In today’s world where there are 30,000 to 40,000 different names Christians give to themselves, and many will not worship together or eat together, and Dr. King’s dream of equality continues to be shattered as violence erupts in tension-filled neighborhoods with church steeples in sight and worshipers paralyzed by fear and hopelessness, the bulletin’s double subtitle might prompt the reaction:
“Where’s Christian Unity?” And raise the challenge: “Show me!”
Today’s Gospel may sound like a long way to the answer but stick with me as we work our way through the story John uses to introduce readers to Jesus’ ministry that starts in Cana at a wedding.
Focus on those huge vessels – each holding many gallons of clean water, dipped out for washing hands before eating, and cleaning dishes and utensils and clothes – dipped out to the last drop for the wedding and reception and cleanup in Cana.
As they are refilled with more fresh, clean water, think of what John will quote Jesus saying later to a woman coming to fill her water jug at a well, “The water that I will give will become in them a spring gushing up to eternal life.” (4: 14)
Now, return to the report that the reception’s freshly filled water jars have changed into the finest wine, saved till last, when usually served first at a wedding banquet, which in Jesus’ time lasted for the greater part of a week and included the entire village. For the poor whose life was tedious and hard, the reception was a time they anticipated and remembered for the rest of their life. It was when everyone got to taste the goodness of the Creator whose bounty is meant to send no one away thirsty or hungry.
Jesus, the Creator’s goodness for all to savor! and as John will later quote, “the Bread of life” (ch. 6)
who will fill the hungry and make the stingy generous.
Now remember what we read as today’s Old Testament lesson describing Isaiah’s image: "For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you." Then look back at John beginning Jesus ministry with a wedding story,
John’s intended association: Jesus, the visible likeness of the invisible God, is the on-earth Creator-God, the Bridegroom, (3:29) vowing to be wedded to us, for an eternity which will begin with a banquet – the announcement John places at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, so as not to forget by the end.
Back to that beginning and the cup of blessing – for us the “toast” – raised at a wedding reception,
which John carries on from the setting of a wedding and reception, to the last night of Jesus’ cup-like life about to be poured out for many. At that last meal with His closest friends and a table set with the wine-filled chalice, Jesus adds the words, “I am the vine, you are the branches; abide in me as I abide in you.” (Be wedded to me as I am wedded to you.) The Bridegroom’s final toast to His bride, gathered at that table and
every table since, to this Table. (Point to altar table set with bread and cup for the Sacrament of Holy Communion.)
With an opening story of water and wine, of Bridegroom and bride, of wedding and reception, John covers Jesus’ ministry from beginning to end at the very beginning, introduced with the words: “On the third day.”
No mention of year or month or week; just “third day.”
Knowing how John crafts his good news of God in Jesus Christ, and the reader’s need to pick up words in the very first story and carry them through to what follows, “third day” is a sound that waits for us to trace it from the beginning to the end of the Gospel: that “first day of the week,” that “third day” after Good Friday.
On the “third day,” the Easter day, Jesus gave the first signs that, from the beginning, He is the finest God has to give, the best saved till last, the Bridegroom Who comes to be wedded to all God’s children, the Host at the reception that is to come, and is already served at His table set with bread and cup, where God’s future is tasted and brought forward for us to savor.
One day when serving on our Conference staff, I joined several inner-city pastors and two other staff members for a literal “last meal. A week later the wrecking ball would add the neighborhood eatery to all the other rubble with no definite plans for for the future.
We were there to sample the last servings of “real” Black food – pigs feet, ribs, chicken, grits, corn bread, and gravy – lots of gravy. I chose the chicken and corn bread and just looked at the pigs’ feet in the meat case. The others sampled everything in a mood of depression – until, as we ate and talked we soon realized who we are was making all the difference – three Black preachers, one Black layman, two white male clergy, and me – seeing beyond color, for we were all colored with the life of Christ, we were bound by Him into communion with Him and with one another. United in and by Christ!
When we demand: “Show me!” “Show me where there’s Christian unity?” the answer is waiting to be found in the words John carefully worked into the story we read today; the answer being: Christian unity is found:
Where Christ is savored as new life;
where God’s bounty is received with thanks and shared with others;
where God’s “third day” is the dawn piercing every day’s darkness; from beginning to end.
where, regardless of our life choices or marital status, Christ, the Bridegroom, is vowing to be wedded to us
for all eternity,
and what a reception there will be!
The answer John saw and arranged in a deliberate way for all to see that Christian unity is happening where life is centered in Christ and the ministries of Christ are carried forward in His name. Amen.