Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Notes on a Wine-Tasting: a sermon (John 2: 1 – 11)

I often enjoy visiting a vineyard: driving on the scenic road past the rows of grapevines; arriving at the cellar door; tasting the vineyard’s wares; and then buying a bottle or two.   

But one thing I can’t bring myself to do during the tasting at the cellar door is to in any way insult the wine, even on those rare occasions when the wine deserves to be insulted. Particularly at a smaller vineyard, I usually assume that the person running the tasting room is most likely related somehow to the person who makes the wine, so I’m usually very polite about the wine. 

Even if the bouquet has the subtle undertones of old socks, or even the not-so-subtle overtones of disinfectant, I don’t say so.  I like to think I’m too kind to say so.  I fear I’m really too much of a coward to say so.

Someone who really knew how to insult a bottle of wine was Horace Rumpole.  Some of us will remember “Rumpole of the Bailey”, the TV series in which the late Leo McKern played the London barrister and sleuth Horace Rumpole.  Rumpole was never averse to a drop of wine - preferably red - but, by his own admission, he usually couldn’t afford the good stuff (a bit like me, really).  Rumpole often referred to the wine he drank by such uncomplimentary references as “cooking claret”.

Such was the opposite of the problem faced by the head caterer at the wedding Jesus attended in our gospel lesson today.  Instead, he had to approach the bridegroom and enquire why he left the really good wine for so late a point in the reception.  He may have learned at catering school that the good wine ... the vintage stuff ... the wine with the snob labels ... the expensive stuff ... that gets served first.    The cheaper wine, the chateau cardboard, the “cooking claret”, the stuff that’s well on its way to becoming salad dressing:  that wine is served later, when the guests’ taste buds have become more ... well ... tolerant.

You’ve heard the story.  Jesus and his disciples were invited to attend a wedding at a town called Cana, in Galilee.  Mary was also there.  The wine ran out. 

Mary asked Jesus if he could do something about the wine situation.  A few harsh words passed between mother and son.  (What’s a wedding without a memorable family argument?)  But eventually, Jesus being a good Jewish boy, he did what Mary asked. 

There were these six big stone jars filled with twenty to thirty gallons of water ... each.  They were there for various Jewish purification rituals ... ritual baths for various purposes and so on.  Jesus told the head caterer to draw off some of the water and taste it. 

The caterer tasted the wine, and he was impressed.  This was good wine . . . really good wine.  From there, we have his comment to the confused bridegroom about serving the good wine first and, only after the good wine is finished, does the host then break out the “cooking claret”.

Both the first and the last of Jesus’ miracles are found only in John’s gospel. 

·        The Cana miracle, with the water becoming wine, traditionally regarded as Jesus’ first, is only found in John. 

·        So also is the raising of Lazarus, at Bethany, traditionally regarded as the last of Jesus’ miracles before the crucifixion. 

However historical or however otherwise you want to regard these stories, both have an important place in John’s version of the gospel narrative. 

·        The Cana miracle is seen as setting the stage for Jesus’ public life.  John speaks of this event being the first of Jesus’ public signs, which “revealed his glory”.

·        The raising of Lazarus at Bethany is seen as setting the stage for conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious authorities, which then in turn led to the final, fatal conflict between Jesus and the Roman political and military authorities.

As well, I believe both of these miracle stories are important for our life of faith.

·        The Bethany miracle speaks of Jesus’ triumph over death, a triumph which is later confirmed at Easter.  It communicates God’s promise of a future resurrection life, a life which is not confined by the boundaries set by physical death.

·        The Cana miracle speaks of Jesus’ call to a life marked by joy, not only in the life of the world to come, but in the life we live here and now.  It communicates God’s promise of a present resurrection life, a life which is lived joyfully and with celebration. 

As with many of the miracles in the gospels,

·        I have an open mind as to whether Jesus’ miracle at Cana happened as it was written or was essentially a metaphor for a wider truth;

·        I also have an open mind as to whether Jesus’ miracle at Bethany happened as it was written or was essentially a metaphor for a wider truth.

But still, in both cases, I passionately hope that both miracles happened as recorded, much more passionately (I must admit) than I do with many of the other miracles. 

But then again, even if (as I suspect) these stories are essentially metaphors, they speak a word of truth that goes far beyond mere factuality (as do many other stories in the scriptures).  Both the Cana and Bethany miracles speak of the life to which Jesus calls us:

·        a future life that is not confined by the boundaries of physical death;

·        a present life that is lived joyfully and with celebration.

In both cases, Christ promises us that he will be uncorking, not the “cooking claret”, but wine of a good vintage, wine of the best vintage possible.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this winsome insight into the story that is so well known but has so much to still find in our own times and place. I will be on the road this Sunday, so neither preaching or worshiping. However I had started some prep when I thought I would be preaching and this is an interesting sermon that many will benefit from!


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