Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church is an opened-door Church. Everyone is free to come in and worship and build community with us. However, this is only half of the story… everyone is also free to leave and go somewhere else. We are a Church, not a club and, definitely, not a jail. And, therefore, many come in and stay and become friends, become congregants of Saint Luke’s. Others come in for a Sunday or two and… never return. When I call them to ask if they are alright, what I commonly hear is that they are not used to a Church where everybody knows everybody by name. Their experience of Church is of being anonymous, of being left alone (with God) in their pew … and, returning home after “hearing” or “assisting” the (their) Eucharist. In other words, Saint Luke’s is far too friendly for them and building and celebrating community is not really something in their agenda… It is not their experience.
It is true that at Saint Luke’s, we make an effort to welcome everyone by name. It is true that we encourage community building and community celebrating… after all, what is the Church if not the community of those who know each other by name, just as God knows us by our first name? What is the Church if not he community of those who gather to celebrate the Lord and, as a consequence, (delicately, respectfully) care for each other? Yes, at Saint Luke’s we want to be a community committed to love, to joy and to life! Isn’t this what the Christian spiritual life is all about?
We have just finished the feasts of Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord, and the Church now invites us to deepen our spirituality. Through baptism, we claim to be disciples of the Lord Jesus. What does this mean for each one of us personally and for all of us as Church? This is an extremely important question, especially this week as we pray for the unity of all Christians, of all the Christian Churches. We must, therefore, look at our spirituality and return to the basics. What is basic or fundamental about our Christian spirituality – the spirituality that we all share? We find an answer in today’s gospel lesson: What is fundamental about the Christian spirituality is our personal and communal (the two can never be separated!) commitment to Jesus Christ, translated into daily life as commitment to love, to joy and to life!
In the gospel lesson of this Sunday, taken from John 2:1-11, we have the first of the seven signs that Jesus presents to us, in order that we may believe (that we may have faith). In this first sign, we have the wedding at Cana of Galilee. This is the first sign, meaning this is the basics, the fundamentals, the starting point. If you miss the meaning of this first sign, you may have problems with the meaning of the other signs. Therefore, the need to read the text carefully and explore the many levels of meaning that this first sign wishes to convey to us. On a very superficial level, we are presented with a wedding, at a town named Cana, in Galilee. It is a wedding “saved” by Jesus, because they run out of wine and Jesus, alerted by his mother Mary, changes water into wine and, low and behold, Jesus saves the party! Meaning of the miracle: Jesus is the true savior of our lives, which are supposed to be like happy wedding parties… the importance of the wine!
However, if we pay attention to detail, we begin to see that this is not a normal wedding party. Questions begin to rise: Why does the evangelist need to tell us that the wedding took place “on the third day”? (v.1) Why are the bride and groom never mentioned? We don’t even get to know their names… The name of the “mother of Jesus” is never mentioned either. Why not? And, then, there is the strange detail of the “six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.” (v.6) They were there for the ceremonial washing, but, how strange… they were empty. Later on, Jesus has to ask the servants to fill them with water. There is also reference to “his hour” and “his glory”. His hour had not yet come (v.4) and, at the end of the text, we are told that this “was the first of the signs through which he (Jesus) revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (v.11)
Before we proceed, it should be noted that John’s gospel was probably written between the years 95 and 100. It is a very late gospel.
This means at least two things: 1. that the young Christian community was already establishing itself as a separate community, separate from its Jewish roots. After all, they had been thrown out of the synagogue and were considered a Jewish sect; and 2. This is a great loss for the Christian community and it is still going through its mourning process. Separations and new beginnings are never easy! For this reason, throughout the gospel of John we notice a certain feeling of anti-Judaism which comes from the pain of being excluded, of being separated or, to put more bluntly “thrown out”.
Now, we can look at the text and its various meanings. First of all, we are presented with a wedding, not a funeral. For the Jewish people, as for us, a wedding is a celebration of love, of joy and of life and those that are invited to it are family and friends. The Christian spiritual life is always an invitation to a celebration – a celebration of love, of joy and life. The Christian spiritual life – the life of the disciple of the Lord – is not meant to be a funeral! And, we are invited because someone who considers us family and friends, someone who loves us, invited us. We are not told the names of the bride and groom because, really, this wedding is the very life of God and it is to this life that we are invited to – God as pure love and joy, God as pure life!
