Sunday, 20 January 2013

CANA IN GALILEE

Cana in Galilee is not a beautiful place today.  Perhaps it never was.  The souvenir shops in this down-at-heel little town are among the tackiest in Galilee.  They sell an expensive, sweet and sickly wine in bottles labelled ‘Cana in Galilee’ for the credulous to buy. In the orthodox church there is a charming icon of the marriage at Cana.  This, and the stone water jars in both churches, are all that can be said for this unattractive village.  What is more, the historical claims made for it are as bogus as the wine.  The archaeologists place biblical Cana a few miles away at a site that can no longer be identified. 

But it is the way of God to choose unprepossessing places to disclose himself from the manger to the cross. Galilee seems to have been just such a lowly, workaday place.  ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ asks Nathaniel a few verses before, on first hearing about Jesus, son of Joseph of Nazareth.  Philip’s answer is simply, ‘come and see!’  What he, they, all of us are invited to see is nothing less than a rabbi who is Son of God and King of Israel in whom, says Jesus, we gaze upon an open heaven.  And hard on the heels of this talk about seeing and believing, about meeting and knowing, about heaven and the angels of God comes Cana in Galilee. For in today’s gospel St John tells us that it was here at Cana that Jesus first revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him. 

St John’s Gospel is built around a number of stories in which Jesus performs some marvellous action. These ‘signs’ show how the glory of God has visited the earth in Jesus, how light and love are at work in the world.  The turning of water into wine is the first.  Then come the healing of the royal official’s dying son and the paralysed man by the pool of Bethesda.  The feeding of the crowd is followed by the healing of the man who had been born blind and by the raising of Lazarus. It’s as if St John has carefully selected these stories as performed images of the incarnation, the Word made flesh and dwelling among us.  He wants us to see, to recognise and to love. ‘These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.’  The signs are given, says John, in order to evoke trust, and bring about a life-changing encounter with Jesus the Christ. ‘Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.  At Christmas we heard John say: ‘we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the father, full of grace and truth’.  Glory is his great word: glory that changes lives; glory that makes us free. 

If Cana is the first of the signs, what might the last one be?  Or put it this way: if you were to ask John where more than anywhere else you could see this glory full or grace and truth, what would he reply?  I think he would tell you: at Golgotha where the Son of Man is lifted up, where love is shown to be without end, poured out like the wine at Cana that kept flowing and flowing.  And I want to put it to you that this first sign looks forward to the last and greatest sign, where water and blood flow out of the side of Christ's body on the cross, Christ the true Vine, crushed so that all who abide in him might live again.  Water and blood, water made wine.  In other words, this story already looks forward to the passion. Cana speaks of the cross, and beyond it to this eucharist where we drink of the true and everlasting Vine, the crucified and risen one whose gift is life eternal. 

‘Ah, that miracle!  Ah, that sweet mir­acle!  it was not men's grief but their joy Christ visited.  He worked his first miracle to help men's gladness.’  Dostoyevsky, from Brothers Karamazov.  Or is it our joy and our grief together, indeed the whole of life?  There is the Cana glory of happiness and joy, and there is the Golgotha glory of kingship through suffering.  They are not different.  The sacrificial victim who reigns from the cross is our wounded healer.  Lifted up in death he draws all people to himself.  In this eucharist, we bring our own brokenness and the pain of the world for Christ to work his own sign of renewal, healing and grace.  For if Cana happened once, it goes on happening today in the stories of transformation and change we tell one another to remind ourselves that the gospel is true and that we should go on believing and hoping.  We drink deep and find our thirst slaked, our longings and desires recognised and met.  Out of the stony water jars of Cana, out of the stony hill of Golgotha flow healing, happiness and hope.  Only he can satisfy the restless spirit, the unquiet heart.  Only he can bring rest to the weary and burdened.  Only he can heal us and put us back together again.

The glory of God is humanity fully alive said one of the early fathers of the church.  We come to this sacrament and as we look into the cup of salvation we glimpse how we might be transformed like the wine of Cana.  We gather here as his friends and as his mother said, we do whatever he tells us; and that is to do this in remembrance of him. We are here because in Jesus heaven is opened and we are loved back into life.  We are here to drink deeply of his grace and truth.  And we are here to reawaken hope and anticipate the new heaven and earth where hope will be emptied in delight because the wedding supper of the Lamb has come.

St Chad’s College Durham, 20 January 2013 (John 2.1-11)

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