Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Changing Water into Wine

Second Sunday after the Epiphany
17 January 2021
Morning Service

Revd Nicholas Mercer

This morning, on the second Sunday of Epiphany, we remember the first of our Lord’s miracles

Perhaps the best known of all Christ’s miracles as Jesus changes water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee

It is the miracle of countless jokes,

Not least the vicar who is stopped by the police for drink-driving and says to the constable peering through the window “oh no, he has done it again”

However, I could not help reflecting this morning on the young couple who had arranged their wedding for Saturday 16th January

They were determined to get married, whatever life threw at them, and we worked on the liturgy together over Christmas

But then came the shock that we were to enter a third period of national lockdown

Weddings in England can now only be conducted in exceptional circumstances

There is no doubt that the wedding at Cana would have been cancelled if it had been planned for the New Year in 2021

And I feel immense sympathy for the young couple, and all young couples, who have been forced to change their plans once again

But change seems to be the predominant theme at the moment

In this miracle, Jesus changes water into wine

The story is very well known but should not be taken at face value as the account is peppered with subtle references to help us unlock its meaning

Not just a wedding feast but an acknowledgement of Christ coming into the world and the change this has wrought to all our lives

First and foremost, the miracle is about renewal

By changing water into wine we are provided with a metaphor for Christ himself

We once had water and now we have wine

This wine is the coming of Christ into the word and the establishment of God’s Kingdom here on earth

But we need to be reminded of this miracle in our own times

Like the wise men we too have witnessed Christ’s birth here on earth and celebrated this at Christmas

Despite the dismal times in which we live, and this gloomy New Year we already have the wine

Christ incarnate lived amongst us here on earth and continues to live in our lives

Asa result, the Church is established around the globe not least here in Bolton Abbey

Without the wine we could not have built and sustained the Church where we have worshipped for eight hundred and fifty years

And without the wine, we could not continue to build the Church for those generations who will come after us

In a sense, we are already enjoying the wedding feast, even if our own weddings have been temporarily cancelled

Secondly, the story reminds us at the same time of God’s abundance

We learn this morning that there are six stone jars each holding twenty or thirty gallons

This is a great deal of water and a great deal of wine

But this story is not about the abundance of wine at a wedding feast – although it should provide the basis for a great party

It is about all that God does for us and the inexhaustible supply of his love

Not only in his blessings showered upon us but in the gift of his only Son

But the metaphor is further enriched by setting it in the midst of a party

As we all know, we are not always paying attention at a party and our glass is often topped up without us realising

This is what God does for us

And we need to remind ourselves and give thanks for all his generosity

A generosity which I am sure will see us through these straightened times and beyond

Thirdly, we hear at the beginning of the story, that the wedding feast takes place on the third day

There is no obvious reason for this detail other than to make reference to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

This, of course, is part of the renewal from water into wine

But not only do we have Jesus’ presence on earth but we have his Resurrection

We now know, as Christians, that death has been conquered which, in turn, allows us to profess our faith and live in the sure and certain hope of eternal life

This is the greatest gift of all

But alongside the triumph of the Resurrection it is easy to overlook the humbler side of this story

In case you had not noticed, this story is peppered with the ordinary

We are presented with water – in stone jars – and a miracle wrought through the hands of ordinary

men and women

Indeed, it is the action of the stewards that brings about the transformation

We are being told in this miracle that ordinary men and women, like ourselves, can be become instruments of God’s grace

We are all capable of this transformation and indeed God uses the ordinary and unexceptional to bring it about

Just look around us in Church and those whom God has chosen to be instruments of His grace

Before we become too judgemental, it is all us with our own different and unique qualities

God turns the ordinary into the extraordinary – and it is our hands that make the difference

Which brings me back to the couple who were so keen to get married in Church this month

I have conducted just five weddings in the past year and they were dramatically different from the plans the couples had originally made

The weddings had been changed but not in the way one might expect

The Catholic commentator Catherine Pepinster said that Coronavirus was one of the best things that has happened to weddings

She had a point

A wedding is ultimately just about the love of two people -making their vows to each other for the rest of their earthly lives

Love in a time of crisis, is love stripped bare

And there is a certain irony in the light of the reading this morning

Because the weddings over which I officiated last year were denied the feast that normally accompanies such events

However, such was the abundance of love shorn of consumer distraction that the wine overflowed

The intense joy was like the wine at the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee

I am tempted to say that it was miraculous

Or returning to old clichéd joke “0h no, he has done it again”.