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Planning weddings is a stressful business. There are the questions about who to invite and who doesn’t make the cut; decisions of venue for the ceremony, clothes, photos and the reception; and choices about the menu and the music. There is a lot to organise and most of these choices are dictated by money – how much can the families afford? What fits within the budget?
You can imagine the parents in this weekend’s gospel being very embarrassed by the shortfall in planning because the party has run short on drinks. There are a few choices: they could send everyone home; buy some more wine if they could find a shop that was open; or hope that some of the neighbours have a reasonably full cellar. The mother of Jesus (Mary is not named in John’s gospel) comes up with a rather inventive plan that saves this family from any embarrassment or shame. Jesus provides the wine for the feast which is quickly identified as the best wine of all. This wine wins the gold medal.
John, the gospel writer, refers to this miracle as “a sign” – but “a sign” of what? Water is deeply symbolic in our religious imaginations. Water is so ordinary but also so necessary. Water is needed for life to survive. Our land is dry and hot at the moment. Much of Australia is in drought and experiencing record temperatures in many places. We have seen the effects that drought and ineffective water management have had in the Murray-Darling basin in the past weeks with reports of countless fish dying due to poor water quality. Clean water is important and essential. And we take it for granted until it runs low. We know how dependant we are on drinkable, readily-available water because it is the stuff of life.The water that Jesus changes is the water used for the “Jewish rites of purification”. This isn’t drinking water, but holy water in a sense. As we bless ourselves with holy water upon entering and leaving the church, the Jewish people would ritually cleanse themselves before and after a meal. This water, too, is essential because it helps us express our participation in the life of God. Suddenly, at the hand of Jesus, water becomes wine; embarrassment becomes surprise; shame becomes joy; purification becomes celebration. That’s the sign that John refers to because it is a sign of what Jesus’ ministry is all about. This is the transformation of the ordinary into the astonishing. This gospel story prompts a question of us: Like the wedding guests, are we ready to be surprised? Or do we just presume that the “same old, same old” remains the order of the day?
At the centre of Christian faith is the hope and anticipation of transformation. Everything old can become new again, and everything ordinary can carry the surprise and thrill of the extraordinary. Above all, this is true of you, of me, of family, of friends, of work, of play, of community, and of the church for that matter. Jesus, the miracle-worker, is only one part of the equation. We need to play our part and be prepared to taste and see the goodness of God. We need to remain at the feast, even after it appears that all the fun has been had. Our taste buds always need to be at the ready to savour the delights of God. This weekend’s gospel is a parable against cynicism and self-defeating pessimism. If we think that the world is a disaster and that our society is falling apart, if we believe that the church has lost the plot, if we presume that there is no hope for any of us, then we will surely, sooner or later, be proved to be correct. With that attitude, life will taste as dull as dish water. If, on the other hand, we live in hope, if we are always on the look-out for the surprises of God, if we hold onto the quiet promise of unforeseen possibilities, then we will surely taste and see the goodness of God in the ordinariness of the everyday. Cynicism kills our spirit; hope enlarges our heart. May our hope in the newness that Christ always brings never become diluted or watered-down, but allow our hearts to be festive with the sweet and joyous surprises born from divine delight.