Third Sunday of Epiphany

Introduction and Call to Worship

During this Epiphany season of celebration, we rejoice that Jesus unites heaven and earth as the promised Emmanuel – God with us! May our worship sparkle with the Spirit of celebration as we give thanks for all that God has done for us through his son, our Lord.

Today’s Readings

First Reading Genesis 14:17-20

Having proved his military effectiveness in a region controlled by powerful tribal warriors Abram is met by Melchizedek, king and priest of peace. Recognising the moment of powerful mystery, Abram offers worship.

Second Reading Revelation 19:6-10

Through the medium of dream-like vision the Spirit reveals ultimate truth with breath-taking clarity. It is here that God has made peace with us through Jesus and seeks complete union.

Gospel John 2:1-11

Set in historical reality, the wedding at Cana is bursting with strange details. A seemingly “innocent” miracle reveals Jesus as the ultimate joy-bringer, through words laden with a mystery far heavier than those who speak them can imagine.

HOMILY “…you have kept the good wine until now.” (John 2:10)

In Christmases past, Marks and Spencer cleverly re-branded for the festive season with the words, Magic and Sparkle. It was quite effective – and memorable! Some have described our Crib Scene up under the High Altar as having a bit of sparkle, not least with its colour changing star, reminding us of the diversity of creation and God’s creative power, as the Emmanuel child unites earth and heaven, heralding a new relationship. Today’s readings also contain some sparkle. Being a successful military leader, Abram has a certain sparkle about him. In our first reading we find him meeting the inspiring Old Testament priest Melchizedek. Returning from war Abram is offered a meal of peace – no doubt served with wine in celebration. This represented the chance of a new beginning and a new start. Abram accepts this opportunity with gratitude and humility and in thanksgiving to God.

There is sparkle also in today’s Gospel reading. This is the only time John uses the phrase “on the third day” but it sparkles with Easter mystery, the third day being the day of resurrection. This may be the first miracle, but by connecting this phrase with a wedding celebration and all that sparkles, the Gospel writer points us to the culmination of our Lord’s ministry and the great celebration to come of Easter. Like us today, John connects the covenant nature of marriage with the new relationship Jesus brings to us his children. For me this has echoes of the book of Revelation: “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready; to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure’ - for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” (Revelation 19: 6b-8)

So, do you like a glass of Prosecco? Perhaps at a wedding party – or Christmas or New Year? I am told that another parish in the Diocese often serves it on a Sunday! (Now there’s a thought!) The next sparkle in today’s Gospel seems to fizzle out because “they have no wine.” (v3) Let’s be honest, that is not the sign of a good or happy party. But Jesus himself is the one who changes water into wine, transforming the poverty of our nature by the riches of his grace, as the Cranmer Collect reminds us. He is the answer to the problem of no wine, for he is the Lamb of God who is slain and whose very blood will be shed. Mary also sparkles here as we get a snippet of insight into their family relationship. She knows what Jesus can do. She believes in him and she points, as always, beyond herself to the miracle that is the word made flesh, the divinity of our Lord. But the sparkle is all gone for just a moment as Jesus remarks, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” We are back to the cross; “my hour has not yet come” (v4). The sparkle of real wine is needed for a wedding celebration, even some church services and of course a good party, but the life-purpose of our Lord is to bring earth and heaven together in one act upon the tree of Calvary. Mary has her own plan. Even if the words of Simeon in the Temple, foretelling the suffering of her Son are deep within her heart, she still knows Jesus must act. She responds to the attendant, “Do whatever he tells you.” (v5)

Water becomes wine; this is no magic trick! The simplest of life-sustaining things, water, becomes the very best imaginable wine, perhaps even better than a glass of sparkling Prosecco! In this miracle, our Lord brings about the union of God and all people, for all time, symbolised by a marriage feast when the very best wine flows in abundance. An occasion full of sparkle, but also a foretelling of an event to come when Mary would stand at the foot of the Cross and once again point beyond herself to where the Saviour hangs dying – for us – that we may be united to God for ever and ever, for all time. Water into wine. Death into life. Miracles – and sparkle!

We can’t conclude without the words of the amazed steward who exclaims, “everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” (v10) Context here is important. John is writing to an established Christian community who believed that Jesus' sacrifice upon the cross superseded those of Israel's past. The very next act of Christ, as recorded by John, with the cleansing of the Temple demonstrates God’s judgement upon the old order, and the new relationship revealed by Jesus sparkles with added meaning! For the old wine, representing an Old Testament relationship, is history or, to put it another way, the old wine has run out! The empty jars symbolise the need for purification and the one to achieve that is Jesus himself, the new relationship between God and people. Once those jars are full, they will never be empty again as our Lord gives them, indeed all that has gone before, new meaning and a bit of sparkle! The shedding and sharing of his blood will seal the deal – but that is still to come.

If you like a bit of sparkle, like I do, then you need look no further than today’s bible readings to find it. Yet with the celebration of a new relationship, between two people in love at a wedding, or from John’s theological perspective, the new relationship between all people and God through Jesus, comes future suffering; the shedding of blood needed to accomplish it all. Indeed, John concludes the words of Jesus upon the cross with just that statement, ‘It is finished [Greek – accomplished].’ (John 19:30)

We don’t need any Magic and Sparkle here at St Mary’s! For everything we are about as Christians is founded upon this new relationship, revealed in the ministry of Jesus and won for us upon the Cross. If you like a bit of sparkle, like me, then share this simple message of faith with others that they may come to understand just how transformative the love of Jesus really is, poured out as the finest new wine for all time and eternity. Amen.

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