BBC Radio 4 Sunday Worship - Epiphany

06/01/2019

The chapel at Bishopthorpe Palace

The Archbishop delivered a homily as part of an Epiphany Service from Bishopthorpe Palace Chapel, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 today.  The theme was, The New Exhilaration: The Best is Yet To Be

“On the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee… When the wine gave out …”

In these words, the Apostle John focuses the meaning of the story which he now tells. The story of how there began on earth a New Age, a new world Order of Love. For the great object of God's Word becoming human in Jesus at Christmas was to reunite, in ties compared to the bonds of marriage, the human nature with the divine.

It's a marriage on the third day. As we reach the climax of the story which St John tells, we discover that the third day is the day of life through death. This New Age of Love is going to emerge out of death at Easter. Symbolized by the gifts the wise men brought to Jesus – Gold for the Servant King; Frankincense for the Priestly Mediator; and Myrrh for the Crucified God.

"A marriage on the third day" is a symbol of the marriage of flesh and Spirit, the marriage of ego-centricity and Love, the marriage of earth and heaven.

The wine gave out - ran out. On the physical level, wineskins are empty in Cana of Galilee. On the level of Spirit, the old order isn't bringing joy and inspiration any more.

"There were six stone water jars there" for purification according to the old religious rites.

Against this background of the old order, Jesus is now going to do a new thing. He gives two orders, and the servants carry them out as Mary told them to do.

First, "Fill the stone water jars with water." He doesn't say, "Smash up those old water pots, they are of no more use. I will draw wine down from heaven."

"Fill them with water". Water. The very stuff out of which we come, and of which we are made. In the beginning, according to the Old Testament creation story, there was only water - and a mighty wind from God sweeping over the surface of the water.

We know that life began in the ocean depths, and we know that each of us comes alive in the waters of the womb.

But it isn't only that we come out of water; to some considerable extent we are water. And that's why you and I have a duty to protect the very womb of life itself - the lakes, seas, rivers and oceans of our world.

In St John's gospel water is one of the great symbols that will point us to the marriage of flesh and Spirit. As he tells of springs and wells, of pools and lakes and rivers, of water pots and buckets and basins, and ultimately of water flowing out of the side of the crucified Jesus, we come to understand that he is using water as the symbol of the raw material of our human nature.

"Fill the water pots with water!", says Jesus. He wants more human nature, not less.

"And they filled them until up to the brim". In one sense the words mean exactly that. But St John uses the word "fill" to open our eyes to the mystery of transformation towards which the action of the servants is pointing. Jesus is commanding that human nature is to be filled to the full, until no more can be poured in: until the whole of our fleshly personality, every last bit of it, is offered to the order of the Spirit, and exposed to its transforming power.

Then Jesus gives his second order: "Draw out now, and carry to the master of ceremonies." When he tastes it he is delighted.

If our Lord had preached a sermon after he turned the water into wine, what might have been said? I guess he would have told the people that the world's joy always runs out and can't be regained, but the joy he gives is ever new and ever satisfying (wine is a symbol of joy - Judges 9:13, Psalm 104:15).

In this miracle, our Lord brought fullness where there was emptiness, joy where there was disappointment, and something internal for that which was only for external use - water for ceremonial purification.

This sign, miracle, also presents a practical lesson in the service of God. The water turned into wine because the servants co-operated with Jesus and obeyed his commands. Whether we feed the hungry, tend the suffering, protect the abused, we are assisting Him in performing a miracle.

We've been created with a Spirit-shaped void and only God the Holy Spirit can fill that void.

To be filled with the Holy Spirit is simply allowing myself to be kissed by God the Holy Spirit, embraced by his love, filled with the very life of God. This is simply allowing the Creator of matter to exercise his Lordship over me as he did in the miracle at Cana in Galilee.

There, the modest water saw the Creator of Matter and “became the good wine”. We too see our Creator and we are transformed.

A story is told of a caterpillar that was sitting on top of a tree enjoying eating the leaves. Suddenly a beautiful butterfly flew past. "Ha!", said the caterpillar to its friends, "You'll never catch me flying in one of those trendy things." What the caterpillar failed to realise was the truth that as long as it continued to eat those leaves, one day it would be gloriously transformed into a beautiful butterfly.

It's to a life "changed from glory to glory" that we are invited to – a foretaste of the power of the age to come.

And Jesus says, Come and drink and experience the new exhilaration, knowing full well that the best is yet to be. And learn to live with questions until you grow into the answers. The best is yet to be. AMEN.