The way John tells this story leaves me wondering – wondering two things. First: Unlike, say, the gospels of Matthew or of Luke, the gospel of John does not give us angels or magi or shepherds; there is no decree from Caesar Augustus, no baby in the manger, no hallelujah-ing in the heavens, no fleeing far, far from Herod. And, unlike in the gospel of Mark, there is no fasting in the wilderness, no temptation, no fighting against the Devil, no demons. In the gospel of John, this story is the first story. At a wedding in Cana of Galilee, Jesus turns water into wine. If all we had was the gospel of John to go on, there would be no Lent and there would be no Christmas; all we would have is the everything’s-got-to-go blowout sale day at the discount liquor store just over the New Hampshire state line. Jesus turns water into wine. In fact, Jesus turns holy water into wine: he says to fill up what are something like the ancient, Jewish equivalents of our baptismal fonts with water, and then, voila! – no matter that nobody has asked the minister about this and that when the deacons find out, they will be fit to be tied and that it is going to stain the white marble basin a blood red you will never be able to scrub out. Jesus turns water into wine; he shows a casual disregard for the way we do things, and, anyway, it is an awful lot of wine: 180 gallons of wine (!) when everybody is already drunk, when the best man has already given his off-color toast, when so-and-so has already unbuttoned his shirt and done the worm out on the dance floor, and when the thing to do is cut them all off! Jesus turns water into wine, and the gospel of John says that the disciples believed. And so, as I said, I wonder: they believed? Jesus had not yet healed anyone; he had hardly said two words to anyone. They believed? Believed what? That Jesus was a party animal?
Maybe. Maybe there is truth to that. This Sunday is one of the small number of Sundays which Christian churches around the world set apart for special observances. Most of these Sundays mark, and so, call us to contemplate the deep meaning of significant moments in the life of Jesus: his birth, his circumcision, his baptism, his transfiguration, his resurrection, his ascension. You know these Sundays as, for instance, Epiphany or Easter. This Sunday is the only Sunday we dedicate to consideration of a doctrine; this Sunday is Trinity Sunday. (I know what you are thinking: 180 gallons of wine would go a long way toward making talk of a doctrine, of this doctrine, more sufferable. Fill up that font!) For many of us, doctrines are things we cannot be bothered to think much about, but suspect we would not believe in any case, if we ever did. And maybe this one more than all the others! I am not going to try to sell you something you do not need. But our great thinkers and mystics have written about the trinity in ways that resonate with what John’s gospel gives us to see, to see first, before all else, about Jesus. In a sermon on a passage from the Song of Songs – a passage of scripture, a passionate ode to love one can almost hear being read at that wedding in Cana of Galilee – St. Bernard of Clairvaux spoke of God as the giving of a kiss: the One most traditionally called Father embraces the Son, and the Spirit is the kiss they share. His is a beautiful image of the trinity. God as love, God as a giving and receiving of love, God as an expression of love and an enjoyment of love. And St. John of Damascus described God using the Greek word perichoresis: peri-, as in ‘perimeter’, meaning around, and choreo, as in choreography, meaning to dance. That is, he described God as a ‘dancing around.’ He imagined the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, hand in hand, spinning and laughing and whirling and leaping – faster and faster and faster so that, while at first you see each of them, see each of the three of them, see the smiles on their faces, in the end you see one great blur only, one movement of joy and abandon. His, too, is a beautiful image of the trinity: God as gladness, as a cosmic gladness, God as a dance party, God as a celebration, a celebration that we all will share in – a celebration which perhaps the Hebrew prophet Joel points toward in saying that, in the last days, when God sets the world to right, there will be rivers of wine, waterfalls of wine, coursing down, rushing down, cascading down from the hilltops and the heights, and which perhaps Jesus – indeed, a party animal – points toward, too, in Cana of Galilee.
There is a second thing I wonder about: the way John tells this story, it is not only unclear how Jesus turned the water into wine, but more, it is unclear that he turned the water into wine. It is unclear that he, that he himself, did anything at all. I wonder, in this story about a miracle, where is the miracle? Jesus did not want to do it; he said as much to his mother when she approached him. He said, ‘Woman!’ (when a ‘ma’am’ would have been nice, a ‘yes, ma’am’). He said, ‘Woman! What concern is that to me?’ Jesus wanted nothing to do with this, and, for what John gives us to see, Jesus had next to nothing to do with this. He dispatched someone else to draw the water – water which then he never touched, never dipped a pinky finger into, water which he never breathed upon or prayed over. There was no ‘Abracadabra!’ from Jesus, no solemnly intoning ‘in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti’. And afterward – although, again, after what? – word of this wonder Jesus had worked did not spread. The question, ‘Where did this wine come from?’ was left unanswered. Jesus was not worshipped or toasted or told that he has a real future in the food and beverage industry, even. And yet, John speaks of all this as a revelation. John says that there is something to see in what we do not see. Maybe. Maybe there is truth to that. Like at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, moments of sharing in love and of joy are little miracles. There is a bit of the mysterious to our experiences of them. The question of how these moments come to be is one that feels impossible to answer and almost impious to ask. These moments – they are gifts. From where? From whom? …If we knew, if we knew that when it is late and we are three bottles of wine in already but we are with friends and there are stories still to tell, if we knew that when we take the face of the one we love into our hands, if we knew that when the world of children opens to us and we are welcomed into it to be princesses or to play trucks, if we knew that when we say goodbye, when we say goodbye and know, know more deeply than we have known anything else, when we say goodbye and know that they hear us, even though there is no hearing now – if we knew in these moments that these moments, that these moments of sharing in love and of joy were gifts from God, would not we be taken out of them and overwhelmed by all of what they are and reduced to awe? Perhaps we would miss the beauty and the fullness of the humanity of these moments were not the holiness of them kept somewhat from plain sight. Perhaps, yes, it is the kiss of the love of God that touches our lives, perhaps it is the great movement of joy that is God which is moving in us. And perhaps God, the Giver of these moments that mean everything to us, perhaps the Giver recedes and so that, for a time, there can be just you and the gift: just you and this miracle of love, just you and this miracle of joy. While in the far beyond, there is dancing and wine and a great smile that stretches from everlasting to everlasting.