✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
The Apostle John writes his Gospel in such a way that there is often a twofold meaning in his words. On the one hand, John will narrate the true, literal words and actions of Jesus. But on the other hand, he will often do this in such a way as to emphasize a deeper point about Christ and His redeeming work. That is the case with today’s Gospel. There is the straightforward, explicit meaning; but there is also a deeper, implicit meaning which shows us the ongoing significance of Christ’s miracle and how it still continues in the church.
We know the story well, how the wine ran out at this wedding feast, how at His mother’s prodding, Jesus was moved to help out, how the servants filled six stone jars with water which Jesus then miraculously changed to wine, how when the new wine was taken to the master of the feast, he was pleased but also bothered that it wasn’t served first; for it was better than any of the other wines.
So, what are we supposed to learn from this? Well clearly we learn that Jesus is truly God. For no mere man can change one substance into another without doing something to it along the way. Water gets turned into wine every year in vineyards and wineries throughout the world, as rainwater produces grapes and juice and fermentation makes the wine. But here Jesus compresses all of that power of His creation into this one moment. It is as we sang a moment ago: Jesus is “God in flesh made manifest.” This miracle reveals Jesus to be the divine Lord of the elements of creation, who cares even about the little things, like beverages at weddings feasts.
We also clearly learn in this Gospel that Christ approves of marriage and honors it. For if He didn’t uphold marriage, He wouldn’t have sanctioned it here with His presence. Especially in our current cultural context–where marriage is being redefined into nothingness, where people behave as if they’re free to join themselves together sexually without God first giving them to each other, where people cast marriage aside when it no longer fits their plans for self-fulfillment–with the casualties of the sexual revolution piling up all around us, we must constantly be reminded that matrimony is a holy thing, established by God Himself before sin ever entered the world. The Lord is the One who joins together a man and a woman and makes them to be husband and wife. Therefore, the marriage relationship should be held in the highest regard.
Consider, after all, how the Lord has given two commandments that uphold this holy estate. In the 6th Commandment, the Lord seeks to protect marriage from adultery and to maintain the faithful unity of husband and wife. And in the 4th Commandment, He establishes the marital relationship as the foundation of the family and commands that the husband and wife be honored by their children. We must learn, then, from our Lord’s presence at the wedding feast of Cana how He fully approves of married life. Those who are single should honor God and this institution by remaining chaste. And those who are married should treat their spouse as a gift from the Lord Himself.
And last of all, we clearly see from this Gospel that alcohol is not inherently sinful. Alcohol can definitely be misused for self-indulgent purposes that unleash the sinful nature; drunkenness is clearly a sin. Nevertheless, all of those who would call the good gifts of God’s creation evil must reckon with the fact that Jesus here produced about 150 gallons, the equivalent of more than 700 bottles, of vintage wine for the people to enjoy. We do better simply to follow the words of St. Paul in I Timothy: “Everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because the word of God and prayer make it holy.”
All of this is the straightforward meaning of today’s Gospel. And yet John clues us in that there is still much more for the church to grasp in this account. For John calls this miracle a “sign.” And signs point beyond themselves to something else, to a larger reality. This changing of water into wine, then, is a sign of something much greater.
We begin to perceive what that something greater is in the very opening words of this passage: “on the third day.” In this way the believer is told right from the start that the events at Cana are directly connected with the death and resurrection of Jesus, who rose from the grave “on the third day.” This sign points us to Christ’s greater work of overcoming the consuming power of the grave and restoring all of creation to its original newness and abundance.
When Jesus was told by His mother that the wine ran out at the wedding banquet, Jesus responded to her with these strange words: “What does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” When Jesus refers to His “hour” in John’s Gospel, it is always a reference to His impending crucifixion. So why would Jesus make that connection? What would running out of wine have to do with the cross?
Part of the connection is revealed in the word used here to say that the wine failed and ran short. It’s the very same word in Greek that is used in Romans 3, where St. Paul writes, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The reason that the things of this creation fail us and run short is because we ourselves have failed and come up short in keeping God’s Law and living according to it. This has not only brought mortal judgment on us; it has brought a curse on all things. Even the blessings of God’s good creation are temporary. Sooner or later all of our stuff will fail us. The Scriptures say that the world in its present form is in bondage to decay and is passing away.
So, when the wine ran out, that drew attention to the hour of Christ’s suffering and dying in order to redeem His sapped and fallen creation. Jesus reminds His mother that if she is going to appeal to him for a miracle, she must also deal with the cross, where He will break the curse of decay and death forever. Already here, then, Jesus was beginning to bring about the redemption of creation, which would come to fulfillment on Good Friday and Easter. For He was reversing the draining force of sin so that there was bounty and joy once again.
In order for this creation to be made new again, the curse on it had to be removed. And that curse was broken through the flesh of Christ sacrificed on Calvary. Galatians 3 declares, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’” Jesus took the curse into Himself so that by His death sin’s draining domination over us and over creation would be undone. All that saps the life out of this fallen world He has subdued and destroyed by His holy cross.
The fact that this miracle occurs on the third day not only points forward to the resurrection, but also points back to the 3rd day of creation when God brought forth the fruit-bearing plants from the earth. Jesus performs this sign with the fruit of the vine in fulfillment of the prophecies of the Messiah’s kingdom. It is written in Amos, “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when . . . sweet wine will drip from the mountains and flow from the hills.” No running short there! And Isaiah foretold a day when the Lord would swallow up death forever. Of that day he said this, “The Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine–the best of meats and the finest of wines.” In this miracle, then, we begin to see the very kingdom of God and the new creation breaking in, which will be revealed in all its glory on the Last Day.
The six water pots were filled to the brim. For the fullness of time has come. Jesus fulfills all that was written in Moses and the Prophets. Out of the water of the Old Testament promises we draw the finest wine of Jesus Himself. The number six points us to the day of man’s creation in the beginning. And it points us to the day of our recreation on the sixth day, Good Friday. The water and the wine in this miracle, then, are signs of the water and the blood which flowed from Jesus’ side and which flow to us now in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The six jars were used for ritual washing. Likewise, the Scriptures say that Holy Baptism is the washing of regeneration, and that the blood of Jesus cleanses us of all sin. Our Lord renewed the gifts of creation at Cana’s wedding feast, and now He renews us through His sacramental gifts in water and wine, so that we might be restored to the sweetness of life with God.
You must learn to see and believe, then, that the miracle of Cana still goes on; the wedding banquet continues. The heavenly groom, Jesus Christ, comes in the Divine Service to His churchly bride to comfort you with His love. By water and the Word He has made you His own. And in Holy Communion you become one with Christ as He gives you His life and all that He is. He who showed Himself to be Lord of the elements at Cana now shows Himself to be Lord of the elements on the altar. He causes His blood and body to be present under the wine and the bread, and through this miracle He recreates you in Himself. These elements of creation won’t fail you; for they deliver to you the Lord Himself who will never fail you or leave you. His grace doesn’t run out; there is always enough and more. That is why the Scriptures say, “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”
Know, then, that the Lord here is giving you a vintage sign: at Cana, at Calvary, and on the altar–a sign of His glory, glory revealed in His love for you. As always, He has saved the choice wine for last. He has given His best; and it is all for you. Come, then, in faith to His table, that you may partake in the great wedding feast when He returns. For it is written in Revelation 19, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!”
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