DRINK THE SWEET WINE OF SALVATION
TODAY this prophecy is fulfilled in your hearing; fulfilled in the Lord's miracle at Cana, in the liturgy we now pray, and the Sacrament we will here receive.
We make a mistake if we think of scripture and the events it portrays as nothing more than religious information, however wonderful. God's Word is far more than that! What St. John records for us here is factual. It happened just as he reported, but it is more! It is not just a narrative to teach how good and powerful Jesus is, though it does. Neither is it a morality tale to instruct Christians to help a neighbor in need, though we should. What we read today in Saint John's gospel is the fulfillment of Amos's prophecy.
The first and immediate fulfillment was when God restored Israel to her land after the Babylonian Captivity. Nothing could bring her former glory, but God did restore her land and temple so that she could once again drink the sweet wine of communion with God in the world.
The second fulfillment is in the miracle of today's gospel reading, when our Lord converted water into wine; wine of such quality and quantity as no heart ever imagined, no tongue ever tasted.
In the homes of Orthodox Jews each Sabbath the head of the household ritually pours wine into a cup, and purposely causes the cup to overflow. the practice comes from the Talmud (Book of Erubin p.65) which says: that where wine flows like water God is present to bless. God was in Cana that day.
Though there are many lessons to be learned from today's gospel reading -- the prayer of Mary, the faith that this miraculous sign elicited in the disciples -- the focus is on Jesus, who made the mountains and the hills to drip with sweet wine in fulfillment of Amos' most excellent prophecy.
In scripture water symbolizes life and wine symbolizes salvation. Jesus is both and gives both without measure, without money and without cost to those who need it the most. We are those people. He is God's blessing. He is God's wine who gives us more than we could ask or even imagine.
Thirdly, Amos's prophecy comes true in the church today. What occurred 2000 years ago in Cana was written to point to what happens in the church each Sunday, only now, Christ is the Bridegroom and we, the beloved Bride upon whom the faithful love and tender mercies of the Groom is richly tendered.
It is the Christian faith that in Christian worship Jesus is factually present with His bride, but hidden within the means He established. Don't ask why. It is how He does things, and these visible means are not dispensable as the little Puritan residing inside each of us would like to think.
When Paul speaks in today's epistle lesson of prophesying, serving, teaching, exhorting and so on, he is not referring to the church's organizational flow chart but to the offices of the church of his day; to those men, who led her worship which always centered on the best bread and the best wine of all, the body and blood of Christ given and shed for you. (There were no non-communion Sundays for St. Paul.) Through these blessed offices the Spirit of God dispenses faith by the Word preached and eaten in the supper, because behind it all is Jesus. He is the actual Liturgist. He is the one who is heard when scripture is read, and the one who is consecrating the bread and wine for us by His word so that what we receive is not mere bread and wine to feed the belly, but His body and blood provided to heal us, and give us indestructible life.
This is why our gathering is properly called the Divine Service, because here the Divine is serving His bride, cleansing her from the sins of the flesh, the sins that so easily beset us, the violations of divine law that make us afraid of our God, afraid of judgment, and cause so many unintended consequences for us; all of which are lamentable and none of which can be borne except by aid and consolation that God Himself supplies us here.
Being thus cleansed by Jesus means that we are also filled with a deep gladness that makes us light-hearted even when life becomes intolerable and makes our heads spin. Then we calm ourselves with St Paul's words, "for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." We know that we are "strangers and pilgrims" here and that "heaven is our home." We trust that "in the Father's house are many rooms," and that Jesus is "gone ahead to prepare a place" for us. With this eternal perspective, one that only the baptized understand, we can "bear all things through Christ who strengthens us." (Phillipians 4:13) Being cleansed and sanctified as we are by the Lord's word our hearts are also set to obey His commandments. We are commissioned by the Lord to live noble lives, meaningful lives, sacrificial lives to the glory of God and the love of our neighbor -- and charity begins at home!
Lastly, Amos's prophecy will be brought to pass in the Father's House where wine will flow like water from the River of Life, even Jesus Christ our Lord. Nothing we presently imagine can compare to the the things that God has prepared for those who love Him, neither is any present trouble worth comparing to what is ahead. This is why the words of the 12th century monk, Bernard of Cluny are so urgent. The words we sing in hymn #605, (midi) "Strive, man, to win that glory; toil, man, to gain that light..." is not an admonition to salvation by works, but rather another way of saying seek first, seek above all, the kingdom of God and His righteousness in Christ, because there is no higher goal, no better end than to serve God in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, beginning now. Amen.
~Rev. Dean Kavouras