Yesterday afternoon, I was at the Wedding Fair at the Metro Arena. I was on the team for the church stall, trying to encourage couples to think of having a church wedding, giving out information about church weddings, and offering to pray for couples who are going to get married. And chocolates. Did I mention the chocolates? We gave away chocolates. The other stalls were promoting venues, wedding photographers, bridal gowns, mens’ outfitters, make up, mobile massage, wedding cars, cake – pretty well anything you could dream up that might have anything to do with a wedding. I had some really good conversations. There are so many myths out there about getting married in church – people who think they can’t get married in church because they aren’t baptised, or they don’t go to church, or they’ve been divorced. It was great to be able to tell people that they can get married in church if they want to. I was thrilled that the first couple I talked to came from Bensham, and I really hope they decide to get married here in St Chad’s.
Weddings can be hugely elaborate and expensive, or they can be very simple and straightforward. The average cost of a wedding is said to be something like £24,000 – probably not in Bensham. Most people round here can’t afford £24,000 – and they don’t have to. You can have a brilliant wedding for a moderate outlay. And a church wedding is much cheaper than a wedding at a venue, about a quarter of the cost. I have attended beautiful weddings where the reception was held in a community hall with the family doing the catering.
I bet they don’t run out of wine at any of the weddings that will take place of the couples we met yesterday. And if they can’t afford drink for everyone, there will be a bar, so people can buy their own drinks. I did attend a wedding once where the guests drank every drop of alcohol they could get hold of, but quite frankly that said more about the nature of the guests than the generosity of the hosts.
John tells the story of Jesus going to a wedding. We don’t even know the names of the bride and groom or their families. At most weddings – they are centre stage. Was Jesus related to the family? Certainly, his mother Mary seems to have a part to play at the feast – she seems to take responsibility when the wine runs out. She tells Jesus that the wine has run out. She expects him to do something. Jesus is a bit off-hand with her. He seems to feel that he is being bumped into something that he’s not quite ready for. As for Mary, on the one hand she wants it sorted, and on the other, she has every confidence that Jesus can turn the situation round. She tells the servants: Do whatever he tells you. It is the prelude to a miracle.
When Jesus is around, things happen, things that you don’t expect, things that can’t happen by the rules of science and everyday experience. And they happen not merely to solve human problems like sickness or running out of wine, they are meant to show us something about who Jesus is and what he is about and what God is like. John, in his gospel, calls them signs, signs about Jesus – they point us to him.
Jesus tells the servants to fill the stone water jars with water, and when they have done that, they filled a jug and took it to the steward. And of course, it turns out to be the best wine ever, much better than the best wine the family could afford. And so the party goes on. There was no great announcement. A miracle had happened and most people didn’t even notice. But they enjoyed the wine.
In the story of the wedding of Cana, Jesus shows God’s extraordinary love for us, his great abundance. God’s abundance is not cheap and cheerful, it is real quality. The wine that is served is the best wine you ever tasted. And that quality of love and generosity that we see in Jesus is what he calls us to offer to those we meet and those we work with.
Last week we were talking about baptisms, and this week we are talking about weddings. They are important things that we offer to the community, and it is a privilege to be involved with families on these important occasions. How can we make them more welcome and more at home when they come to church? And how can we ourselves live God’s love and generosity in our own lives and in the way we reach out to families?
The other gospels recount the stories that Jesus told about wedding feasts, about kings inviting guests to a wedding banquet. In John’s Gospel, the story is lived, acted out. It is an important image for Jesus, because the wedding feast is an image of heaven – the heaven that Jesus wants us to live on earth and the heaven that happens when we leave this life on earth. When we live with generosity and love, and behave with generosity and love, we give people a little glimpse of heaven.
One thing we did at the Wedding Fair was offer to pray for people as their weddings approach, and the couples really liked that. In my evening prayers last night, I was praying for all the people I had spoken to, and for all those who are planning weddings. Please go on praying for them. Pray that their wedding days will give them a vision of heaven, and their marriages will continue in the love and generosity that God pours out on us. Pray for yourselves that you too might know God’s love for you personally in ever deeper ways.