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What happens when we run out of wine?

Later in the service, at the prayer before we distribute the bread and wine, we will hear the words, ‘In the water made wine the new creation was revealed at the wedding feast. Poverty was turned to riches, sorrow into joy’.

That is what Jesus is doing when he turns water into wine.
He takes one of the key elements of life – the ancients had four key elements: earth, water, air, fire (I’d have done a lot better in chemistry if we had kept to those four and not found 118 different elements – the periodic table killed me). But he takes water and he turns it into wine.

Not just any old wine – but the best.
And not just a little: he produces about 1100 bottles of wine.

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It is a very human story.
This time, last year when we looked at this passage, we were celebrating the wedding of Olga Fabrikantova and Simon Burke  - and this story is about a wedding, a village wedding.

Often these weddings would take place in the autumn, after the harvest had been gathered in. And for 3 to 5 days, the whole community would forget how hard life was, would forget that often they would go hungry, would forget how little they had – and they would feast and they would party.

So the whole community would have gathered together. They had come to celebrate love and desire and beauty and honour, intimacy and belonging, new beginnings, new identities and new hope for the future. Jesus’ mother was there. So was Jesus and his disciples.

But this is a very human story, because it is about what happens when the wine runs out: ‘They have no more wine’.

The commentaries speak of this situation as a scandal. It was an abuse of hospitality and would bring shame on the community, family and couple. But I wonder whether it is rather a wake-up call. We dream of abundance, but we live in a finite world with finite resources. The wine had just run out.

And we know that, because our wine runs out: our financial, emotional, intellectual, material and spiritual resources are exhausted. And there is nothing left.

There is an old English nursery rhyme.
‘Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,
To give the poor dog a bone:
When she came there,
The cupboard was bare,
And so the poor dog had none.’

We have gone to the cupboard and the cupboard was bare.

For many people in our world today it is about literal scarcity. They have no food, no medical resources, no income, no hope.

And probably for us it is not quite as extreme, but our wine running out can be that moment of realisation that all our hard work and good efforts have come to nothing, that we’re exhausted and drained and we have nothing to offer. It is when our dreams and principles have crumbled and there is nothing left. It is when the bad things or the unfair things happen and we don’t understand. It is when we don’t know why we are doing what we are doing, or where we should go and what we should do. The hope has gone. We are running on empty.

But because Jesus can turn water into wine, this story does give us hope

1.      We need to learn from the mother of Jesus  

If we only had John’s gospel, we would not know that the name of the mother of Jesus was Mary. He never says that. He simply calls her ‘the mother of Jesus’.
In other words, he is drawing attention to the fact that her real significance is in who she is in relationship with Jesus.
Traditional classical Orthodox icons of Mary have got this. They very rarely show her on her own. She is nearly always pointing to Jesus, holding Jesus, praying to Jesus, or presenting Jesus over her heart. And in John’s gospel, the mother of Jesus only appears twice: once here and once at the end of the gospel (John 19.25), when Jesus is on the cross.
And in both cases they are key moments in the gospel.  
And in John’s gospel, and in the book of Revelation, also written by John, the mother of Jesus is, of course, an individual, but she also represents the community of faithful believers. She is the embodiment of the people of God.

In our reading she does two things.
She tells Jesus, ‘They have run out of wine’.

That is prayer.
It is the bringing of our needs and of the needs of others to Jesus. And it is the task of the Church, the task of each one of us who would call ourselves a Christian, to pray – to pray for those who have come to the end of their resources.

Lord Jesus, person A is sick. They can’t afford to get the necessary medical treatment.
Lord Jesus, person B is unemployed. They have no money coming in. They cannot provide for their family. They cannot provide for themselves. They have nothing.
Lord Jesus, person C is facing impossible circumstances. They are crushed. They have no hope. They are broken and empty. They have run out of wine.

And then Mary tells the servants – and we need to hear this – ‘do whatever he tells you’.
She tells them to trust Jesus, and to be obedient to him.

I don’t think Mary knew what Jesus was going to do. But she had an unshakeable faith that he would do something. Even after he has told her that ‘my hour has not yet come’ (when he says that he is speaking of the great work that he has come to do: his death and resurrection on the cross), she is still convinced that he can do something and that he will do something.

