The Second Sunday after Epiphany
“The Endless Wedding Feast”
Rev. Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
St. John 2.1-11; Ephesians 5.22-33
17 January 2021
Soli Deo Gloria!
In Scripture wine is the vehicle of celebration. At any Jewish celebration wine was required. The rabbis said, “Without wine there is no joy.” Therefore, wine is connected with marriage. The Psalmist wrote that God causes wine to gladden the heart of man. [Ps 104:15] Marriages are joyous occasions, a time to celebrate the joining of a man and woman in God’s blessed estate.
Our Lord’s first miracle took place at this wedding at Cana. It was not accidental. It was the beginning of many miracles revealing Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. For that reason this Gospel reading stands at the beginning of the Epiphany season. It was the first of the “signs” that revealed him as the almighty Son of God. Epiphany is a not a single event in our Lord’s life but a series of events. This sign reveals the higher reality of the Marriage of Christ and his Bride, the Church. A birth reveals his humanity but his signs reveal his divinity. This one points us to “The Endless Wedding Feast,” of the joy of heaven.
These days preparation for marriage focuses mostly on the reception, or party, after the rite. Many weddings have gotten ridiculously expensive with some spending more money on the event that on a new house. It’s easy to get lost in the physical preparations for the event so that the deeper/higher significance is lost altogether.
At Cana the wine ran out. Whether the couple was too poor to afford more wine or that they had inadequate plans remains unknown. Those details aren’t important because that’s not the ultimate focus of the Evangelist. The last verse of this Gospel reading provides the focus.
This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
In the Old Testament God pictured himself as the husband and Israel as the wife. However the nation of Israel was an unfaithful wife. The prophet Hosea, who was the last to prophecy before the northern kingdom fell to Assyria [ca. 722 B.C.], was instructed by God to marry a prostitute, serving as a powerful example of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, but emphasizing God’s love for Israel.
Our Lord’s parables of wedding feasts make it clear that marriage is a pattern for the relationship that God has with his people. The holy Christian Church is the Bride of Christ. Paul makes that clear in our Epistle reading where he describes human marriage as a shadow of this higher reality. Marriages are to be a reminder of that. Our marriages point us to the real thing. That is why it is called Holy Matrimony, a blueprint for the consummation of all things. Marriage becomes a shadow of Eden, Paradise restored, or as Paul says, describing the festivals and Sabbaths of the Old Testament:
These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Col 2:17). See also Hebrews 10.1
Marriage then, is a picture of what is to come. The last of our Lord’s signs is his mighty resurrection from the dead. It is the shadow of our own resurrection from the dead on the last day.
The 180 gallons of wine that Jesus created was far more than the guests could drink. Certainly this reminds us that the grace of God cannot be exhausted, and hence, the forgiveness of sins cannot be exhausted. Our Lord continues to pour out his unending grace in the Sacrament no matter how many guests are at his table the world over.
This word “sign” [σημεῖα] is key to the proper understanding of what happened. A sign is something that points forward, like a highway sign with an arrow pointing straight ahead to to the right or left. So, these “signs” which Jesus did point forward. The miraculous supply of wine points forward to “The Endless Wedding Feast” in heaven.
We should not be surprised that Satan undermines the most basic institution of humanity. He did so already in Eden. It continues in every age, especially in these latter days. Obviously, there is much unhappiness in many marriages, but that should not surprise us. The fairy tale ending, “and they lived happily ever after,” simply isn’t true for most couples. One fails to estimate the effects of original sin, if one even admits to a belief in sin.
Many conclude that if marriage is fraught with so many obstacles and problems then it is best not to marry, just cohabitate. But that simplistic solution aims at the wrong target. It aims at the institution of marriage instead of the inborn sin in all who enter marriage.
God made marriage. It is not a human construct that can be dispensed with as unnecessary for two people to be happy. To get rid of the constraints of marriage does not make one any happier. In fact, the very opposite happens. This has been well documented, but there are those who simply want to rid themselves of any constraints, taking a very selfish view of the relationship. Usually, the woman in such a situation ends up with the short end of the stick, especially if there are children involved. The chances of ending up in life-long poverty and unhappiness are quite high.
Some critics are quick to accuse traditional marriages of great inequality, where wives bear the burden of raising children and providing a functioning home. They hear the words of Scripture that the husband is the head of the wife, and conveniently go deaf when the words are read that summon a husband to serve his wife and die for her, if necessary. They buy into the caricature “of religious men as misogynistic, narcissistic, and controlling;” [IFS, January 4, 2021, Religious Husbands Do More Housework by Laurie Rose]. Truth be told, many wives are guilty of the same faults. God’s institution is not the problem. Sinners are the problem.
Being a Christian does not erase sin but does focus on the forgiveness of sins that Christ purchased for husbands and wives with his own blood. As we reflect on the Old Testament images of God as husband and Israel as unfaithful wife, we must be impressed with the fact that God does not abandon his chosen bride. He never quits on her. Rather, he purifies her by his sacrificial death so that she may be spotless before him. The cleansing water of Holy Baptism washes us clean.
Christ also gives us the wine and celebration of eternal life in the Sacrament, this celebration that Isaiah proclaims. His description of the marriage feast of the Lamb is poignant:
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. (Is 25:6).
We give gifts to brides and grooms in honor of their marriage. These days couples register at various merchants and ask for the things they would like to have. The invited guests do their best to match the couple’s requests with their gifts. Very little thought is required these days. One merely scans the list and sees what has already been bought and then hunts for something else in one’s price range. How different was this wedding at Cana! When the wine ran out Jesus gave them a gift of a superabundance of wine through a miracle never repeated in human history. He gave them a gift of celebration which has never been exceeded, a gift which is prophetic for those who are in the holy Christian Church, Christ’s Bride.
John writes in the prologue of his Gospel:
For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. [Jn 1:16].
In the reception of Christ’s body and blood grace upon grace is poured out. I don’t think that the wine ran out at the wedding celebration in Cana; perhaps it did eventually, but the grace our Lord provides by means of his true body and blood in the Sacrament never does! Week after week, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, millennium after millennium Christ provides us the foretaste of the feast to come. His forgiveness cannot be exhausted, no matter how many drink from his chalice! He provides joy which knows no end when he comes to marry his Bride, the Church, on the Last Day. Christ’s blood is poured out generously! It might be preferable to say during the distribution, “The blood of Christ poured out for you,” rather than simply “shed for you.” “Poured out” pictures abundance, the abundance of grace and forgiveness, of joy!
Then the marriage feast of the Lamb and his Bride will be brought to unimaginable fulfillment. The feasting will never end and the wine of joy will never run out! The prayer of the hymn writer [Stephen P. Starke] stays week by week on our lips:
Bring us, Lord, at last to heaven,
To the endless wedding feast. [Gracious Savior, Grant Your Blessing LSB 860.5]
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.