Today is the third Sunday of Epiphany. Each week, this season opens up another picture of Jesus as the Christ, the anointed one, the Son of God. When we look at the three readings we have been given for today, the revelation is about Jesus whom we know in the Eucharist. Each week when we come here, we encounter Jesus in the bread and wine, and that’s how we know him for ourselves.
The Gospel reading is the story of the wedding at Cana, when Jesus turned water into wine, and very good wine at that, in great abundance. It was a village wedding. Jesus’ mother was a key person there. Jesus and his disciples, probably 7 of them at this point arrive late, but probably not on the original invitation list. They arrive at the village and the wedding is going on. Of course they are included. Middle Eastern hospitality is like that. Everyone is welcome. Gatecrashers, we would say. No wonder they ran out of wine. Perhaps the family couldn’t afford enough wine.
But then something very odd happened. It was Jesus’ mother who organised it. She tells Jesus to sort out the little problem of the wine. And he sounds a bit cross, being bounced into doing something sooner than he was ready.
But he orders the water jars to be filled with water, the jars that would have been used for the water to wash the feet of the guests. And when liquid is drawn out of the jar, it is wine, and jolly good wine at that. And there was so much of it – the equivalent of perhaps 500 bottles. That is a lot of wine. Not many people noticed what was going on. Jesus’ mother knew. The servants who filled the water jars knew. All the Master of Ceremonies knew was that suddenly someone had found a store of wine which was much much better than the stuff they had already finished off.
John tells us that this was the first of the signs that Jesus did which showed his glory. The incident showed that Jesus could do things that just couldn’t happen in the normal course of things. And this was because of who he was. Who he is. And that’s why this story is one of the important stories of Epiphany, because it reveals something important about Jesus.
It is a miracle. A miracle that discloses that a stone age vagabond is really the Son of God. John the Evangelist is layering the picture of Jesus in the Gospel. He has already shown to us John the Baptist pointing to Jesus and calling him the Lamb of God. Later, he will show Jesus as the sacrificial lamb, the lamb that saves the children of Israel from the angel of death. But in today’s story, he is the miracle worker, turning water into wine, wine that for Matthew, Mark and Luke would be the sign of his blood poured out for the salvation of humankind. And there is so much of it!
And it says something important about the Eucharist, about Holy Communion, because, of course, it is a story about wine. It tells us that the wine of the Eucharist is wine that has been transformed, changed from water into wine. The wine of the Eucharist becomes for us the blood of Christ. And it brings about transformation in us. Drink this wine and expect change. When we drink the blood of Christ and eat the bread that is His body, we take Christ into ourselves. That changes us and empowers us, so that we can change the world around us.
The other readings are also given to us today to shed more light on the central story. They give us another slant on the story. Lets have a look.
The reading from the book of Revelation is about another wedding, a mystical, heavenly wedding. Not a village wedding, but the cosmic wedding. The wedding above all weddings. The marriage of the lamb – yes, that little woolly beast again – to the bride, the church. A marriage made in heaven but lived on earth. And the bride is arrayed in righteous deeds and the death of martyrs who cling to Christ in the face of persecution. This is the wedding that all those stories in Matthew, Mark and Luke bear witness to. This is the wedding that Cana prefigures. This is the wedding where the wine flows so freely, the blood of Christ and the blood of the faithful. This is the wedding that we celebrate each week when we come to worship. This is the wedding where we say “I will” and “Amen”, the body and blood of Christ that keep us in eternal life.
The Old Testament reading also mentions bread and wine. King Melchizedek of Salem was a mysterious figure. He was a king and a priest. This is the only story in which he appears in person, when he meets Abraham returning victorious from battle and gives him bread and wine. But Melchizedek came to represent so much more in the Jewish and then the Christian tradition, because he became regarded as a true priest, and a symbol of true priesthood. Because there is no record of his death, he was regarded as eternal. The name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”, and he was king of Salem, which means “king of peace”. Abraham honoured Melchizedek by giving him one-tenth of the spoils of the battle. It was the first example of tithing, of sharing one-tenth of what you have with the church.
By putting that reading alongside the story of the wedding of Cana, we are being shown that when Jesus turned water into wine, this was a priestly act. The Epistle to the Hebrews tells us how Melchizedek prefigures Jesus, and how Jesus is a priest like Melchizedek. That’s why we have Melchizedek in that stained glass window (south window) which shows Jesus as priest and king.
Epiphany gives us pictures of Jesus, so that we can see him for ourselves and get to know him better. When we meet him here in the Eucharist, he feeds and nurtures us with himself, to strengthen us to be his body in the world. We have seen his glory, and that brings His light into our lives.