I had the great joy yesterday of officiating at a wedding of two of my directees. They are an older couple, both previously married, and so with all their adult children in attendance. My homily was well received by all in attendance, and someone suggested it would be good for my blog. The Gospel was the wedding feast at Cana, and I essentially meditated upon that story for a few minutes.
I will change the names of the couple, for their own privacy. But here it is, after the break: a few thoughts about wine and weddings, banquets and what it all means.
Well, this is going to be a different kind of wedding homily than what I usually give, for the simple reason that this is a different kind of wedding from what I usually do. Normally I’m officiating at the wedding of a young couple who are barely beginning on the road of life, bright as new pennies and starting off on the great adventure of marriage and family life. So my normal wedding homily may have some thoughts on that great adventure, on the demands of love, on the beautiful but very challenging nature of marriage and family life, maybe a little bit on the theology and spirituality of marriage.
All of which would be completely inappropriate and deeply unnecessary for Richard and Judith, for the simple reason that they both know quite a bit more than I do about the subject! As the saying goes, they have been there, they have done that. And yes, they bought the t-shirt.
So what’s a homilist to do, in the short time (promise!) that I have for this homily. I just want to talk about wine! I want to talk about this Gospel of Cana and the very beautiful story we read here of a wedding, a banquet, a problem, a solution, and the woman who is at the heart of it all. All in a few minutes.
A wedding. In biblical religion, in the theology of the Bible, a wedding means one thing and one thing only. It is, simply, joy. The joy of God’s creation, seen in the original embrace of Adam and Eve in the first chapters of Genesis, and the joy of God, the delight of God in His creation, seen in the last chapters of the book of Revelation – the wedding feast of Lamb, heaven united with earth, God with humanity. Joy, simply, perfectly, and untinged by sorrow. This is the simple meaning of a wedding in our tradition.
A banquet. And so it is fitting and right to have a banquet with a wedding, the banquet being the universal human symbol of celebration and joy. When human beings are happy about something, we eat a lot of food – this is just the way it works. And at the banquet, there is wine. Wine is another basic biblical symbol of festivity and joy, of a life that is rich and full of laughter and merriment. Whether or not wine causes that particular effect in you or in me is beside the point – this is the symbolism of the thing.
So we have in this Gospel a wedding, a banquet, and wine. But then we have a problem. The wine runs out. In the original Greek, the wine ‘fails’. And this is always our human quandary. To put it simply, we have joy, and then we lose joy. There is gladness and beauty and fun in life… and then, not so much. And we all know that this is part of the human story – not the whole story, but part of it. Joy comes, and joy goes. The wine runs out. It’s a problem, but there it is.
That is the human reality. But that is not God’s reality. God’s joy never runs out; God’s banquet feast is forever; God’s wine cellars are never drained. And the whole of our Christian faith consists in one thing and one thing alone: God coming into the human scene and brings His divine reality into it.
And so Jesus makes wine where there is no wine. Jesus brings joy where joy was not. Jesus renews the whole thing all over again, and again, and again, and in the end forever. Joy is succeeded by sorrow, but in Christ sorrow gives way to joy, and this is the pattern of our life here. We do labor in this world with the problem of joy being fleeting of the wine running out, but in Christ we have the solution to that problem.
And so Richard and Judith have come to this church to bear witness to, to make manifest, to once again take part in this divine rejuvenation, this divine restoration of joy, of love, of beauty, of freshness, of newness, of new life and new beginnings, a new story starting after many, many chapters have been written in each of your books—most of which chapters are sitting in the first pews of this church. ‘Love has come again, like wheat that springeth green.’
And finally then—and this is why Richard and Judith chose this Gospel—there is this woman, this mysterious figure, the Mother of the Lord, the Woman who gives us the luminous words that ensure that no matter what happens in our life, no matter where we are in joy and sorrow, light and darkness, pain and grief or gladness and delight—no matter where on the path we are, She gives us the key to finding our way back to joy and to peace, to the joy that never fails, never can fail, never will fail ever.
And that key is her words in this Gospel: ‘Do whatever He tells you.’ To listen to and follow the promptings of Christ, to attend to His Gospel and His path of life, and to walk in it, as best we can, is the sure and steady path to the joy that never ends, the wine that only gets better with age, the best wine of all which is the final banquet feast of heaven to which all are invited. And that is my prayer for you, Richard and Judith, and for all of us in this Church, that daily we do whatever Jesus tells you, and so grow in joy always, unto the joy that never fails or fades or passes away.