Grace and peace from the Mystery in whom we live and move and have our being. Poured out for you.
Now there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification…”John 2: 1-11
Like most passages in John’s Gospel, there is so much going on in this text. This event happens on the THIRD DAY. A rather significant day in the life of Jesus. Or the death of Jesus, depending on how you want to look at it. There is Jesus’ mother who is only mentioned now and at the crucifixion. There is this talk from Jesus about his ‘hour,’ which is how he talks about his death.
But with all this going on… I want to focus on the wine. Does that really surprise you?
Now there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification…”John 2:6
Purification!!! Isn’t that the focus of our faith? Isn’t that its purpose? To become holy? To become pure? Isn’t it about becoming sanctified?
Ask most people and I would venture to guess that is what most would say. So, what do we do with this passage? The jars of purity are changed, transformed. Here in this text, purity is done away with. It is transformed, changed. It undergoes a death and resurrection. The focus is on Celebration, not purity. In other words, the days of worrying about your purity are over. Done. Finished. Throw out that baby with the bath water or better yet, don’t throw out that bath water with the baby, change it into wine.
It is time to celebrate. A marriage has taken place. A union has occurred. The Word has become flesh and dwells among us. God has married humanity. The Mystery has become Emmanuel — God with us.
This is the first sign, the first miracle in John — the first reality.
Whatever distance you thought existed between you and God, you and the Divine, is forever closed. That distance has been bridged, connected, eliminated. Not only that, it’s been wedded, married.
“Christianity is not a way to get close to God.”
If religion is defined as a way to get close to God, then Christianity is not a religion. If religion is defined as a way to get close to God, then Christianity is anti-religion. Christianity is not a way to get close to God. It is a celebration of the reality that God has united with us. There are no roads that lead to God because God has come to be with us. God has come to marry us. Unite with us. Become one with us.
This miracle story isn’t about celebrating the marriage of two people. It is a celebration of the marriage of God, the Divine, the Mystery, with humanity, with you and me.
There are no roads that lead to God because God has come to be with us. God has come to marry us. Unite with us. Become one with us.
That is what the word “Atonement” means: to become “At-one.” God has chosen in Jesus to become “At-one” with us in life and death. From Christmas to the Cross. In pain and suffering and in joy and celebration. One with us in this life and in the next. Or as Paul is fond of saying,
Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus… Neither life nor death nor things past nor things to come.”Romans 8:38-39
Yet, how many people do you know who would say, when asked what the purpose of their faith is, “Celebration,” “Party Time!” or “Time to cut loose”?
A comeback for fundamentalists
Look, the point of this miracle is not to tell us it’s okay as Christians to drink, though it’s not a bad reference to keep in your back pocket when holier than thou biblical fundamentalists tell you it’s a sin to drink. Referencing this text usually silences them long enough to order another round because they are faced with the conundrum that either Jesus doesn’t take his Christianity very seriously or he doesn’t know what Paul is going to write in his letters.
But this miracle isn’t about drinking, it’s much more profound than that. It’s much more subversive than that.
Go look online at all the Christian writings that will tell you how to be a better person, a better prayer-er, more holy, pure and sanctified. That is what we are most concerned with, and so even when we encounter the celebration, we keep wanting to pour purifying water back in the jars of celebratory wine, we want to get on with the task of sanctifying ourselves, making ourselves pure and holy. We keep wanting to pour purifying water back into those jars of celebratory wine. Which doesn’t add to the celebration, but only waters it down.
I mean, really, “Hey, Good News! You’re saved!”
“Great. Let’s celebrate!”
“Not so fast. You have to purify yourself first.”
“But I thought you said, oh…never mind. I think I need a drink,”
Cut loose, party hearty
Go look online at all the Christian writings that will tell you how to be a better person, a better prayer-er, more holy, pure and sanctified. But you know what you’ll have trouble finding, a Christian writing that tells you how to “Cut Loose,” “Party Hearty.”
Just so you know what is going on here in this story. The amount of water changed into wine is about 1,000 bottles worth. And that’s after all the other wine was consumed and the guests were drunk. Maybe Martin Luther was on to something when he put the words of Almighty Fortress to the tune of a bar room drinking song.
Maybe churches should start having as their opening hymn, Kenny Loggins’ Footloose. OK, I dated myself on that one.
Please understand, I’m not trying to make light of drinking. I help out at a community of faith that works with people in recovery. I’ve heard their stories of pain and destruction in their lives. And that is not something to laugh at.
Celebration of unity
But what I am trying to get at is that the Christian faith is first and foremost a celebration of unity. A celebration of what has already taken place in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
It’s not a ‘working towards’ but a ‘living from’.
It’s not a drudgery ‘for acceptance’. It’s a celebration ‘of acceptance’.
If we’re going to talk about sanctification at all, let’s talk about it in the way Gerhard Forde described it:
Sanctification is simply getting used to the fact it’s all by grace.”Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification
The water for purification is now the wine of celebration.
Those Clay Pots
Those clay pots… that’s us by the way, who thought their life’s purpose was for personal purity…
Those clay pots… are now to be poured out for you for the celebration of life.
“This man eats and drinks with sinners. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” To roughly quote Matthew and Luke. Somehow Jesus must have missed the purification memo.
Those clay pots… who thought their life’s purpose was for personal purity…
Those clay pots… are now to be poured out for the celebration of life.
“Poured out!” Hmmm, where have I heard those words before.
“Take and drink, this cup is the new covenant, poured out for you and for all people.”
This meal re-connects, re-unites, re-members, what has been always been connected, united, membered.
The celebration of ‘what is’
Last week, we had a discussion about the sacraments — baptism and communion — and the consensus was that sacraments are “the assurance of ‘what is’.”
“They are the assurance of what is.” The physical act, the concrete action, the making real of what already is. They are the “celebration of ‘what is’”.
What a great description of the life of faith!!! What a great description of the message of this passage. That in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Mystery has married itself to humanity and this world. The Word has become flesh and dwells among us.
And that is worth celebrating. The celebrating of ‘what is.’
So, come. Come to the table. Come to the wedding, which you will discover just happens to be your wedding and the celebration of Christ’s union with you.
Take and eat. And drink.
So, come. And take and eat. And take and drink.
And apparently, take and drink again… and again… and again…
Because there’s a thousand bottles of celebration yet to go!!!
Wednesday Respite is a 30-min contemplative service of scripture, prayer, music and a Spirited Touchpoint by Spirit in the Desert faith mentor, Rev. “Bro. Jim” Hanson.
Touchpoint is a reflection on where God’s story touches our life story. It is a short homily based on a biblical story of people in the Old and New Testaments and their relationship with God. Our spiritual ancestors’ experience of God’s grace connects with our lives in the present and our relationship with the Divine. Previous Touchpoints are available as PDFs or on SoundCloud.