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3rd Sunday of Epiphany

12 January 2024

21 January, Genesis 14.17-20; Psalm 128; Revelation 19.6-10; John 2.1-11

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BACK in Eastertide 2023, I reflected on “glory” in Jesus’s priestly prayer from John’s Gospel. Then, his earthly life was speeding towards its end. This time, the Gospel reveals where the manifestation of glory begins.

There has already been a first pointer — at Christmas, from John’s prologue (1.1-14). It introduced recurring ideas in the Gospel. We can imagine Christians listening to it for the first time, around the turn of the first century, lifting the book (in scroll form in those early days) from its box, reverently unrolling it, and reading it to the faithful.

The prologue must have been treasured right from the start, although its full meaning surely took years to sink in. Perhaps those first Christians felt the same thrill that I do, when the prologue’s description of the “they” of history morphs into the “we” of the Body of Christ: “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son.”

The Gospel shows us glory as an essential attribute in which both the Father and the Son participate. This is not a million miles from the attributes that we share with our parents, and which exemplify aspects of our common identity, through blood relationship — or through like-mindedness, rooted in shared values and experiences.

We are not left to dwell on the mystery. Instead, we are transported into the midst of the unfolding story, as spectators at a wedding. If John’s first audience had known the Synoptic Gospels, this wedding scene would have taken them completely unawares. It is not, as far as we know, a royal event — not even a grand one. It is “only” a village wedding, in a place with which John is familiar (4.46; 21.2).

The other Evangelists do not mention Cana. Nor do they mention this unique “sign” (sometimes translated “miracle”) that Jesus did there. I suspect that the choice of a wedding feast as a first “sign” is driven by God’s revealing of the incarnation as his chosen way to effect our salvation. This is how humankind perpetuates itself: via a God-given kinship of the flesh.

Yet, here is a puzzle, too. Jesus has told his mother that his “hour” has not yet come; so why does he perform “the first of his signs” by transforming water into wine, in this place, on this occasion, at this moment in his ministry?

When Jesus refers to his “hour” in John, he is not checking the position of the sun, or the day of the week. The term “hour” in John is a “right moment” rather than a ticking clock. When Jesus talks of “my hour”, for example, he means the Passion (13.1).

So, we start to experience time itself as an idea that is disorientatingly fluid. Imagine the human confusion if we had to think of present and future time as being the same thing. Yet Jesus does just that when he speaks as if his hour was simultaneously in the present and the future: “The hour is coming and is now here” (4.23; 5.25). Later in the Gospel, it is present and past that bleed into one another: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son” (17.1).

It must be a key element of the Cana miracle that Jesus is himself the agent of revelation. The first revelation had come through the Evangelist (1.14). The second came through the Baptist: “Here is the Lamb of God!” (1.29). The third was heard, last week, through Nathaniel, representing faithful Israel: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (1.49).

And now, with a little parental encouragement to get him started, Jesus manifests his identity for himself. Such a momentous disclosure requires a “sign” of epic proportions, and 150 gallons of wine for a village bunfight is certainly that. The quantity is extraordinary, but so is the quality: the wine is delicious, because it is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

Revelation completes the picture of the Gospel’s “sweet and sacred feast”. If the wedding at Cana teaches us the sacredness of the stuff of our humanity, the Apocalypse reminds us that the eucharist itself accrues some of its meaning through the lens of that village bunfight: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

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