Thursday, January 14, 2016

First Stop: Cana

In the Daily Office, the gospel lesson appointed for today is John 1:43-51. It's the story of Jesus calling Philip and Nathaniel. It comes on the heels of the calling of Andrew and Simon, which immediately follows John the Baptist's announcement of Jesus as the one on whom "the Spirit descend[ed] from heaven like a dove" (1:32). Why does that matter? Well, John's gospel account opens with the famous prologue ("the Word became flesh and dwelt among us"), continues with the story of John the Baptist, tells about the calling of some disciples, and then immediately moves to the wedding in Cana of Galilee.

Sunday's gospel lesson is John 2:1-11. At this wedding feast in Cana, Jesus turns water into wine. It's a fabulous miracle of fine wine in flood-like proportions, but it's more than that. It's first. As John tells the good news, this is right at the beginning--the very beginning. Other than invite some people to follow him, this is the first thing that Jesus does. He's been baptized. He's being followed. And now he acts.

Before the scene is finished, John makes that point by telling us it was the "first of his signs." John likes that word "sign" instead of miracle, and I do, too. It reminds us that these remarkable feats were not an end in themselves but were disclosed in order to point us to something else. And this is the first one. This is how is starts. This is how things get moving.

Think about the last time you had a first day on the job. Think about the last time you preached a first sermon. Think about the last time you experienced a first kiss. How did things get started? Were you nervous? Did you consider that moment as inauguration? Could you tell that you were laying important groundwork that would shape the future of a relationship?

If you are married, think about the first date you had with your spouse. And think about how you would tell the story of that first date. When we tell the story of someone's life, how it starts often reflects how it will end. Consider the story of Esau and Jacob. Even from their birth--Esau coming out first and Jacob's born with his hand clutching his brother's heel--the conflict between the brothers was enshrined in family history. When we have the chance to retell the story of how everything got started, the way we tell that story reflects what we know about how the whole thing will work out.

News flash: John doesn't begin his gospel account with the miracle of water into wine simply because it was chronologically the first miracle Jesus ever performed. It was "the first of his signs" in a bigger sense than that. This miracle--this story of provision, abundance, and upgrade--is a reflection of what Jesus' entire ministry represents. He is the one who provides. He is the sign of God's abundance. He represents a transformation and enhancement of the world's understanding of who God is and how God works. Don't tell the story of the water turned into wine as if the miracle can be contained at a wedding feast. This is the hope of the gospel in miniature. This is the fullness of Jesus the Christ unfolding at a banquet.

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