Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It’s a difficult task to preach a meaningful sermon at a wedding. Everyone seems a bit distracted. The bride and groom for whom the message is intended are often unaware that anything is being said to them. They are simply trying to look stunning for their wedding photos. The parents of the bride are wondering whether they really do have to pay for the no-shows at the dinner. As for the groom’s parents, they are counting their blessings and their dollars that they are not the parents of the bride. Weddings are filled with expectations, hopes and dreams. And why shouldn’t they be? After all, every wedding day is happy. It’s the living afterwards that causes all the problems.
So what should a pastor say at a wedding? I’ll be honest: The most challenging aspect is simply choosing the appropriate Bible verse. Fifty years ago, wedding couples might have listened intently to St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, but not anymore. “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.” It’s not a bad passage, if you are planning on launching a cold war even before bride and groom arrive at to the reception. Unfortunately, most preachers who use this scripture today often overlook the second half of the passage where the men get their own comeuppance. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
Of course, there is the portrait from the book of Genesis. Adam has no partner for working in the garden, so God puts him under a deep sleep, and a rib is taken from his side. It is a poignant lesson underscoring that the man and woman were created as equals and that God has formed the two for each other. And so the man cries out, “This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” Unfortunately, this passage too ends with the melancholic scene of the newlyweds being shipped off to their new dwelling never to return home again, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
Over the years, I have learned that the frankness in scripture can be equally surprising to families. A pious Norwegian grandmother turned multiple shades of red when a passage selected by her own grand-daughter was read from Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone” She was convinced that “two lying down together and keeping warm” could be edited from the passage without losing a sense of the strength of two.
So what would Jesus have chosen as an inspiring text if he had been invited to preach as a Rabbi at the Wedding at Cana? Of course, he could have even used his own original material. Perhaps a parable or two. After all, many of Jesus’ parables are related to weddings, but I was actually thinking about something else. “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it. “
The two parables say a lot about love and marriage. It is how we feel when we finally find the one we are willing to spend our lives with. After years of searching for that unique and special someone, doesn’t love feel like a rare and hidden treasure? And when you truly find it you are willing to sell off everything of worth to have and to hold that one special treasure. For that one, and that one alone, you are willing to sacrifice and endure all things.
Unfortunately, we don’t know what Jesus said at the wedding in Cana, or whether he even signed the guest book. If we did, it might be read at every wedding. No, we don’t know what Jesus would say, but we do know what Jesus did. And it is that story which offers every bride and groom a wonderful promise of what can happen when Jesus is invited to their wedding.
The Evangelist St. John writes that Jesus’s first sign took place in the village of Cana about six miles from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. It was a simple village wedding- according to Jewish custom, though it certainly wasn’t like mine- and I guess it probably wasn’t like yours. In ancient Palestine, the wedding feast didn’t end when the bride and groom arrived at their new home. For the next week, while they were still dressed in their bridal clothes and with crowns on their heads, they would hold an open house. Here they would be treated like a king and queen and for that one glorious week their word was law. In a land where there was poverty and constant hard work to scrape a living from the soil, this was a week to remember for the rest of their lives. It also was a sign of the future joy and happiness. A successful wedding was a sign of a successful marriage. The slightest incident or misstep would be interpreted by the community as a bad omen.
For such a happy, successful occasion it was vital that everything went like clockwork, but they didn’t need wedding planners in the ancient world. They had mothers. Jesus’ mother Mary was a member of the helping hands Kitchen Circle, scurrying around making sure everything was going smoothly. In surveying the banquet, she suddenly realized that there wasn’t going to be enough wine. To stumble on the provision of such an important ingredient as wine at the wedding feast would have been a terrible humiliation for the young couple. Wine was an essential part of the celebration. As the ancient Jewish rabbis said, “Without wine there is no joy!”
And isn’t that exactly how disappointment often enters our lives. It is unexpected, and there is no provision that will hinder its coming. We plan and trust that life will be fair, and that it will unfold as intended. But disasters come just the same demanding more than our own strength. It was true at the wedding in Cana. Suddenly, there was no wine. And so St. John writes that, Mary turned to Jesus. She knew instinctively who to turn to, and into whose hands she should place that burden. She wasn’t too clear about what the outcome would be, but she was confident enough that whatever Jesus would do it would be the right thing. And so she told the servants to do whatever Jesus said.
There were six stone vessels set aside for the rites of purification. Now, if each of those vessels held between 20 and 30 gallons of water, then Jesus gave the party 180 gallons of wine. That may not have been what Mary was thinking. She might have imagined Jesus running down to Haskells and picking up a couple bottles, but what St. John illustrates here is that when the grace of God comes to those in need, there is not just an adequate supply but an abundance. You see, there is no human or physical need that can exhaust the amazing and joyful grace of God.
So my friends, what should we see in this miracle at the wedding in Cana? Is it merely the story of Jesus coming to save the day? Or is it something more? Let me close with three convictions for those who welcome Jesus as a guest into the marriage.
First of all, the story teaches us that God loves and continuously blesses marriage, families and the home. That is at the heart of the wedding at Cana. He is there as the unseen guest prepared and able to do what needs to be done. God knows that there will be unfulfilled dreams in marriage. There will be moments when couples will disappoint each other, but let me assure you, God will not disappoint you. Tragically, people often complain that God is absent when disappointment and disaster enter in. My friends, Jesus cannot change your life if you do not let him in. This is my simple counsel for couples preparing for their life together, and it is true for you as well, from the very beginning welcome Christ as a guest into your home.
The story also reminds us of a second truth, that love, especially in marriage, is work. Young couples preparing for marriage often live with romantic myths of love and life. L.A. Peterson writes, “Most people live life and get married believing a myth – that marriage is a beautiful box full of all the things that they have longed for – companionship, sexual fulfillment, intimacy, friendship. The truth is that marriage like life, at the start is an empty box. You must put something in before you can take anything out. People have to work to infuse love into their marriages. A couple must learn the art and form and habit of giving, loving, serving, praising – keeping the box full.” Disappointment occurs when the husband and wife discover that neither has been putting anything in. And you discover that as well, if you take out more than you put in, the box will be empty.” Before the moments occur, it is important to remember that you can be like the servants now. You can work by filling the empty jars to brim.
Whenever Jesus enters into a person’s life he can turn the imperfect perfect. It is a deep, spiritual truth to begin love and marriage. Jesus has the ability to transform ordinary things into extra ordinary things. If he can change water into wine, he can change lives that are incomplete into lives that are whole. Yes, in Jesus’ transforming hands he can take broken lives and strained marriages into a healthy, life giving relationships again. But work will be needed.
And that leads to the final truth, with Christ as the unseen guest in love and marriage, and with hard work, the best is yet to come. Without the presence of Jesus in our lives they are often stale, flat and uninteresting. But with Jesus, life becomes colorful, sparkling and exciting. He can transform ordinary love into something wonderful and divine. For if Jesus can turn earthen jars and ordinary water into the finest wine, what can he do with your life which is even more precious in his sight?
My friends, God is performing miracles every day, but don’t be surprised if you can’t see God’s mysterious hand. The bride and groom themselves were unaware of the miracle Jesus, the unseen guest performed for them. Even now, God is bringing a message of hope and love to desperate and broken lives. That is his promise for love, life and marriage. And with Jesus, the best is always yet to come. Amen.