The precious reality hidden in us
Peter Seal, 20 January 2019
1 Corinthians 12: 1–11; John 2: 1–11
It feels as though we’re in the depths of winter; it feels as though there’s a lot of darkness around – literally, of course, because of the season of the year, but also in our country, and especially because of Brexit.
This week Rowan Williams described the referendum on Brexit as ‘something that simply created confusion by the oversimplification of the terms in which it was posed’. I feel that the ongoing Brexit debate has unleashed something rather dark, even frightening, within not only parliament but the communities of this country, especially where people are most vulnerable. I very rarely use these words, but it’s almost as though the devil has got into the confusion and muddle.
All this means that we who belong to this church community and call ourselves Christian have a particular calling to go on praying; praying like heck, for those in positions of power, influence and responsibility.
By way of counterbalance, somehow we need to keep to the fore – in our thinking, our feeling and our praying – the very many good things in our lives in this still wonderful country in which we are so fortunate to live.
I met earlier this week with two men from our parish to begin our planning for the next men’s weekend this autumn. We asked ourselves what we thought those who will attend might most need. Our responses go like this: ‘Encouragement and depth. A call to the heart. Being open and personally authentic. Awareness that there’s a deeper story, and a deeper truth, you can have confidence in.’
‘A deeper story, and a deeper truth, you can have confidence in.’ Those words make a splendid summary of the Christian faith.
This season of Epiphany reveals – that is, makes known – that wonderful story. Two weeks ago the wise men come to pay homage to the Christ-child. They oblate themselves (offer themselves in worship and devotion) before Jesus, lost in wonder love and praise. It’s a majestic, intimate picture of mature, grown-up men reduced to silence, and probably tears too …
And then last week, beside the murky River Jordan, Jesus is baptised. He comes up out of the waters, as words ring out from God, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’. And so begins Jesus’ adult ministry.
Today St John gives us an account of Jesus’ first miracle, the first sign that revealed his glory. We’re told, ‘His disciples believed in him’. As we pray together the Eucharistic prayer today, I encourage you to enter deeply into the words of the opening paragraph, which brings together these beautiful Epiphany themes.
Reading today’s gospel, which is so familiar, I was struck by the part Mary, Jesus’ mother, plays in it. Mary is in Cana. She’s been invited to a wedding. We’re told that Jesus and his disciples had also been invited. It feels as though she is the main guest and they’ve come along too.
Mary is in serious mother mode. She asks Jesus to help, as there’s an emergency: they’ve run out of wine. Jesus in effect rebukes her and says, ‘No way Mum, not today, I’m not up for this, leave me alone’. She ignores his response, saying to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’. Jesus appears to change his mind, instructing them to fill the jars with water. They do so and take it to the steward, who can’t believe the fabulous wine he’s tasting … and the party continues.
It seems to me that the role Mary plays is to help reveal something about her son that she could see in him; but perhaps he did not know about it himself. In doing this Mary reveals an eternal truth; she reveals to us a truth about our lives. It goes something like this: isn’t it true that we can all be grateful to others who have helped us on our way – by their encouragement, advice or challenge?
You’ll know who these people are in your life. I’m thinking of those people who, at particular moments, drew us further than we were prepared to go. In doing so they helped us to discover gifts, and maybe powers too, that we would not otherwise have known. The obvious example is a teacher who in some way has stuck in our memories, because of the way they related to us, and what they said or role-modelled.
Mary knew her son. Maybe she intuitively knew the wondrous reality that was in him, even as someone who loves us knows the precious reality that is hidden in us.
By the way, church can be a great place for our realities to be revealed and realised, whatever our age. I will never forget the first time I read in church. I can still almost feel my knocking knees when as a teenager I stood behind an eagle lectern for the first time to read from Holy Scripture. I was terrified. As I sat down I said to myself, ‘Thank God that’s over. I’m never, never going to do that again.’ You can only conclude that God has a sense of humour.
An important gospel detail: notice that the pots of water were there ‘for the Jewish rites of purification’ – that is, for the washing of hands and, later, the washing of crockery. Ordinary water, with no exalted purpose. The Lord’s supreme gift is to take the ordinary and to make from it something extraordinary. There’s an honest private question we need to ask ourselves: ‘In what ways am I extraordinary?’
The Lord’s supreme gift is to take the ordinary and to make from it something extraordinary.
At times in our lives it can feel as though the wine has run out. Sometimes, there’s little joy left in our daily lives. This can be true of a job, a friendship, a relationship – indeed of anything with which we are involved.
At such times we can remember, as Mary does, that there is a guest in our lives: someone who has the capacity to take what we have always dismissed as ordinary in ourselves; gifts whose value we have never realised; and to turn these gifts into rich resources.
In conclusion: often when we have been though a desert time but then discovered unrealised gifts within us, we find ourselves turning in thanks to our Lord and saying: ‘You have kept the good wine until now’.