The Second Sunday after Epiphany – Historic Lectionary – John 2:1-11 – January 14, 2018
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
St. John tells us that this turning water into wine is the first of Jesus’ signs.
The first of His miracles that He did at Cana in Galilee, where John then tells us, He manifested His glory.
A better translation of that last part would be to say that here at Cana in Galilee, He epiphanied His glory.
That’s what the actual word is, and of all the Sundays in the Epiphany Season, it is only this Second Sunday of Epiphany that actually contains the word, Epiphany, in the readings themselves.
This is the first sign. This is the epiphany of His glory. This is where He pulls back the curtain on things that were long hidden and reveals the true power, and heart, and will of God Himself.
We often hear these final words, of John chapter 2, as nothing more than interesting facts and tid bits.
That it’s the first miracle of Jesus and that’s neat, that we get to see something of Jesus’ power, more of which, and perhaps more impressive than this, we know is soon to come.
But this is more than simple information.
The first of Jesus’ signs is not like the opening act at a concert, this is not some amateur debut, where we take it in for its novelty, but ultimately look forward for the more professional act soon to come.
No, our Lord’s ‘first sign’ is His defining sign. It is the lens through which we are to understand and see all of His signs and miracles and words and works to come.
It matters. It’s a big deal. And we ought to make a big deal out of it.
Our Lord who gives the best wine to numb and greedy wedding guests reveals His true glory.
Indeed, this glory is strange, it is not what we expected.
After all, we know about the other mighty signs that are soon to come, we know about the Lord’s power to give sight to the blind, we know that He will heal the lepers and make the lame to walk, that He will turn back the tide on all kinds of dread disease, that He will pull back curtains on His full power and even raise the dead from out of their cold dark tombs.
Compared to those things, this the first of His signs, this the turning of water into wine, seems a bit weak. Certainly it is amazing, but it doesn’t have quite the same, in-your-face full blast of power and strength as that of dead Lazarus bursting forth from the tomb.
Behold the Glory of God. At Cana, we are given to see something more, to find that God’s real epiphany does not come to us with such gut-punches of power, but that His glory is found precisely in mercy.
For that is truly what smacks us in the face here in John chapter 2, that is what is so surprising and perplexing.
He gives good wine to drunks. He gives the best of all gifts to those who in no way deserve them.
They are both undeserving in terms of true justice, as well as any measure of human sympathy.
For these are not the downtrodden, the poor, or the weak, these are worse than that, these are the gluttons, the despisers of God’s gifts, the enemies of the bridegroom.
And yet to these, exactly to these, He gives His mercy without end, He gives us exactly what we do not deserve. He brings life to the dead. Forgiveness to sinners who not only have sinned, but will sin again.
This is the first of His signs, it is the defining Sign. For His glory is mercy. And even more, that mercy is not held down or held back by anything. It is His own mercy. It is not a deal or an exchange, it is a gift.
This is why our Lord rebukes even His mother. St. Mary says to Jesus, “they have no wine”, and strangely to us, the Prince of Peace gives her the cold shoulder.
But this is actually, as strange as it sounds, good news!
For Christ’s mercy is not bound to anything in us. He is not held back or constrained by the Law, indeed, He does not give us what we deserve; this is exactly what mercy means.
He is not forced to die for us, and it is surely not because we asked Him to, indeed He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him, even His disciples tried to keep Him from the Cross.
But to us, grace upon grace, He is glad to do it, He wills and wants to die for us, He is moved purely by mercy, not by the Law, not by social obligations, and not by how much we think we need it. It is simply mercy.
In the same way, you can have comfort, you can be free when you confess your sins. For His absolution does not come to you because you asked in all seriousness or because you beat your chest with all conviction. You do those things because that is truth, you have sinned, you are without righteousness.
But His mercy is more sure and more certain than our constantly changing feelings about our sin.
He simply forgives. He is glad to do it. So be at peace, He is for you.
This is the first of His signs, it is the defining Sign. His mercy is His glory. His mercy is His own. And now finally at Cana in Galilee, His mercy comes in the common things of creation.
This is what the Christian knows in faith in confidence and in seriousness.
