The Good Wine

“Everyone serves the good wine first, and the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

In our gospel reading this morning we have a story about water and wine but it is not just a story about water and wine. It is meant to show us something about Jesus, something that we wouldn’t know on our own, bright as we may be. It’s a story about water and wine, the very best wine we are told. Indeed, so blown away is the steward that he calls the bridegroom over and commends him on the quality of the product in what is the focal point of the story: “Everyone serves the good wine first, and the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

Here is the key to understanding what we are being shown about Jesus in and through this story. “But you have kept the good wine until now.” A true statement but it’s ironically true in the mouth of the steward because while it ought to be directed towards Jesus—the giver of this wine—it’s actually directed to the bridegroom. So, the statement is true but not in the way that he means it, in fact, it’s true in a way which points to a much deeper truth—it is not the bridegroom but God who has “kept the best wine until now.”[1] The wine that God gives now is qualitatively better than the wine that came before it. And this party is just getting started.

So we’re at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, a little place hardly worth noticing, and a poor family have invited Jesus and his mother and the disciples to their wedding. We know they are poor because they had run out of wine. And just when it looked like the party was over and done suddenly there was better wine and lots of it.

Here’s the point of this sermon right up front. Here is the gospel: Jesus Christ comes to us in the poverty of our sin to give us his very best, to give us his very life, God’s very life, that we might know the joy of the great heavenly banquet that he is preparing. As it is written elsewhere: “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich,” (2 Cor 8:9). And when we who are poor in spirit invite Jesus and Mary and the saints into our lives we receive the riches of God’s grace and mercy in abundance.

I love Mary in this passage. Here she is already representing the Church, turning to Jesus and interceding on behalf of others and then trusting him entirely to do it: “Do whatever he tells you!” This year more than any previous year I pray that we would be encouraged by the witness of the Blessed Virgin Mary and intercede to Jesus on behalf of those who do not yet know the joy, sweetness, and cheerfulness that he brings, and that we ourselves would be willing to do whatever he tells us.

Wine and weddings. This is ultimately the language of Israel’s most profound hope and expectation—the hope of a future that would be characterized by greater blessings and joy than anything that had come before. Consider this passage from one of the Old Testament prophets: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever,” (25:6-8a).

Notice the connection between the finest wine and the abolition of death. The same connection is present here on the third day at the wedding in Cana but it’s hidden away in Jesus’ somewhat cryptic response to his mother: “My hour has not yet come,” (2:4). In other words, what’s happening here when Jesus miraculously gives them the best wine they’ve ever had is merely a foretaste of what will come into greater focus at a later hour when the glory of God is most fully revealed in Jesus, the hour of his death and resurrection (12:23, 27; 13:1). The hour in which he gave himself wholly to us and for us, for the forgiveness of sins, for our liberation from sin and death. His blood shed there is the wine of our redemption, which obtains life for all (Maximus of Turin).

Jesus has come to annul our condemned marriage to sin and death that we might live anew with God in an indissoluble union of love. To live from God and to God and with God, being drawn ever deeper into his love and light. This is the hope of Israel and the goal of the Christian life, of any life at all, and it is the very best wine that God has to give, his own Son.

Is it any wonder that one of the great Biblical figures for our relationship with God is marriage, a fact which the setting of our story this morning gestures toward. The Bible both begins and ends with a wedding. In Genesis with the marriage of Adam and Eve (Gen 2:24) and in Revelation with the marriage of the Lamb and the bride, that is Christ and the Church (Rev 19:7).

Indeed, throughout the Old Testament God is depicted as the faithful Bridegroom of His oft-unfaithful people Israel. Consider, for example, this morning’s reading from Isaiah: “For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”

After the Resurrection the apostles saw in Jesus the figure of the Bridegroom par excellence. Thus, the gospels are full of parables about wedding feasts. Even the bridegroom in the wedding at Cana is a stand-in for Jesus and this is confirmed by the words of John the Baptist in the very next chapter: “He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled,” (3:29). John’s joy is fulfilled because he is the friend of the Bridegroom and now, finally, the Bridegroom has come for his Bride.

In other words, the one who came to Cana for a wedding came to this world for a wedding. St Augustine reflects on this saying: “Therefore he has a bride here whom he has redeemed by his blood and to whom he has given the Holy Spirit as a pledge. He wrested her from enslavement to the devil, he died for her sins. He arose again for her justification. Who will offer such great things to his bride?” And the Church is the Bride of Christ, to whom and for whom he has given his very life, his own blood.

This is the best wine—life with God in Christ. And he comes already now to share this wedding feast with us in the Eucharist that we might drink his blood and be filled with holy joy as a sign of God’s overflowing generosity and cheerfulness. Yet this present experience is merely a foretaste of the great heavenly banquet that is to come where we will truly be one with the Bridegroom. Even so, as with the steward in the story, a foretaste is enough to elicit great joy! What joy is to come then, that even now is at work within us!

My prayer for you this year, for us all, is that we might come to know ever more deeply the glory of God in Jesus Christ, who poured his very life and love out for us on the cross and then into us by the Holy Spirit. That we might be transformed in spite of our sins and failures, into the Bride of Christ. And that this union with God in Christ would generate in us the fruit of love.

[1] Richard Bauckham, Gospel of Glory, 180.

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