Text: Ephesians 5:18-6:9; John 2:1-11
“Jesus was called to the marriage.” What’s the meaning of that? At the surface, it means that whoever was getting married was a friend or relative of Jesus, so they invited Him. The mother of Jesus was there, and she seems to be in a position to give orders to the servants, so this maybe was a family wedding.
But what else can we make of the fact that “Jesus was called to the marriage”? And not Jesus only, but “Both Jesus was called, and his disciples.” It means that marriage is never a private affair, between two individuals. Marriage involves the Lord, who made heaven and earth, who made our first father Adam and then opened Adam’s side to draw from it the substance from which Adam’s wife was formed. Thus the Lord is invited to the marriage. And His disciples are called, for godly marriage needs the prayers, blessing, and support of the whole church.
What is God’s design for marriage? Can the government redefine what God – the definer of all things, even government – has already defined? Can any of us? Unfortunately, many churches are abandoning our Lord’s teaching and design of marriage. We’re tempted to as well; we’re tempted to look the other way when our neighbors and family, even our own brothers and sisters in Christ, seize the benefits of marriage by living together without seeking God’s blessing and committing themselves before God and His Church. We sin when we give into this temptation and call this “good”; when we justify it. Churches are left and right embracing divorce and serial marriages and now even so-called gay marriage and are utterly disregarding the Word of God and what it teaches us about marriage as the life-long union of one man and one woman. Lord, have mercy and help us to not fall into these acts of unbelief!
The root of the problem, I think, is that the essence of marriage has changed to be all about personal fulfillment or personal happiness. Not fulfilled? Not happy? Leave your spouse, and find someone else who will make you happier.
But is that God’s design for marriage? No. In holy marriage man is given a gift of a wife in order that he would be godly, for him to love even when the marriage is not, at that moment, personally fulfilling or particularly happy. A woman is given the gift of a husband in order to joyfully subordinate herself to him and allow him to care for her, revealing the joy that Christ’s Church lives in as we receive Christ’s care and love.
And since God gives sexuality to be exercised only within marriage, then it has the same intent and purpose: Not as a means of personal physical pleasure, focused on the self, but as an expression of love within the holy bond of marriage. And this expression of love between a man and woman united in marriage will likewise be open to God’s creative intent and gift: the conception and birth of children. They will not seek to avoid these gifts, these fruits of the one-flesh union of marriage.
So it’s no mistake that our Lord chooses to perform His first miracle at a wedding. But it’s not simply a miracle. St. John calls it a sign, the beginning of signs. A sign does not exist for itself. A sign signifies, that is it points to something higher and greater.
This sign of transforming water into wine is done in the context of Jesus talking about His hour. Throughout John’s Gospel Jesus says repeatedly, “My hour is not yet come.” At last, immediately before Jesus washes the feet of His disciples, on Holy Thursday, the night He is arrested, leading to His crucifixion, St. John tells us that that great event, the Passion of Jesus, is His hour: “Now before the Feast of the Passover,” John says in ch. 13, “when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
Jesus, Lord of the universe, called “Master” by His disciples, proceeds to wash their feet – the action of a slave. This is how Jesus exercises His role of Bridegroom of the church, husband of a new humanity: through serving. He cleanses them with water, which points back to the six stone waterpots at the wedding at Cana. These also were for cleansing, and not a simple “wash your hands before dinner” kind of cleansing. They were for a Jewish ritual, a rite of purification. And though they’re not for or about baptism, the fact that they were used for water to make one “clean” before the Lord should remind us of our baptism. In your baptism, your husband Christ has made you clean and spotless and without wrinkle or blemish by the washing of water with the word. In your baptism, you have been made holy; those things that trouble your conscience are washed away.
What troubles your conscience? What do you fear more than God? What do you love more than God? What do you trust more than God? Have you made idols of your children, your health, sexual pleasure, money, reputation, status, possessions? Is there a ruling sin that troubles your conscience? You have heard me say many times at the beginning of the liturgy, “Beloved in the Lord! Let us draw near with a true heart and confess our sins.” Those words come from Holy Scripture, the book of Hebrews. Listen to how that text continues: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10.22).
If you look at yourself honestly with the mirror of God’s law, you cannot have a clean conscience, no matter how many good things you have sought to do. But here is the invitation to draw near to God with a heart sprinkled clean from an evil conscience, and with a body washed with pure water. Our body is washed with the pure water of Baptism, the water joined to God’s Word; and following Baptism, we are then invited to the sprinkling of blood. “Sprinkling” is an Old Testament sacrificial word, as the priests would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice. Here in the Lord’s Supper, the blood of Jesus, truly present in the wine, sprinkles not our bodies but our hearts, and it’s on the basis of that—on the basis of Christ’s blood, Christ’s work, Christ’s righteousness—that you can be freed from a guilty conscience.
Notice how Jesus keeps Himself in the background, giving the bridegroom credit. The first bridegroom, our father Adam, had his side opened, from which our mother Eve was fashioned. On the cross, Jesus the new Adam and heavenly bridegroom has His side opened, and out comes what? Streams of living water, mixed with blood. As Adam was opened for the formation of his wife, the new Adam is opened for the formation of His holy bride the Church. From His side came water, the element of Baptism, to give new birth; and blood, the content of the cup of the Lord’s Supper, to cleanse from sin.
Jesus was not married to any particular woman because He is the bridegroom for all humanity, laying down His life for His bride the Church. So now what? Jesus was called to the wedding together with His disciples. Jesus still today calls you to be His disciple. What does this mean for you? You are cleansed, forgiven, restored. We live as His forgiven disciples in love toward one another, seeking those things which are good and abhorring that which is evil. Are you married? Love your wife, submit to your husband. Are you single? Abide in chastity. Are you parents? Raise your children in the fear and instruction of the Lord? Are you children? Honor your parents as God’s gifts to you. Are you servants or workers? Submit yourselves to your masters and do good work? Do you have workers under you? Do not threaten them or be harsh, but love them and do good work, too. Do you have neighbors? (We all do.) Show them love at all times.
And let your life not be wrapped up in what you can purchase, acquire, achieve, or avoid. Your life is hidden with Christ in God, and poured out into you in this wine which truly makes glad the heart of man.