Feast of the Holy Family. 29 December 2019. Matthew …
Second Sunday after Epiphany. 20 January 2019.
There was a wedding On the third day there was a wedding …
I didn’t plan this. On the Sunday immediately before our wedding we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family, and lots of the selected hymns could also have been used for weddings. Delightful hymns, so we sang them anyway. Today, on our first Sunday back after our wedding and honeymoon, we have the reading from John 2 (1-11) about the wedding in Cana of Galilee.
On the third day there was a wedding. In my mind I immediately corrected that to ‘on the second day there was a wedding, the second day of this month, and it is a moment which has transformed me’.
Weddings should be transformational. They are moments which should touch not only the couple at the heart of that celebration but they should ripple out with waves of encouragement and inspiration and challenge. A transformational wedding challenges us each to look at ourselves and our relationships and our commitments and our opportunities and our desires. That is also what we are here in this place to do. To let each moment of each celebration whenever we gather for whatever reason challenge and touch and even disturb us.
Weddings can be transformative. So can baptisms. So can funerals. So can any event where we are faced with life and the grittiness of real existence. During this week one of the most gifted poets of our era died. Mary Oliver, who was born in 1935, lived a long life which has touched and inspired and encouraged a vast number of people throughout this world. My favourite quote from her is a challenge. She wrote: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” What she did was to help us to enter into the delightful mystery of life lived deeply in this beautiful amazing world. The content of her poems showed a grounded wonder at the physical world as well as a profound appreciation of life beyond our imagining.
“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”
I could not find a poem which Mary had written about the Wedding at Cana, but from her other works I expect she would have enjoyed the common encounter with life and relationships through which this story of Jesus emerges before us.
Jesus and his friends and family were at a party. It would not be accurate to say that Jesus was a party animal, even though his opponents accused him of enjoying eating and drinking and carousing too much! (see Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34). It seems to me significant that the first time we see Jesus being revealed in ways which make people stop and say ‘Wow! What is going on here??’ is at a party. He and his family and friends were enjoying life, engaged in life, being with those around them and simply celebrating. We find God delightfully present in the middle of the things which are normal, usual, the stuff of life. Like weddings. And baptisms. And funerals. And parties.
And arguments. Here we see Jesus having a brief argument with his mother. When we read the psalms and other parts of the Old Testament we find people of God having arguments with God often. Why should it be different here in the accounts of Jesus’ life? Later he argued with his followers. Arguments are not a sign of broken relationships but they are a sign of real relationships, where the level of trust is high enough to be able to give voice to disagreements, in love, knowing that there will be space to find a way forward.
What does this story of Jesus at the wedding at Cana say to me? It challenges me to remember that there are no barriers and fences around spiritual experience. Encounters with God can and do happen here. They can and do happen in the street, in our homes, at the pub, at parties, in every kind of encounter that we have with each other and with this incredible world in which we live.
When I hold my wife God is there. When I sip a glass of wine God is there. When I cheer and cry and laugh and ultimately when I die … God is there. When I wrestle with the most glorious and most painful of life’s mysteries, when I see the smile in the face of a tiny child and when I see the pain in the eyes of a friend for whom there seems no relief, when I delight in a flower or a sunset or the rainbow people of our world in all our diversity … God is there.
This mundane story of a wedding long ago is an invitation to be transformed. It is an invitation to be transformed in how we see and think and interact. It is an invitation to recognise the presence in our lives, in every moment of our lives, of one who loves us beyond belief, who desires our good and our growth and who calls us into deeper more passionate living.
Drink that wine. Kiss. Hug. Smile and celebrate. Trust. And see. Deeply see, who you are and who you can be and the depth of the love which reaches out to embrace you. See the world. See each other. See yourself. See God. Celebrate and be more than a visitor. Be present and real and engaged in life.
I want to finish with another poem by Mary Oliver which, to me, wraps these things together.
Mindful by Mary Oliver
I see or hear
that more or less
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
It is what I was born for—
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world—
to instruct myself
over and over
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant—
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?