Sermon Ideas For John 2:1-11 Part 1
The psalmist celebrated "wine to gladden the human heart" (Ps 104:15) as one of Yahweh's gifts from the earth, but the wisdom writer cautioned, "Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler" (Pr 20:1a). Even the most ancient narratives illustrate the dual nature of wine. In the Hebrew Scriptures wine often symbolizes judgment. The victorious Savior announced to the prophet: "I have trodden the wine press alone, and from the peoples no one was with me; I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their juice spattered on my garments, and stained all my robes" (Is 63:3). Revelation, picking up this imagery, pictured blood like wine flowing "as high as a horse's bridle, for a distance of about 200 miles" (Rev 14:20).
"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" fiercely connected in the American consciousness wrath and wine: "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored." John Steinbeck then entitled his saga of American hardship The Grapes of Wrath.
The ancient Greeks keenly perceived the tragic aspect of wine, and portrayed it dramatically in myths about Dionysius, the god of wine, summarized in Edith Hamilton's classic Mythology. Dionysius was the child of Zeus and the princess Semele. His mother asked to see Zeus in his heavenly glory, not knowing that to see him meant death for a mortal. Zeus rescued the near-term child and hid it in his side until birth. Pentheus, king of Thebes, sought to imprison grown Dionysius because of his worshippers' wildness. Standing before the Theban king, he bears striking resemblance to Christ before Pilate. Later, Pentheus' mother and aunts, driven mad by drink, mistook him for a wild beast and tore him to pieces. Like the vine he died each winter and was raised each spring. In his worship the ancient Greeks expressed the hope of immortality.
These images were familiar, perhaps sacred, to the first recipients of the gospel of John as they heard or read of the wedding at Cana of Galilee. The highly symbolized account begins, "on the third day," possibly a reference to the resurrection. Certainly the six stone jars represent the Jewish law, while the wine recalls the eucharist as well as the new age and the new law which Christ established.
That this incident occurs at a wedding distances the joy of new wine from the tragic element so prevalent in the old. Christ did not come to condemn the world in wrath, but to save it in love. Judgment remains, however; though it "has not yet come," Jesus' hour will come, when on the cross he reveals the glory of God.
The Mosaic law, the Greek mysteries, and the Christian eucharist, all are guests at this wedding. By ordering the servants first to fill the ceremonial jars, Jesus pointed to the fulfillment of the law. He came not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fill them full, to make possible achievement of God's righteousness, the letter as well as the Spirit of it. The servants filled the jars to the brim; if works could save, adherents of the old covenant would certainly be saved. The detail pays tribute to their zeal. In glibly condemning the Pharisees and others, we fail to recognize the high moral and ethical standards which they espoused and embodied.
While in Seminary, I worked on the maintenance crew. Our supervisor scoffed at the Old Testament ideal of the tithe. "I'm not under law, I'm under grace," he was fond of saying. I wondered then, and now, why those giving in obedience to the law often outgive others who claim to be motivated by the sacrificial love of Christ.
John 2 mingles joy and grief. We cry at weddings. Lady Wisdom mixes her wine (Pr 9:1-6); joy and sorrow, love and judgment, flow from one cup. Unnamed, perhaps to suggest that she is like a new Eve, "mother of all living" [New Jerusalem Bible], the mother of Jesus intercedes on behalf of the wedding party. In her life birthpangs and the sword mix with joy. Jesus "for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross" (Heb 12:2).
Joy is not the pampered darling of privilege. It is the battled scarred veteran who delights in the simple things she fought to preserve. In the film A Stranger Among Us, a hard-boiled New York detective goes undercover to investigate a murder in the Hasidic community. She dismisses the elderly rabbi's faith, because of her experience on the violent streets. When she learns he survived the Nazi death camps, however, she apologizes and looks at him with life-changing respect.
Not knowing where it came from, the steward of the feast told the bridegroom, "You have kept the good wine until now." However wondrous creation is, real joy is never totally of this world, never completely within our grasp. Always, like C.S. Lewis, we are surprised by joy. Though the sound byte, the remote control, and the music video are reducing our attention to the blink of an eye, we harvest joy over decades, not days.
What we defend most against awareness of, however, is how essential sorrow is to real joy. I am told, but cannot document, that George Buttrick ended one sermon with these words: "We kneel at the cross with tears and great laughter." Will that still be true in the world to come?