January 14, 2018 A+D
John 2: 1-11
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The wedding in Cana is an end and a beginning at the same time. Even as the bride leaves her father and mother and becomes a wife, so also the Lord puts an end to the rites of purification and ceremonial law and begins His public Ministry. The New Covenant is necessarily greater than the Old.
St. John tells us that the water into wine was the first of the Lord’s signs. It was not the first miracle that He ever performed. He is the Lord who parted the Red Sea, and fed the people in the wilderness. It is not even the first miracle connected to His Incarnation. His conception and birth were surrounded by miracles. The pregnancy of Elizabeth, the angels’ appearances, and the star and the wise men all showed that the Babe born to the Virgin is not only a man, flesh of her flesh and bone of her bones, but is also Divine, that He God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten and not made. His display of wisdom in the Temple at the age of 12 and the appearance of the Holy Spirit and Voice of His Father at His Baptism testify of the same. There is also at least one miracle recorded with the calling of Nathaniel. The Lord saw him under the fig tree by supernatural sight.
Water into wine at Cana’s wedding is not, strictly speaking, the first miracle to take place in the Incarnate Lord’s life. John didn’t say that it was. He said it was the first of His signs. Having been baptized, tempted, and then crossing back over the Jordan to call disciples, the Lord now begins His public Ministry in Cana. Water into wine is the first public sign that the Man on His way to the cross is not only a Man but is God the Creator, full of compassion, whose mercy endures forever. It shows not only that He is God but what kind of a God He is. He comes to make glad the hearts of men. He comes to start something new and pour out His Spirit with generosity.
The beginning of one thing is often the end of another. The bride in Cana is no longer the daughter she used to be. That is part of why her mother cries. The beginning of Our Lord’s Ministry, and His increase, is the decrease of John the Baptist and the prophets before Him and also of the Levitical priesthood in which Zechariah served. Jesus, the Son of Mary, begotten of the Father from eternity, is the surety of a superior covenant. We read in Hebrews: “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but (Christ) holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:23–25, ESV)
Again, in Hebrews, we read: “Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault with them (with the old covenant) when he says: ‘Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.’ In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” (Hebrews 8:6–13, ESV)
The New Covenant is the Covenant in His Blood. It is the Blood that was shed on the Holy Cross and which now lives, risen from the dead. It is given to us through wine in a miracle that is akin to the miracle in Cana and the Manna in the wilderness.
By giving wine at the wedding the Lord ruins the jars for purification. They are stained with the color and flavor of wine. They can’t be used for water anymore. The old covenant, even those jars, were dedicated with the blood of animals sacrificed as a shadow and type of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world. The New Covenant is established by the Blood of the Son of God. It ruins the old for the old covenant. The Old Covenant was relentless, constantly pointing to our need to be cleansed and purified. It was complicated and tedious, costly and painful. The rites of the New Covenant, Holy Baptism, the Sacrament of the Altar, and Holy Absolution, are far fewer in number, much easier to observe, and much more majestic in understanding (Gerhard, § 122. 5 On the Gospel and Repentance). They are not meant to stand beside the old or to replace them but to fulfill them, much in the way that Christ the New Mediator is greater and fuller than both Moses and John. They led to Him. God did bestow grace and forgiveness through faith by means of the Old Covenant, especially through His Word and Temple. In the New Covenant, however, He does this more fully and freely, and not for a limited time or to a select group of people. He reigns eternally. He sends His apostles to make disciples of all nations by teaching and baptizing, by absolving and communing.
The Lord begins at a wedding on purpose. He is the Bridegroom. We are the bride, whom He purchases and redeems, making us by Divine decree to be pure, sinless, and immaculate in Him, claiming us for Himself, snatching us back away from the depths. There is no Uncle Laban to trick Him. Neither does He choose one over the other, finding one of us prettier or better than another. He does not take us in lust for his own purposes or with the desire for political gain, but He takes us without any need in Himself simply so that He might serve us, protect, and love us.
That He changes water into wine is not insignificant or accidental either. He is not engaged in parlor tricks. He wasn’t casting about for something symbolic. Rather, He acts in compassion. That compassion is not mere sympathy for the hurting, though it includes that. He weeps at the loss of Lazarus. He aches for the women of Jerusalem. He responds to the pain and suffering of lepers, demoniacs, and those afflicted in other ways. But here, at Cana, He responds not to a need of His children, but simply for their pleasure.
They have had plenty of wine. They are well-drunk. But He wants them to have more. He wants them to enjoy themselves and the bounty that He provides. This is a gift of purest grace, not bestowed for the sake of merit or need but simply in love. Water into wine at Cana is not unlike Grandpa buying overpriced ice cream at the ball park or the giving of toys at Christmas and birthdays.
The substance of water and wine are not incidental. While the Old Covenant ritual of hand washing is being undone and rendered unnecessary, so also there is a sense in which Holy Baptism is shown here to be completed and consummated in the Holy Communion – the New Testament of His Blood. We are baptized once and forever. It is our birth into faith. It is not repeated. Thereafter we are not born, meeting the Lord for the first time. We are already clean. We belong to Him. The Baptism fonts are ruined like the purification jars. We are baptized and remain so. We never need to be baptized again. Our intimacy with the Lord is known now not in water but in wine. The Holy Spirit, who came to us in the waters of Holy Baptism and made us His own, gives us what Christ has won for us by His suffering, death, and resurrection. He pours Himself into us through wine become Blood for the on-going forgiveness of our sins and strengthening of our faith.
John tells us right at the beginning, that all this happened on the third day. He is invoking not merely the passage of time but is directing our attention to the Lord’s Resurrection. The shadow has passed. Jesus lives. The Spirit has been given. We abide in that Day, the Day of the Resurrection. We are the baptized. But we are still at the wedding. We receive the best wine, even the Spirit Himself and all His gifts, but it is not yet what it will be. We are waiting eagerly for the consummation to come on the Last Day. We are waiting for the trumpets that shall summon us not merely into the bridal hall as honored guests, but into Our Lord’s chamber, made our chamber.
You are the Lord’s beloved. You are His dear Rachel, His Leah, His Mary. You are the bride of His devotion and affection, His favored one, the baptized.
In +Jesus Name. Amen.