The great thing about this is that we do not need to have the answers. We do not need to solve the problem ourselves. We do not need to know how God is going to solve the problem.
But we can say to people: ‘Trust Jesus. Listen to him, and do what he tells you to do’.

At this wedding Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the one who believes in Jesus. She has absolute confidence in him that he can do something about this.

I think of many Christians who, at different times, have inspired me in my walk with God, because of their confidence in him. They’ve not only said, ‘Do what he tells you’, but they have taken him at his word and done what he has told them to do – whether that is to sell what they have so that they are able to serve him where he is calling them, or to forgive someone who has badly hurt them, or to live on a difficult housing estate, or open their home to people who are homeless, or to give sacrificially, or to leave a high status and high paid job in order to become a mission worker or pastor, or to give up their own dreams to care for a child or adult with a serious disability.

These are not just people in the past, but people I have personally known.

So they have encouraged me to trust Jesus, to listen to him, and to do what he tells me to do’.

Here the mother of Jesus speaks to Jesus on behalf of people and she speaks to people on behalf of God. She acts as a go-between.

That was the work of the Old Testament priest: to represent people to God and God to people.
That is the priestly ministry of the Church. It is the job not of those who we call priests, but the task of the whole Church, of all the people of God together. It is my task, as a member of the Church, and your task as a member of the Church.

We are to speak to Jesus on behalf of each other and on behalf of his world: ‘They have no more wine’
And we are to speak to the world, and we are to teach: ‘Do whatever he tells you’.

2.      We need to let Jesus use the ‘jars for purification’.

Jesus tells the servants to fill 6 large jars that were used for the Jewish rite of purification.

We’ve just had Orthodox Крещение and the blessing of the waters. On Friday I was reading an article in one of the papers about what sort of water can become holy water, and the person writing was saying that it has to be water that can be drunk.

Well, these six jars were used for the equivalent of Jewish holy water, although if I understand correctly this water was not used for drinking but for ritual washing. You washed in this water and you became ritually pure

Jesus uses those jars. He asks the servants to fill them with water.
But what comes out of them is not water that will make you ritually pure, but glorious wine.
He changes ritual cleanliness for the joy of the Kingdom.

Without him, the symbols of the old faith had become powerless and empty.
‘They have run out of wine’.
They had become meaningless rituals, mere duty.
In Mark 7 Jesus challenges the religious leaders: you wash yourselves in ritually pure water, and yet what really matters is the muck that is in here, and you do nothing about that.

And my friends, we too can become trapped in our own little ritual observances. We can get obsessed with them – with our daily times and rituals of personal prayer, the prayers we say, our own superstitions, our rites in our services – and even, dare I say, the sacraments themselves: the bread and wine and the water of baptism.

Without Jesus they will end up becoming barren duties. Without Jesus they will be symbols of death and not of life. Without Jesus they will become empty. ‘They have no more wine’.
But with Jesus, putting our faith in him, walking with him, listening to him, seeking to be obedient to him, these symbols will take on a completely new dimension. They will be transformed – life giving, joy giving.

Last week we heard from John the Baptist. He said, ‘I baptise with water, but the one coming after me will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire’. John knew that outer washing with water would ultimately change nothing. What we need is for the transforming life changing power of the Holy Spirit.  

This is a very human story.
They have run out of wine – and Jesus uses the faith of Mary, the obedience of the servants, and the jars of purification to provide wine.

But of course, there is another much deeper dimension to it.

This wedding was ‘on the third day’.
That is significant. It is clearly put there to make us think of the resurrection. Jesus rose from the dead ‘on the third day’.

And on this third day, Jesus provides wine for a wedding banquet.

The bible speaks of that day at the end of history as we know it, when Christ will return, when those who have loved him and longed for him and who have received his gift of forgiveness, eternal life and the Holy Spirit - will be united, as man and woman are united at a wedding. It speaks of a great wedding. Isaiah 62.5: ‘For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder [that is God] marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you’. (v5) .
And on that day God will provide a banquet, a wedding feast, and the wine will flow:
So Isaiah 25.6: ‘On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear’.

So it makes sense that this is the first miracle which Jesus did.
He turns water into wine at a wedding on the third day.

It is his calling card.
He is Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, doing Messiah stuff.
He has come to people who have realised that they have run out of wine, that they have nothing, that they are empty – whether materially or spiritually – and he turns our water into wine.
He has come to bring in the Kingdom of God, to reveal  the new creation.


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