All of this is “on the third day”. The importance of the third day as a way of telling us that this is an event hat has to do with the meaning and purpose of our lives, it has to do with the glory of God as present in our lives as believers, and as in creation, as emanating from the creating love, joy and life of God. Jesus rose “on the third day”. His resurrection gave and still gives meaning to his life, our lives and the life of the world! Because he rose “on the third day”, we believe that, indeed, he is the Son of God!
Now, the six stone water jars are present for the purification rituals, but they are empty. The evangelist is telling us that Judaism has lost its essentials – it has stopped being a religion of life to become an “empty” religion, a purely legal religion, a religion of rules and rituals to be obeyed and followed to the letter. And those who failed to do so, were simply discarded, excluded, marginalized, classified as impure. For the Semitic cultures, water is the symbol of life and wine the symbol of joy.
Becoming an exclusively cultic and legal religion, Judaism lost its sense of joy and its capacity to give and celebrate life. And, where there is not joy and no new life… there is sadness and hopelessness. This is probably why, as Luke tells us (3:15), all the people were expecting a new prophet, a true messiah!
The reference to the “mother of Jesus” can be a reference to Jesus’ mother, but probably not. It may be a reference to the “cultural and religious matrix” of the Jewish people in terms of those people who are aware of the religious problematic of the time and, in good faith, are searching for a solution. Nicodemus is one of these people who, together with others, form “the mother of Jesus”. In John 3:4, Nicodemus goes to see Jesus “during the night”, and asks him: How can a human being return to the womb of his/her mother and be reborn?” Nicodemus is not just referring to himself. He is referring to the whole people of Israel (and its institutions, including its religion) who needs to be reborn. They know that Jesus is a prophet. A different prophet. And, they know that Jesus can make a difference. This is why “the mother of Jesus” tells him: they have no wine! (They have no joy!) She does not mention the water, since it is evident. Everyone could see for themselves that the jars are empty! And, none of this is said to those responsible for the food and the drinks (the chief-priests, the doctors of the Law). They speak to Jesus directly. They have lost confidence in their religious leaders. But, not in Jesus. They know he can make a difference – a difference for joy and life.
Jesus answers by saying that his hour has not yet come. His hour is the total offering of himself, culminating with his passion, death and resurrection. And, yet, he changes the water into wine, signaling that this water changed into wine (life as pure joy!) is what his hour is about – the giving of his life is the gift of the pure joyful life of God, shared with us, so that we, too, may have joy and life. This is Jesus’ glory which is shown to all, that we may believe – that we may open our hearts in trust and commit ourselves to the same offering of self (for the good of the wedding celebration) as to know the joyful life of God within us, in our lives and in the lives of all sisters and brothers, in the life of our world, in creation.
Two short conclusions:
1. Committed with love, with joy and with life. How important it is never to lose the essential meaning of the Christian life. The meaning of our lives as disciples of the Lord is the Lord Jesus himself. This is the essence of our spirituality: that we follow the Lord who is the very love, joy and life of God, present for us, all human beings and creation. This means in concrete terms, in daily life, that we are committed to love, to joy and to life! Christian religion must be at the service of this spirituality. Otherwise, it becomes a joyless and lifeless religion! What type of religion came to Latin America with the conquistadores? What type of religion developed here and is still being practiced today?
2. The importance of creating spaces of hospitality and friendship, where the Church can be reborn and grow. In this context, to follow Jesus, is to create spaces of hospitality and friendship, spaces where love is not only felt, but celebrated, so that the Church, as the communion of all those invited and gathered, can be reborn and grow as the community of those committed to love, joy and life! In our Latin American context, this is of utmost importance. When wee look at the history of Christianity in Latin America, we have reasons to be discouraged. For our indigenous peoples, for the poor and the humble, for women and children, for Afro-Americans and sexual minorities, it was not a religion of love, of joy and of life! Confronted with so much poverty and misery, so much injustice and corruption, so much oppression and violence, we can very easily give in to sadness and hopelessness, to individualism and indifference… No. This is not the Christian way. The Lord invites us to a wedding and we must make ourselves present. We must also be responsible for the water and the wine… Yes. We must commit ourselves to love, joy and life!
How does the wedding of Cana apply to Saint Luke’s? How are we living and celebrating the essentials of our common Christian spirituality?
P. José V.
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