Sermon for the Second Sunday of Epiphany 2016.
Reading: John 2:1-11
When people talk about the story of the wedding at Cana they usually focus on one of two things: the wedding or the wine.
Well I am here to tell you that those things don’t interest me very much in this morning’s gospel.
Despite the fact that our marriage service in the Episcopal Church tries to extract great meaning from our Lord’s presence at a wedding, the truth is, it is just a simple detail of where Jesus happens to be. The gospel writer doesn’t spend much time explaining it; we shouldn’t either. The wedding doesn’t interest me.
The fact that Jesus can turn water into wine doesn’t interest me much either. As a believer in miracles, as a believer in the Incarnation and Resurrection, I believe that Jesus is one with the creator of the universe. To quote the beginning of John’s gospel: “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” I believe that Jesus can turn death into life, so it really comes as no surprise to me that he can turn water into wine. The wine, frankly, doesn’t interest me.
What does interest me greatly about this morning’s gospel and our Lord’s first miracle in Cana is how it comes about. I find it fascinating that the first person mentioned at the wedding is not our Lord himself, but his mother.
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galillee and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.
Mary is the first person mentioned in the story. Mary is the first to learn that the wine has run out, though whether she observed it herself, or whether it was made known to her by the servants at the wedding seeking her assistance we don’t know. What we do know is that Mary’s response was to go to her son immediately and seek his help. Mary knew that her child was special. She might not have predicted how he would solve the problem, but she knew he would have the solution.
So Mary goes to Jesus and it is she who tells him that they have no wine.
Jesus’s response to her is puzzling: He says to her: “woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come.” Now that sounds rather harsh to us, but Jesus isn’t actually being rude to his mother. He is simply saying to her: but it’s not time yet. This is going to happen in God’s time.
Mary’s response is perfect. She doesn’t get angry or impatient with her son. She doesn’t box his years or yell at him. She doesn’t give up and try to fix the problem herself and she doesn’t lose faith in her son’s ability. She simply goes back to the servants, points back to her son and says: “do whatever he tells you.”
The relationship between Jesus and his mother in this morning’s gospel is of great interest to me, because it is the perfect example of what intercessory prayer is all about and because it clearly illustrates the role that Mary plays in our life of prayer.
Perhaps one of the most fundamental misunderstandings that many people have about the Catholic tradition is the belief that we pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary. We don’t actually (and when I say we, I refer to all catholic Christians Romans and Anglicans) we don’t actually address our prayers to the Virgin Mary, at least, not in the same way we pray to God or to Christ.
Listen to the words of the most famous prayer to the mother of Jesus, the Hail Mary:
Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus
Holy Mary, mother of God, Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.
Pray for us sinners. Our request here is for Mary to pray for us. We aren’t requesting for her to change things for us, she doesn’t have the power to do that. What we are requesting is to be among her prayers. We are requesting for her to bring our needs to Jesus. It is the sort of thing that we do for each other all the time. We pray for our loved ones and we ask them to pray for us. That is what intercessory prayer is all about: petitioning God on behalf of someone else; acting as a mediator, serving as a bridge or connector between Jesus and someone that is in need. We do it for each other all the time, so why do people get so uncomfortable about asking the mother of Christ to do the same thing? or any other saint for that matter?
Surely we don’t see death, which our Lord conquered by his own death and resurrection as some barrier to prayer between those who have gone to glory and those who yet await it?
No. The prayers of the departed are just as valid, if not more so than the prayers of the living. If we are serious about prayer here, how much more so will we be when we get to the other side?
Mary is so important to the catholic tradition and such a fundamental part of our spirituality, because through her we have the first, and perhaps most perfect, example of what it means to be a faithful, prayerful Christian and what it means to connect people to Jesus.
Mary hears about a problem this morning and the first thing that she does it take it to Jesus. She makes sure that he knows that someone is in need. And when he doesn’t grant her request or seem to solve the problem instantly, she remains faithful. She makes the connection between the servants’ dilemma and the solution to their problems. She points them to Christ and says: follow him. Do what he says.
If we take our life of prayer seriously, if we believe in the power of prayer to change things, and if we feel called to intercede on behalf of others, then we have a lot to learn from Mary.
We need to learn to keep our eyes and ears open to the needs of people around us; to keep our hearts open to their pleas, to be moved with compassion toward them.
We need to learn first and foremost to carry those burdens straight to Jesus. Not to try to fix them ourselves first, not to try to carry the burden of the world’s suffering on our shoulders, but to take the world’s problems from the trivial to the monumental, straight to him.
We need to remember that ultimately he is the one that has the power, not us.
We need to learn that when our prayers and petitions are not answered in the way we want, or in our time, that we are called to be faithful, remembering that God’s time and our time are not the same.
Most importantly, we need to learn to keep pointing people back to Jesus; to encourage them to follow him; to listen to what he says, and to do it. In the end, our life of intercessory prayer should connect people to Jesus.
That is what Mary does in our life of prayer: she points us to Jesus. She isn’t worshiped, she is venerated; she is shown the greatest respect because she, as the mother of Christ, still has so much to teach us about him, and about what it means to follow him.
No the remarkable thing about this morning’s gospel isn’t the wedding or the wine; the remarkable thing is that here, even before Jesus has performed his first miracle, his mother is showing the faith that she has in him and is fulfilling her call of interceding for others and connecting them to him.
May we have the faith to do the same.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
thine eyes of mercy towards us,
and after this our exile
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.