This is a fabulous miracle! An unnecessary, extravagant, very human miracle! Not the meeting of a desperate need for healing or food. Not the raising of someone from the dead or giving sight to someone born blind. Just taking gallons and gallons of water and turning it into gallons and gallons of wine. Saving a host from potential embarrassment, listening to the wishes of one’s mother – even when she’s annoying you, providing the means for a group of people to celebrate and share joy together. This is how we first see God’s power shining out in Jesus’ life. It’s almost embarrassingly trivial.
But what seems at first sight trivial is something more. Something full of wisdom about how we are to be as a church community, as spiritual beings learning what it is to be human. It teaches us first that we start with joy, with celebration, with fellowship and good cheer. That partying is a God-blessed activity. The Puritans got it wrong. God isn’t against dancing and laughter and all-round merriment. God is in the dancing and laughter and merriment – delighting in out delight and rejoicing in our joys.
Church on a Sunday morning shouldn’t be somewhere you turn up to as a chore and duty. Ideally it should be a place where you encounter the God of joy and where you encounter other joy-filled human beings. Even when we are addressing the hard subjects. Even when we bring with us the hurts of our bodies and minds and spirits, church is doing something wrong if we don’t leave with more hope, more energy, more connection than when we came. God takes the water of our everyday lives and turns us into wine!
But before we lose it in the celebration it’s worth thinking a little about what this water was that Jesus was using. It was clean water but water put aside for washing rather than drinking. As part of the welcome into someone’s home water would be poured over hot and dusty hands and feet to make them fresh and clean.
I can’t talk about this without thinking how beautiful it would be if this was how we greeted refugees seeking a home in our country. How differently they would feel about themselves if, rather than guns and detention, they encountered cool water to wash and refresh them. If they could come into this country feeling welcome and included rather than isolated and alienated. Their bodies and their spirits would be equally refreshed. And how differently we would feel about ourselves if this is what we offered! How hopeful and loving it would make our own collective life. As all of you who offer help to others know we receive far more in the act than we give.
So this water is a good thing in itself. A sign of welcome and hospitality. But Jesus makes it something even better. No longer a sign of hospitality – of ‘you’ being welcome in ‘our’ home – but of inclusion. All of us together sharing this moment of joy and celebration. All of us being ‘us’, none of us being ‘you’ or ‘them’. Taking this symbol of arrival and making it a symbol of belonging. No longer being immigrants and citizens, no longer seeing any of the differences that mark our lives, but seeing our shared holy identity as God’s beloveds.
The theme for the Martin Luther King, Jr celebrations this year is ‘we are all in this together.’ Rather than living into his dream of a world where all belong and know themselves beloved we continue to live through the nightmare of racism and oppression for many. This is to turn the wine of unity that Jesus offers us into very brackish and unholy water indeed. Until we who live with all the benefits of white privilege address our unearned advantages we will not be all in this together. Until we are willing to let go of some of this precious privilege we cannot all share the good wine of rejoicing equally.
Jesus turned gallons and gallons of water into wine. Before he healed anybody, before he taught anything, before he walked on water or raised Lazarus from the dead, he did this ridiculous act of abundance. Jesus’ first miracle was one of joy and inclusion, offered for a community not an individual. Let us live into that miracle. Welcoming immigrants and refugees. Fighting against racism. Being a community that feels and offers love and joy to all who come through our doors.