Reading from the Gospels, Epiphany 2, Year C (January 17): John 2.1-11
“So how are your wedding plans coming along?”
It’s a question I’ve been getting a lot as Gary and I look toward being married this April. Mostly the question has prompted laughter from me, as the past few months have been so wildly full that we’ve had little time to take care of any wedding planning except for a few of the major things: location, food, music. I’d like to think that with those things covered, what else could we need? Which puts me in mind of a young relative of mine who still gets ribbed for asking, at the outset of his engagement, “How complicated can it be to plan a wedding?” Having been an officiant or a bridesmaid at plenty of weddings, I know that designing even a simple celebration, as Gary and I are aiming to do, can be a real feat.
Still and all, I’m aware that even with as much as we still need to do to plan the festivities—and, now that January is here, we’re shifting into higher gear on that—there are plenty of other things to be sorted out as we plan and plot our marriage together. We’ll need to find a house, as I mentioned in a recent post. We’ll need to figure out how to make a home and a life together as two people who each require a good measure of solitude and space for our souls. I—who have lived on my own for nearly twenty years—will need to learn a different rhythm of living, not only with a husband but also with his teenaged son. And Gary and I will need to do all the work of establishing a household and creating a home as two people whose ministries involve the adventure of raising our own incomes.
As I look at all that needs to be done, both before the wedding and after it, I’m aware that we’re going to need a few miracles. So it’s been good to be keeping company with the story of the wedding at Cana of late. It’s a story, after all, that reminds us that marriage and miracles go together.
John’s account is familiar enough: Jesus and his disciples, along with Mary, Jesus’ mother, are invited to a wedding in Cana. The wine gives out—an occurrence which, I once heard someone point out, might not have happened if all those disciples hadn’t been there. Mary points out the lack of libations to Jesus. Initially resistant, Jesus relents and calls for the servants to fill six stone jars, used for the Jewish rites of purification, with water. When a sampling of the contents is taken to the chief steward, he is stunned and begins to praise the groom for saving the good wine until now, when many of the guests have become too drunk to notice.
John makes a point of letting us know that this is the first of Jesus’ miracles—“the first of his signs” (from the Greek semeion), as some translations put it. It’s John’s way of calling us to pay particular attention to what’s going on here. Jesus’ action at the wedding at Cana is not only a wonder in itself; it reveals much about who he is and what he has come to do. Jesus offers here a foretaste, if you will, of the wonders he will yet perform; his gesture is a harbinger of the bent toward plenitude that will mark his ministry. Again and again, in the chapters to come, we will witness Jesus’ persistence in entering places of lack—lack of health, of justice, of wisdom, of wholeness—and offering abundance in its place.
To a couple setting out on a life together—the couple at Cana, and the couple of which I am a part—Jesus’ wondrous act comes as a comfort and a sign of hope that those who undertake the journey of committing their lives to one another will be met with the abundance and provision they need.
But here’s the thing. As miraculous as Jesus’ provision is, and as hopeful as I find it, I wonder if he was up to something more here than just supplying what was lacking.
The older I get, the more aware I become of what particular and complex individuals we humans are. We are so deeply imprinted by our experiences, our genes, our personal and cultural history, our instincts and desires, our biases and patterns. This imprinting only becomes deeper as we go along. My dad calls this “Dr. Moreso’s Theory”: whatever our personality characteristics are, as we age they tend to become more so. Given this, I occasionally find it something of a wonder that any two of us can pass five minutes in the same room, let alone make a life together, sometimes for decades on end.
The fact that so many people choose, in the midst of this, to commit themselves to another person is a wonder and a delight. To choose to make a life with someone while also knowing some of the obstacles to such a life is a sign of profound hope. And lest anyone think by my ponderings about the challenges of marriage that I’m not actually looking forward to it, let me say that my wonderings about how my beloved and I are going to sort through some of those challenges are much outweighed by my anticipation and delight at the prospect of making a life together. My wonderings are grounded by my clarity, present nearly from the outset and borne out by eight years together (“Kinda rushing things, aren’t you?” one friend recently observed), that this is the person I feel called to go through life with. The presence of such love and clarity is a gift and a wonder.
And perhaps this is something of what Jesus was up to at that wedding: by his action, Jesus was not only providing a needed plenitude but also recognizing that it was already present. Encouraged by his mother, a woman who knew something of marriage and miracles, Jesus was offering a sign by which he acknowledged and celebrated the miracle already present when two people enter into a covenant with one another, with all the challenges and the blessings it will bring, most of which can hardly be seen at the outset.
Relational miracles aren’t reserved just for couples who have covenanted to make a life together, of course. In friendships, in families, in communities, in all the places where we honor the threads of connection and commit to engage the struggles and joys that come with them, the presence of wonder lurks, and the miraculous lies in wait for us to notice. When we do notice, when we see the plenitude present in our connections, it comes as a reminder of what we celebrate in this season of Epiphany: the life and work of God-with-us, who, in the person of Jesus, came to tangle himself up with us in the messy miracle of this shared life.
So in the midst of your relationships, in the web of your connections, how are you keeping your eyes open for signs and wonders these days? What sustains you when the signs are hard to see? As you pray or yearn or ache for needed miracles in your life or in the life of another, are there marvels that God is already up to? Might the miracle be coming in a different form than you expect, and can you let yourself see it? How might God be inviting you to participate in the working out of a wonder in the life of another? How do you keep yourself open to the surprising gifts—the sharp, sweet wine—that God is conniving to bring?
In these days, may we perceive the wonders at hand, be part of the miracles yet to come, and encounter unexpected delights along the way. Blessings to you.
[To use the “When He Surprised Us with Wine” image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. For my charcoal drawing of the wedding at Cana, which first appeared in The Christian Century magazine, please see this page. Your use of the Jan Richardson Images site helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]