Sermon by Rev Allister Lane on 20 January 2019
Readings were Psalm 36: 5-10 and John 2:1-11
In today’s Gospel reading the question is asked “More wine…?” Probably with a slight tone of panic – as this is a catering crisis!
I’d invite you to see wine as a symbol in the Gospel story of what Jesus is starting to do in his ministry on earth.
Wine – a recognisable and familiar beverage – appears in a remarkable manner with the presence and influence of Jesus. Turning water into wine is perhaps one of Jesus’ best known miracles.
I saw a T-shirt once that had on it ‘Why did the Romans execute the only person who could turn water into wine?’ It’s impressive to turn water into wine, but what is the meaning of this miracle? We radically understate what’s happening if it’s seen like a magic trick Jesus does to produce ‘free grog’. Such a ‘gimmick’ does not sustain the faith of Christians over centuries!
But it’s an interpretation that is sometimes matched by how we live a ‘watered-down’ faith. We can at times treat God like a magician; a genie of the lamp. Just like party guests fearing running out of wine, we can fear running out of things.
What is it we fear running out of?
As people living in this city in our culture, what is it we fear running out of…? Maybe… Employment? Friendships? Parking spaces…? Time? Money?
God cares about these things, but so much more as well. God is interested in ALL of us, and not just the things we fear running out of. A deepening faith trusts God with everything – not just for what we can get out of God.
So, if it’s more than a mere magic trick, what is the meaning of this miracle? At the end of the passage we are told:
11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
“revealed his glory”
The glory revealed in this miracle shows us at least two things:
- Jesus shows us that God’s creation is good,
- and Jesus shows that, through him, God is working to continue to bring transformation and joy.
This miracle (here at the start of his ministry) highlights Jesus’ presence and purpose on earth. I want us to see today how this is a miracle that signals how Jesus comes to bless creation and bring salvation.
So, at this wedding in Cana it is wine Jesus uses for the sake of his mission. In the Old Testament of the Bible, grapes and wine are often used as a sign of the best of creation. Grapes and wine appear regularly in lists of God’s generous provision through His creation.
When Jesus arrives on earth, he reveals God’s blessing (if you like ‘God’s endorsement’) of creation. Christmas is a lovely celebration of a baby born in a manger. But also much more: what we recognise and celebrate, is that Jesus comes into his own creation and reveals God’s glory. This arrival is a blessing of creation and a signal of God’s deep commitment to us and our existence. Jesus takes on our humanity in order to fulfil our human existence.
So, in Jesus’ hands wine is a symbol of the goodness of creation which he blesses and fulfils by his incarnation.
As well as wine representing the best of creation, there is another way wine is seen in the Bible. Wine is often identified in parallel with blood. The deep red and thick smooth texture of red wine corresponds closely with blood.
In the Bible, wine is a symbol of blood and the various spiritual dimensions blood can represent (life, cleansing, healing, suffering, sacrifice).
Furthermore, in the Bible the crushing of grapes can represent God’s judgement. One example is in the book of Revelation:
So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth, and he threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God.
And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press… (Rev 14:19-20)
This necessary process for making wine results in both a pulpy mess that is discarded, and a rich and sustaining drink that is greatly prized.
The close relationship between wine and blood we see expressed in another event of Jesus’ life: the Last Supper. Here, in Jesus’ hands, wine is offered in a cup to his friends, and Jesus proclaims it to be his very own blood:
This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. (Mark 14:24)
What Jesus is saying (and acting out) for his followers, is his commitment to take upon himself God’s judgement – the judgement that is really ours.
Our relationship with God and with each other is broken, and, in dying on the cross, Jesus takes upon himself the sin that is ours — and therefore the judgement that is ours. Jesus is crushed by the sins and injustice of the world so that we are reconciled with God and one another.
Jesus offers his own blood as the necessary sacrifice, rescuing us from judgement and separation from God. His blood becomes the very thing that saves us from death, brings us into covenant relationship and nourishes our existence.
If we can appreciate a fine wine as a gift of God’s good creation, it can make us aware of beauty and delight beyond its mere chemical components (like a painting, a sunset, a beautiful song). Quote from Gesela Kreglinger (who visited St John’s a couple of years ago to talk about the spirituality of wine):
As we receive the cup and see the red thick liquid of the wine;
as we smell its lovely fragrance; as we sip and feel the thick liquid on our lips and tongue; as we taste and enjoy the complex flavours of wine enhanced by its smell – we can learn to allow our sensory experience to teach us something not only about the significance of Christ’s blood but also about its preciousness.
We can now taste life in a way we could never have tasted before.
Wine then is a symbol of gratitude and joy.
Psalm 104 declares:
“[God], You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
15 and wine to gladden the human heart” (Psalm 104:14-15)
The meal of Communion is a meal of gratitude, of thankfulness. As we share this meal and say to one another “The blood of Christ shed for you” we are reminded of the salvation Christ has achieved, and that all we have is a gift from God.
In Jesus’ hands wine has significance in the Gospel stories for Jesus’ mission, which is to bless creation and bring salvation. Wine is there at the wedding in Cana at the start of Jesus’ ministry; and it’s there at the Last Supper at the end of Jesus life.
Let’s not treat this miracle of water into wine as a periphery gimmick – it’s a clear signal of what is possible in Jesus’ hands.
He comes to transform! He becomes human to fulfil what God wants for us all!
Will we trust him? Will we let Jesus be more than a curious conjuror? Will we give him a ‘back stage pass’ in our lives?
Not just asking for the things we fear running out of, but really open to the transformation he offers us? Will we accept salvation and place ourselves into Jesus’ hands, following his guidance, in order to experience for ourselves the transformation he brings us, and those around us, everyday?
Are we ready to receive ‘More wine’…?!
To God be all the glory!
 Admittedly, wine these days is a consumer good that, in our culture, has some obvious pitfalls.Wine can be abused in a number of ways:
- wine can be over-consumed, particularly when readily available,
- and, in another distortion, wine can be over-valued – sold at grossly inflated prices as an ultra-luxury item
(at both ends of the socio-economic continuum, wine can be abused)
 In the story of the Exodus, the scouts sent ahead to the Promised Land brought back a grape cluster as the sign that the land is indeed blessed by God (Numbers 13:21-27).