We are not looking for God in the terrors of high heaven, we are not waiting for the earth to open up at the Lord’s Table, but we find Him in seriousness, in faith, and in confidence in the weakness and humility of His own redeemed creation.
That is where you will find Him. That is where He has promised Himself to be. That is where He is for you, in mercy, and without end.
Behold the glory of God, found for you in feeble and fragile men, speaking in His stead and by His command, found for you, riding in to your midst on bread and wine, the body and blood given in your place.
This is mercy without end, this is glory beyond description. And like the end of this Gospel reading, it is to us more than just interesting information. We receive not as neat tid-bits to take home or surprising thoughts to mull over later, but we receive His glory in faith.
And faith, is expressed and planted in reverence. Reverence is where faith leads us.
Reverence is the fruit of faith, it pulls together what the ears hear, what the heart believes, what the eyes are now given to truly see, and yes, also, what the body does.
It is not simply ceremonial. It is not just nice orderly church behavior, it is seeing and hearing with precision.
It is taking hold of what matters, seeing past the fragile appearance and clinging to Christ Himself.
This is why reverence often looks serious, it looks intentional, it may at times look quiet, it looks humble, and it may even look a little bit fearful.
That is not because reverence is these things, indeed reverence is not fear in itself, but reverence is taking hold of Christ, seeing His true glory. In that, fear and humility, seriousness and intention, often follow suit.
This is why we should probably spend some time thinking and rethinking how we train ourselves and our children to behave and act in church.
For the end goal in the Liturgy for our children, and indeed ourselves, is not that they would simply learn to be quiet, but rather the end goal of faith, for our children and anyone else, no matter what age they are or how long they’ve been a Lutheran, the end goal is to be reverent.
For we do not want our children simply to be quiet, we want for them what we need for ourselves: to find with confidence and to take hold of Christ Himself in faith, precisely where He promises to be.
He is not just a feeling or an interesting tid-bit, He is present, in mercy, for you, hidden in glory in common things. Reverence knows this, it follows Him throughout the Liturgy in the things where He promises to be.
And so we teach our children, even as we teach ourselves. It is easy simply to say for 18 years, “be quiet”, or “now it’s time to pay attention”, but you have been given the good work of God, not just as parents but as the entire household of the work that is worthy praise both in heaven and on earth, to teach more than this.
To train their eyes and yours to see Christ in His Word. To follow Him from the cross to the altar, from the lectern to the pulpit, and from the font to the communion rail. To not only learn to be quiet, but to learn to hear, to make these odd movements of the body, to bow at the altar and to make the sign of His holy cross.
And teaching this, takes time. It is not perfected in an hour on Sunday morning. It is not taught completely even in the first six years of life.
We do not want our children simply to be silent. We want them to have what we need, to participate in Christ.
And that participation, that life together in this Liturgy is full of wiggling and crying, screaming, and learning.
Thanks be to God for that.
Reverence takes a life-time to learn and live in.
For even those of us who have learned to stay quiet and still during the sermon struggle with distraction. Even those of us who have learned all the right words of the liturgy still struggle with what they mean.
Indeed, it is more often adults who mock the seriousness of liturgy than children. It is more often adults who scoff at the strange movements that we make and things that we do during the Lord’s Supper.
Reverence is not just a Sunday morning exercise, it is picked up in the home, we teach not just silence, but hearing and speaking, we teach why we do these things, and above all else, who it is that is present for us in flesh and blood offering forgiveness and full of mercy without end.
And if you’re not sure why it is that we move in this way, or why it is that we actually treat the Lord’s Supper with such seriousness and even a little bit of fear, then ask.
Your pastor, whoever he might be today, tomorrow, or in 30 years, probably will not grow tired in talking about and rejoicing in this Liturgy and Word that we live in. It’s who we are, it’s our real life, it’s the language and reverence of faith that we have lived in for 2000 years. It’s not going anywhere. And yes, it takes time, it takes being serious, being intentional, being humble, and so receiving His glory.
For this is the end of faith. To hear, to speak, to see, and to live. To take hold of Christ, and to rejoice in the place where He may be found. Indeed He is full of mercy, He gives good wine to those who don’t deserve it, He epiphanies His glory, He comes to be handed over, He is for you.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.