January 20, 2013
I have no problem believing that God uses our dreams – whether it’s to send a message or open our eyes or wake us up, metaphorically speaking. I think that dreams can be one way that God gets our attention. Saying that does not mean that I don’t also realize that most of the time our dreams are just our subconscious way of dealing with all the different threads of our daily life. If I’m anxious and worried, it’s probably going to come out in my dreams. If I’m dealing with issues or problems, those will pop up in my dreams. My dreams are often wacky and disjointed, but that’s just how they are. But then there are other dreams. Dreams that have stayed with me long after I’ve dreamed them. Those are the dreams that I think maybe there was something more going on than just my subconscious sorting itself out.
I had a dream of that kind when I was first serving as a solo pastor for a church in Albany, New York. That church had a long, rectangular fellowship hall like we do. Everyone gathered in the fellowship hall each Sunday after worship for juice and cookies and coffee. In my dream, I had finished leading worship, and greeted the last person as they left the sanctuary. I hung up my robe and walked into the fellowship hall ready for a cup of coffee, but instead of our normal fellowship atmosphere, a banquet had been set. Instead of the smaller groups of tables and chairs, one long table stretched from one end of the room to the other. It seemed like hundreds of chairs were set around the table. And everyone I knew was there. People from the church were there. My family. Friends from different times in my life. And what’s most amazing is that people I’d lost were also there. My grandmother. Members of the congregation who had died. They were all gathered around the table. They were all there for this feast which had been prepared.
As hard as it may be to believe, seeing the living and the dead feasting together was not the most amazing aspect of the dream. What was even more powerful and moving about my dream was the tremendous feeling of joy and love that I had in that room, at that feast. It was tangible. You could almost see the abundance of love as you walked around the room. And that’s what I was doing. I was walking up to each person and hugging them and being hugged back; welcoming them and being welcomed in return. In the dream I could not stop crying, but they were tears of absolute joy. It may have only happened in a dream, but I still count it as one of the most precious moments in my life. I woke up with tears on my face. I have yet to find an adequate way to describe the love and joy of that moment. All I can say is this. It was abundant.
If there is a word that I associate with this passage from John about the wedding at Cana, it is abundance.
Jesus, his newly called disciples and his mother Mary have all been invited to a wedding in Cana. The wine at the wedding has run out, which would have been more than just an awkward moment in an otherwise great party. It couldn’t be resolved by sending someone to the store to get more wine. It would have been an enormous embarrassment to the families throwing the wedding. It would have been a breach of hospitality. Wine was a sign of abundance, of harvest, of plenty, of blessing. It’s very likely that the families of the couple would have gone without for a long time in order to provide this celebration. Running out of wine was more than just awkward. So Mary turns to Jesus. Somehow she knows that he can do something about this problem. She doesn’t make a specific request of Jesus, but her words imply that she believes Jesus can and will do something. Jesus responds by saying, “Woman, what is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come.”
This response of Jesus has always bothered me, because it seems an overly harsh response to her request. It’s rude. In our English translations, Jesus’ words to Mary do sound rude and harsh and even cruel. Seeing this passage through our contemporary 21st century eyes doesn’t help that dispel that interpretation either. But was Jesus actually being rude to his mother? Or do we have to dig deeper to look and hear these words in the context in which they were spoken. Doing that helps us to realize that Jesus is not just being uppity to his mama. Jesus often addressed women he encountered with this same greeting. It was, in fact, a form of greeting. It was probably unusual to address one’s own mother this way, but it may be that Jesus was playing down their relationship as mother and son. He didn’t do this to be rude, but to disengage himself. He was trying to place himself in a larger context than this one event. He had come to Galilee not just for a wedding, but to call disciples. His ministry had begun.
When Jesus goes on to say that his hour had not yet come, Jesus was not speaking about the time but about his hour of glorification. He was speaking about his death, resurrection and ascension.
By disengaging himself, in other words, by separating himself verbally from the current situation, Jesus pointed to his larger ministry. Jesus pointed to the larger purpose of his ministry – to save the world through death and resurrection.
I find it interesting that when Jesus tells this to Mary, she doesn’t question him further. Instead she told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
This shows Mary’s unswerving faith in Jesus ability to do something. I also think she realized and understood more about her son’s time, God’s time, than we first realize. She knows he can do something, and she knows that the time is right. But the choice to act is up to him. He can choose to do something about the wine or not. “Do whatever he tells you.”
Jesus makes a choice. He told the servants to fill the huge stone jars used for the Jewish rites of purification with water. They filled them to the brim. Then Jesus told them to draw some of that water out and give it to the chief steward. When the steward tasted the water become wine, he immediately went to the groom. The steward thought the groom was responsible for this wine.
Normally people put the good stuff out first. After all when wedding celebrations went on for at least a week, you would want your guests to drink the good merlot when their palates are sharp. Why serve them the good stuff when they’ve already gotten used to Boone’s Farm? Put out the cheap stuff last, when nobody will know the difference. But the steward told the bridegroom, “You have saved the best wine for last.”
Jesus did what Mary wanted. He saved the reception with more wine. But this wasn’t just any wine; it was the “good stuff.”
In the telling of this story, John doesn’t give many details. His writing here seems to be for basic information only. Until he gets to the stone jars. Now we have numbers. There were six of them. Each jar had the capacity to hold 20 to 30 gallons of water. This was an enormous amount of water and an enormous amount of wine.
Six huge jars filled to the brim with water. An abundance of water! An abundance of wine! John goes from sparse, basic facts to the abundant. The huge. The plenty. The best. The superior.
And from all of this, from the first of his signs and miracles, Jesus revealed his glory, and the disciples believed in him. As New Testament scholar Karoline Lewis wrote, miracles in John aren’t just miracles, they are signs. They are revelations. They mean and reveal far more about Jesus, about God than just the miracle itself. This is a sign.
But why is changing water to wine a sign? Why is an abundance of really good wine a sign that would reveal the glory of God through his Son?
Part of the answer to this question comes from looking at the Old Testament. In the Old Testament an abundance of fine wine is an eschatological symbol. It means that God’s wonderful joyful new age has arrived. In changing the water into an overflowing amount of good wine, Jesus shows that the hopes of Israel for the coming of a savior have been fulfilled. Let the wine flow and the people be joyful, the Savior is here. God is present among us.
So perhaps the sign that this miracle reveals is that God’s presence is evident among them. God’s love and glory and goodness flows in abundance. That is what I think this first miracle of Jesus, this sign, is about. It is about goodness and love overflowing. It is about abundance.
In my dream the living and the dead were gathered together. There were no boundaries between them. The physical act of dying did not separate us into two groups or two worlds. And we weren’t gathered for a banquet in some far off time or place. That dream wasn’t pointing toward some far off future; it was real in the present moment.
Isn’t Jesus, with this sign of abundance, saying the same thing? The kingdom of God is here. God is present now. There’s no need to wait for some distant reality. The abundance of new life is yours right now. God’s true nature, love, and glory is revealed if only you would see. It is abundant and it is in our midst. Let all God’s children say, “Amen.”