2nd After Epiphany, Year C
A Sermon Preached at the Cathedral Church of St. Mark
2nd Sunday after Epiphany, Year C
The Reverend Tyler B. Doherty, Priest-in-Charge
One of the things you might have noticed the past two weeks about the Epiphany blessing is that combines what seem to be three separate events—the coming of the Magi, the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, and the episode from today’s Gospel at the Wedding Feast of Cana. Somehow, in the theological imagination of the Church each of these events reveals to us, manifests a different aspect of the coming of Jesus into the world.
One of the things that binds these three seemingly disparate events together is that they all remind us of the Christian life as a journey—a journey into love and belovedness. The Magi, of course, are those seekers who yearn for a life of depth, significance and dignity. They are tired of skating across the surface of their lives and know in their heart of hearts that there is something more to life. They are the ones who dare to adventure away from business as usual by following a star into a strange land. And when they arrive at the creche, what do they do? They open their treasure chests. They give themselves away in worship. They adore. They behold. They gaze self-forgetfully at the source of all beauty, truth, and goodness become human in a manger—his coos and cries mixed with the steaming breath of sheep, cows, and goats rising like incense into the silence of that holy night. After that encounter, they go home by a different road. Herod and his ways—of power, control, living from fear—have lost their hold and they walk a different way—the way of love. Having experienced unconditional love become human for their sake, they are now bearers of that love for others. Having followed a star to the manger, they become that star, that light for all whom they encounter.
At Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, we see another facet of the Christian life as the journey into love. That voice that speaks from heaven declares, “You are my son, my beloved. In you I am well-pleased.” To the folks around John the Baptist, this is a public manifestation of Jesus’ intimate relationship with God. But it is more than that. It is a sign for us our own belovedness, that we, too, are sons, and daughters of God, unexpected insiders in the very life of God, participants in God’s life called to become by grace what Jesus is by nature. The spirit descends bodily—right into the midst of our ordinary everyday lives through an opening in the heavens. A crack, a rip, has appeared in the way we normally go about making sense of the world—those crippling stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, others, and God—and through that opening spills the anointing oil of God’s love.
At the Wedding Feast of Cana, we have another glimpse of what it means to journey into love. We start with the detail of how the wedding guests “have no wine.” It’s a symbol for us of all those moments when we think we can’t go on, when life feels deadened, monotonous, mechanical, and we feel trapped on the treadmill of the daily grind of carpooling, credit card bills, and left-overs for dinner. Like the guests, we, too, are at a party—a banquet that been in full-swing since the foundation of the world—but there is this gnawing sense of lack, of emptiness, and scarcity.
Now the interesting thing about this first sign of Jesus, is that he doesn’t perform it unilaterally. It is the Mother of God who brings the booze situation to his attention. She notices the problem and brings it to Jesus’ attention. It is only after the Mother of Jesus intercedes that the problem is addressed. So that’s the first thing to notice about making the journey into love—we have to ask, and knock. We have to consent to God’s presence and action in our lives if we want those empty water jars in our life to be transformed. God’s love for us is so great, and he respects our freedom so much, that he will not act without our consent, without the presence of our intention to open to God’s presence and action. The spiritual journey begins with that simple admission—“My jug is empty. I can’t do this by myself. Help me, Lord, I’m thirsty.”
This is reinforced by that other little detail in the story—Jesus tells them to, “Fill the jars with water.” There is human action required for the sign to be manifest. God’s grace comes first, but we are called to participate, to co-operate with that grace, in order for transformation to occur. We have to go fetch the water and fill the stone jars to the brim. St. Theresa of Avila speaks in her Spiritual Autobiography of the life of prayer as watering the garden. We begin by watering from the well. Then we use an aqueduct. They we decide to irrigate with a stream. Finally the rains come and we don’t have to make any effort at all. Dwelling in God, resting in Him has become our habitual disposition and we no longer have to “do” anything.
In Theresa’s analogy, our watering of the garden, our filling of the water jars, begins with what seems like our efforts. But as we persist, we realize that it is God’s desire for the garden to be watered, for the stone jars to be filled to the brim. More and more we do less and less. And we move from doing, to simply being. And it is in the experience of simply being, of letting ourselves simply be present to the presence of God’s love that has been poured into our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit that what appeared at first as an water jug filled with water, is revealed to be brimming with the finest wine. Our sense of lack, scarcity, anxiety over outcomes begins to lessen and we start to see with new eyes and opened hearts the abundance of God’s presence with us and for us even in the midst of our everyday life. God meets us right where we are, just as are, and with our consent shows us the joy, the freedom, that is life in Him. God doesn’t hold anything back. He doesn’t serve good wine first and then make the switch to box wine by Ernest and Julio Gallo once everyone’s a little tipsy. God gives Himself, all of Himself, to us in the person of Jesus and we are called to drink deeply of his love for us, that his very life might course through our veins, make glad our hearts, and illumine our minds.
That’s why the Wedding Feast at Cana is not about what happens to some thirsty wedding guests. The Wedding Feast at Cana is sign, a pointer, to the transformative journey each of us is to make through the life of prayer, dwelling on God’s word in Holy Scripture, participation in worship and the sacraments, and serving others in the spirit of Jesus’ sacrificial love for all. It’s not that water gets turned into wine, but that ordinary lives, the lives of you and me, touched by love, are transfigured into God’s hands and feet in the world. Just as with the Eucharist, the important thing, the only thing that really matters, is not the mechanics of how the bread and wine are changed, but that we are changed—from empty stone jars into casks brimming with the wine of love that we share indiscriminately with all those thirsty others. Having at this altar eaten the meat of welcome and drunk deeply from the cup of love, we leave this place as water to wash, as bread to feed, oil to heal, wine to slake the thirst of the thirsty. We receive Eucharist that we might become it for others: “Be what you see. Receive what you are,” in St. Augustine’s famous words in Sermon 272.
But it all starts with the desire to make the journey. The Magi show us that we are called to follow a star, the onward-leading light we know as the person of Jesus. The Baptism of Jesus shows us that this light speaks nothing but our own belovedness, our son-ness, our daughter-ness. And the Wedding Feast of Cana points to the personal transformation that is the birthright of each one of us. That is what the season of Epiphany sets before us. The challenge of making the journey, of filling up the water jars, but also the promise of life at the joyful banquet of belovedness that God’s deepest desire for us as individuals and as a church family.
Love is the way. Love is the journey, and love is the fruit. My prayer for us, this year is that we make our lives together in this place a time of sharing our individual journeys into love and find ways and venues to encourage each other along the way. May we remember that the good wine is always on offer as the transformed lives of thousands of Christians—holy saints and hidden ones alike—attest. May this place be a place of fermentation, deepening, and transfiguration, where the water of our ordinary lives is changed, Sunday by Sunday into that heady, intoxicating brew of God’s unconditional love poured out for the whole world. No exceptions.