pull her son aside and whisper to him, “They have no wine.”  I couldn’t quite hear his reply; it sounded like he said, “What does that have to do with me?” but I can’t be certain.  Now it wasn’t really their fault, they just showed up late and supplies were getting low, but I could tell they were sensitive to the hosts’ awkwardness - and just between you and me, some of the others guests thought it was partly their fault.  So it looked to me like they were getting ready to leave rather than cause any more embarrassment.

            But then something truly odd happened.  No, it was more than odd, it was incredible.  One minute everyone was whispering rumors about the wine disappearing, and the next minute there were six huge earthen jars filled with wine.  And it wasn’t anything like the wine we had been drinking all week, it was much, much better.  In fact I’ve been to a few weddings, and it was without doubt the best wine I’ve ever tasted.  And those jars – these aren’t oversize carafes we’re talking about, but giant lavers!  Each of them easily holds more than 200 liters, which meant all of a sudden, seemingly from nowhere, more than 1200 liters of wine appeared!  To be honest, at first I didn’t believe it myself.  In fact if you asked me, those jars looked exactly like the six giant lavers of water that had stood near the entrance, water that I had not that much earlier used for ritual purification before I started eating.  I had to taste it myself to be certain, but there was no doubt about it, that was not only far better wine than we had been drinking all week, it was the best I have ever tasted.

            Let me tell you something about wedding receptions:  this just doesn’t happen.   In fact, just the opposite usually happens:  after we’re a few days into the celebration, and the guests get into their cups, the hosts think it’s safe to bring out the lesser wine.  I can’t tell you how many weddings I’ve been to that began on Saturday with a distinguished Château Lafite, or a crisp Piesporter, and then come Thursday or so suddenly we’re drinking Ernest and Julio Gallo.  Most people serve the good wine first, and then, when the guests have drunk feely, then the poor wine.  But not this time -   not at this party.  Just when Mary’s son and his posse show up, just as the wine looks like the bar is about to close, out comes the good stuff!  And nobody knew where it came from:  not the wine steward, not the bridegroom, certainly not the bride’s parents, and the entire wedding party looked astonished and flummoxed all at the same time at this crazy turn of events.

            But you know, I have my suspicions.  Because while everyone was talking about this great new wine, and how canny the couple was to save the best for last, Mary’s son just stood off to the side and watched it all unfold, like this kind of thing happens every day.  Like 1200 liters of the best vintage suddenly materializing just as the party was on the brink of collapse is the most natural thing in the world!  Well, I admit, there’s no trick to making wine; most of us make our own, and everyone knows how it’s done:  God creates the vine, the rain gently falls upon it as it also draws up water by its roots and, with the aid of the sun, and that water turns the fruit into a juice which will ferment and take on certain qualities.  But it doesn’t just go from water to wine in a matter of moments.  It takes an entire harvest season.  The way his friends kept surreptitiously pointing at him, it struck me that Mary’s son had something to do with this.  I know, that’s nonsense, but still, something was up and he knew it, and his friends weren’t telling.

            But no matter, because whatever their shared secret was, from that moment on, the party took on a new air, a new spirit.  A certain buoyancy and, dare I say it – joy! – came across the crowd.  The laughter seemed heartier and more satisfied; the blessings on bride and groom alike became even more earnest and heartfelt; the gladness and spirit of celebration and community were fuller and more robust.  It was almost as though the sheer abundance of wine reminded everyone of the abundance of life and all it has to offer.  Where one minute the party seemed nearly spent and exhausted, in the very next we saw that life and love and gladness surrounded us and filled us and there was more than enough of everything to go around.  And not just life and love and gladness in themselves, but it all came to possess a new quality which we had almost, in our week-long party, forgotten about.  I can’t speak for everyone else, but for me, this is what the abundance of wine came to signify.

            It brought an old nearly-forgotten bit of scripture to mind, the prophecy of old Amos:  “The mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it… my people Israel… shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.”  If Amos’ verbal image of God’s lavish abundance does not describe what I witnessed that afternoon at the wedding at Cana, I don’t know what does.

            Does any of what I’m saying this morning make any sense to you?  I wouldn’t be surprised if you think me crazy, or maybe just that I overdid it at the wedding.  And maybe it is the wine talking, but if it is, it’s telling me a truth I’d never heard before.  It’s telling me that life and all its blessings are abundant, that we want to live it to its fullest, to celebrate God’s generosity with family and friends, and to truly appreciate the unique qualities of the life God has given us.  And I will never forget the sight of Mary’s son standing off to the side watching us all with what looked for all the world like a knowing gaze and a satisfied smile.  Even if I can’t put my finger on it, you just can’t convince me he had nothing to do with it.

            All I can say is, the party changed once he got there, and even if it’s all in my head, he can change my water to wine any time he wants.

            Amen.

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