Those of us who preach the Word within communities that have a tradition of abstinence from alcoholic beverages can find it difficult to engage the biblical passages where wine is spoken of in a positive fashion. I remember years ago, at the height of the demythologizing craze, hearing a pastor preach a sermon on John 2:1-11 in which we were told that Jesus didn’t actually make wine, per se, because first of all miracles are not actually a thing, and secondly everybody knows that wine is evil.
Blessedly, that sort of thing seems to have mostly died out, at least in the places where I hear the Word preached.
The impact of Jesus’ sign at the wedding in Cana isn’t so much that he chooses to make wine out of water. The impact is in the sheer volume of wine that he chooses to make. It is a surfeit of wine. An overabundance. An embarrassment of riches. “Surely,” we say to ourselves, “this isn’t just about having a delicious beverage.”
Of course it is not. In 2010, Aaron J. Couch invited readers of Homily Service to reflect upon the wine, not as wine, but as sign.
That’s when we need to notice how John describes this surprising use of divine power. It’s a sign. The purpose of a sign isn’t to call attention to itself, but to direct us where to go. This sign points us to Jesus, the source of the life and joy that are our soul’s deepest need. Also notice that John tells us this happened on the third day... But that’s not the way John writes. What else happened “on the third day?” Jesus was raised from the dead!John wants us to see that in his victory over death, Jesus makes us part of God’s great party to celebrate the union of God the Creator with us and all creation. Everything that was once an obstacle and a barrier separating us from God – our sin, our guilt, our fear, our failures, even the power of death – Jesus has overcome them all. Jesus welcomes us into the loving embrace of God, where we experience true joy and the peace that passes all understanding. That sort of a gift calls for giving thanks to God with everything we are and everything we have, and celebrating with the biggest party of all time!
While preaching on wine as sign of life, joy and celebration, will it be important in your community to address issues of alcohol abuse and addiction?
Aaron J. Couch, 17 January; Ordinary 2; Epiphany 2; Homily Service 43:1, 112.
Aaron J. Couch is co-pastor of First Immanuel Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon.