Sunday 21st January
Year B: The Third Sunday of Epiphany
Liturgical Colour: White*
- Psalm 128: 1-6
- Genesis 14: 17-20
- Revelation 19: 6-10
- John 2: 1-11
John’s gospel is strikingly different to Matthew, Mark and Luke, each of whom have a place in the three-year lectionary cycle. However, readings from John appear at strategic points in the annual lectionary and this is one of those occasions.
John’s gospel was the last of the four to be compiled, around 90AD. It assumes that readers already know about events in Jesus’ life and so doesn’t include most of them, or even his parables. Instead the gospel focusses on interpretation and meaning, sometimes in long and difficult monologues and other times in near poetry like the prologue. John is sometimes referred to as ‘the spiritual gospel’, and is considered much more theological than historical, but this might be a bit unfair all round!
One of the major themes in John is Jesus’ divinity and how this is made manifest. Key to this are what have become known as the ‘seven signs’, the first of which we hear about today. The Greek for sign, like the English, means an event that points beyond itself to a greater reality. Each of the seven signs is thought to demonstrate an aspect of Jesus’ power and deity.
- Changing water into wine (John 2.1-11)
- Healing the royal official’s son (John 4.46-54)
- Healing the paralytic at Bethesda (John 5.1-15)
- Feeding the 5000 (John 6.5-14)
- Jesus walking on the water (John 6.16-24)
- Healing the man born blind (John 9.1-12)
- The raising of Lazarus (John 11.1-44)
John has packed a lot into today’s passage, to put it mildly! A wedding is a wonderful family occasion, but it is also symbolic of God’s completion of God’s purpose for God’s people. The water itself was set aside in jars to be used in purification rituals; an indication that the old ways were being replaced by something far more powerful. The incident happened on the third day, which is established code for the day of resurrection. (Wedding celebrations usually lasted about a week.) The provision is lavish, which is symbolic of divine wisdom. The whole event is a foretaste of what is to come; the best has indeed been kept until this moment.
It is the supposed ordinariness of the water that strikes me afresh in this passage. Water may be every-day, but it is certainly not ordinary. Water is teaming with life. It washes and refreshes. It makes up most of living creatures’ bodies and we would not be living for very long without it! The importance of water in the story of the people of God is rehearsed in our baptism service and used to symbolise death to sin and birth to new life.
However, it is not that Jesus was dismissing either the water, or indeed the rituals it was used for. Rather he was taking these precious gifts of creation and devotion and transforming them to new heights. This was not on a small scale either. There was a lot of water, six great big jars full of it! And all of it was transformed by Jesus. Like water, our lives are miraculously ordinary and full of extraordinary ordinary things. How might they look if they were transformed by Jesus and full of light and life?
Jesus didn’t just click his fingers to make the water turn to wine, although he presumably could have done. He involved the past (ritual) and present (stewards), those close to him (Mary) and everyone else (the guests). He didn’t just perform a miracle, he included those present in it.
How might we consciously invite Christ to transform the day-to-day ordinary work of our churches? And how might we invite as many people as possible to be part of that transformation?