Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ, 

“Mine hour has not yet come”
 S. John 2. 1 

This, too, is part and parcel of the Epiphany, the making known of the essential divinity of Jesus Christ which contains as well the making known of the will and purpose of God for our humanity. And, perhaps, no epiphany story better concentrates and encapsulates both the essential divinity of Christ and the divine will and purpose for our humanity so gently and so joyously.

It is such a pastoral, rustic, and ordinary scene. The setting is a country wedding, “in Cana of Galilee”, but in the midst of the ordinariness of this ordinary scene extraordinary things occur. They are things for us to ponder, to wonder and adore. 

There is the discovery of the limitations and the poverty of our humanity, pointed out ever so poignantly and yet so directly by Mary, “they have no wine”. There is the divine provision for our joy, water turned to wine, and not just ordinary wine but the best wine, “the good wine [has been kept] until now”.

It is, we are told, the “beginning of signs” which Jesus did. “This beginning of signs”, this first of a series has a greater significance than the mere start of a linear progression of events. “This beginning”, as it were, contains the essential meaning of all the signs of Jesus. In a way, they only make sense through this story. 

The miracles of Jesus are ultimately signs – things that are done – which teach and manifest purpose. They show the power of God in Jesus, the power of the Creator who is the Redeemer without which our humanity would remain in its wounded and broken state of sorrow and sin: blind and deaf, dumb and lame, lacking the means of lasting joys within ourselves; in short, dead and dying. 

What are the miracles of Christ really all about? Two things. There is the power of the Creator from within the created order – “what manner of man is this”, say the storm-tossed sailors, “that even the wind and the sea obey him?” There is the power of the Redeemer present in the compassion of Christ who seeks the healing and the restoration of our humanity, both soul and body.

But why? For what end or purpose? The gospels show Jesus giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, cleansing the lepers – and, by extension, to all who suffer from the contagion of disease – giving movement to the paralysed and the lame, even life to the dead and buried. Indeed, all these signs have a signal purpose. They speak to us about the hope of transformation and healing, the hope of being made whole in the fullness of our humanity. In a way, the healing miracles of the Gospel are all about death and resurrection, the death and resurrection of Christ in us. But again, why? For what end or purpose? 

Simply for praise. Simply for the act of worship and adoration. Simply for joy, holy joy. 

The teaching church does not exist first and foremost as a world-improvement society. All the things which Paul reminds us about and exhorts us to be in the epistle for today are testimonies and witnesses to the meaning of our life in Christ. Our work and our actions are to be the signs of the love of Christ alive in us. We reach out to others out of that love, seeking his face in the poor and the lonely, the sick and the dying of the world; in short, providing for others in need out of the love of Christ. Our works must be signs of our faith. That is always the challenge. 

God seeks the very best for us and that very best has to do with our joy and blessedness, a joy and blessedness that can only come from him to us, even more, a joy and blessedness that must be Christ in us, sacramentally and practically speaking, by way of what we hear and see, by way of what we do out of what we are given to hear and see in the Word proclaimed and the Sacraments celebrated, in lives of holiness and service, in lives of sacrifice and commitment. 

The healing miracles are about far more than the healing of our physical selves. They are about far more than our mental sense of well-being. They are much more radically about our life with God. The end and purpose of our humanity is found in God. We have an end with God. And something of what that means appears in the imagery of a wedding feast. After all, the kingdom of heaven is often imaged in terms of the marriage feast, the feast to which we have been invited. And while there are things that, quite rightly, are required of us as guests and participants in the wedding, marriage is fundamentally of God’s doing, whether we speak of the union of man and woman in holy matrimony, that divine estate “instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency”, as the marriage service in The Book of Common Prayer  so wonderfully puts it, or whether we speak spiritually and metaphorically of the union of God and man in Jesus Christ, a union which preserves in the fullest possible way the distinctiveness of the divine and the human. Such is the challenge for our church and age. 

There are, as an old medieval hymn puts it, our “social joys”, the joys which belong to our fellowship in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, come what may, whether it be persecution or sorrow, frustration or failure. How can that be? Because of the radical meaning of this Gospel story. There is this extraordinary thing which Jesus says to Mary, “mine hour has not yet come”. What does he mean? He means that the very things which God seeks for us, our good and our joy as found in him, are bought with a price, the price of his sacrifice, his death and resurrection, the hour of his crucifixion and triumph. Somehow “this beginning of signs” points to what is present in all of the healing miracles of Christ. They all belong to his passion. In a way, they all participate and share in his passion by which our humanity finds healing and salvation. The end – the goal or purpose - is joy and blessedness. But only through “his hour”, the hour which gathers all the things of time into the eternal purposes of God. 

The point is wonderfully captured in the opening phrase of one of the reformed catechisms, the Westminster Shorter Catechism. “What is the chief end of man?”, it is asked, to which the answer is given, “to glorify God and enjoy him forever”. Our reformed liturgy, especially in this Gospel story, suggests something of what that means. We live in Christ through his Word and Sacrament. But we can only partake of Christ through his body broken and his blood out-poured, through the things “of his hour”. Such is his love for us, the love that is agony and joy. For “love”, as one of our poets and divines, George Herbert, puts it, “is that liquor sweet and most divine, / which my God feels as bloud; but I as wine”. The wine of divinity graces us with the social joys of heaven and signals the salvation of our humanity; all because “mine hour has not yet come”. 

Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province 
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne 
Bendigo Australia