January 15, 2017 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We have a mystery before us. John calls it a sign. The Lord turns water into wine in the most extravagant of ways – giving vast quantities of the finest quality. Most shocking, perhaps, is that He gives it to those are already well drunk, literally, if the steward is to be believed, intoxicated.
How unexpected and magnificent is this grace! The Lord spoke and all things were made, everything that He commanded was done. Water went into six stone jars. Out came wine. It is a wonderful thing, worthy of faith and praise. It overpowers human understanding: the Lord, true God and man, came to earth to lay down His life and make glad the hearts of men and bless Holy Marriage. On to us men, full of sin, destined to die, was poured water. Yet by His Word the Spirit flowed like wine. We are filled to brim. In goes water, out comes the Spirit, washing away our sins and bestowing life. So also are lowly bread and wine set on the altar. The Lord who is not contained, who is omniscient and omnipresent and omnipotent confines Himself to glass and metal vessels, to be covered with a linen, that He might be eaten but not consumed, that He might enter into us as His Bride and makes us one with Him and the Father and the Spirit.
Are these – Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, water and wine, Spirit and Body and Blood – any less miracles than that which was done at Cana? Of course not. But still the self-appointed steward of this world would mock them or count them as a waste. “Everyone reasonable,” he says, “would stop throwing good money after bad, would abandon fickle, lying men who habitually break their vows. Why should God be present on the altars of men only to be treated irreverently or neglected, to join Himself to the unworthy?” But God is not moved by the reason of Satan or men.
Mary’s complaint, “They have no wine” gets a rebuke: “Woman, what does this have to do with Me?” God can’t be compelled with the law. Men don’t deserve wine. They have no right to complain. They don’t deserve mercy. They don’t deserve good things. God isn’t moved by their demands or wishes but He is moved by their need.
And Mary’s faith moves the Lord. She accepts the rebuke. She tells the servants, ‘Do whatever He tells you.” She doesn’t know what He will tell them. He might not tell them anything. He might ignore them. He might tell them to go home the party is over. When He tells them to fill the jars with water, He might be asking them to set up a purification station or to start baptizing people. It might be a rebuke and a solution to deal with their drunkenness.
Mary doesn’t know what He will tell them but despite the rebuke, she believes and trusts that the Lord is compassionate. He loves weddings. He loves celebrations. He loves joy. She trusts that whatever He tells them to do will be good – even if it is unpleasant. Whatever He tells them to do will serve, ultimately, the good of His people.
That is faith. Faith expects good things from God. It trusts Him to keep His promises and Word, to be our God, that is on our side, for us, with us.
All of our sins are an expression of unbelief, of distrust in God’s goodness. When we sin we are striving, vainly, to obtain good that we think God is withholding. We think that somehow that which God has forbidden or not given must be taken and that God either doesn’t actually care about us or He is too stupid to know what is good. So it was for Eve in the garden. She was surrounded by good things. She had plenty to eat, delicious and varied and interesting – but she got the idea that God was holding out of her. She wanted to be like God, to know good and evil. She thought she could obtain it by disobedience and that she was clever enough to teach God a thing or two about what is good. With Satan and Adam, she plunged the world into darkness and brought in death. So it was for David when he saw Bathsheba bathing. He had plenty of concubines and wives, some of whom were surely as beautiful as Bathsheba, but he refused to be satisfied in his abundance, so while he sat idle at home, he took what he wanted by force – costing the baby his life and destroying the peace of the kingdom and of his own family.
So it is also for you. When you sin you think that you need to take what you want rather than wait. You push your conscience aside. You don’t trust God to take care of it. You think you know what makes for happiness – pleasures of the flesh, admiration from men, material goods – and you choose to take it for yourself. Repent.
David and Eve found forgiveness. God wanted their good more than they did. He brought them to repentance through rebuke and the Law and He brought them faith through the Gospel. So also in Cana. The Lord gives more than Mary thought to ask, more than she thought that she wanted. And so also in the Sacraments. God provides through these miracles for what ails us, what detracts from our sanctification.
Trusting in His goodness and great mercy, we do what He says. He says, “Take eat, take drink,” and we do. We come as one sick to the Healer, as one hungry and thirsty to the Fountain of life, as one in need to the King of heaven. We come as those who tried to help themselves and failed, as the prodigal son back to the open arms of the Father. We come to the One whose Body and Blood were separated in death on the cross so that He might give them to us and restore us to Himself.
We do not say: “They have no wine” or “Something is missing. I need to be happy.” We say: “We have no right to be here in ourselves, but You have called us, Lord. We confess our unworthiness and we confess your might and your right to extend the invitation to the unworthy. We come to the Lamb who was slain but who lives and we praise this great mercy. We give thanks for this great love. For it is because of Yourself that You do it, not for any merit of ours. Your hour has come and now Your goodness is revealed and bestowed in the Sacrament – in Blood hidden under wine. Since you have called us and made us yours and it pleases You to give us Your Body and Blood and therein to forgive our sins, it pleases us also. You say, ‘This is My Body’ and so it is. You say, ‘eat,” so we eat.
Keep us, O Lord, so our sinfulness and pride would not stand in the way or that we would ever take this gift for granted or neglect it, but that we might come to the Cup filled with wine and find there Your Blood poured out in perfect grace for our sins. And therein, O Lord, make glad our hearts.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Some help for this was found in Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1996), 236–237.