“My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4)
Six stone purification jars, filled with cold water —one can hardly imagine something more dull and dead. But Jesus makes them flow with rich wine, regaling the guests at a marriage feast.
St. John is right to call this the first of Jesus’ “signs.” As with all the miracles in his gospel, this tale from Cana is replete with deep symbolism, and reveals something crucial about Jesus ‘ mission, the unfolding process that results in his “glorification” as Savior of the world.
The stone jars were designed for the complicated ritual washings required by the Law of Moses. Their number is one short of seven, the biblical number of perfection. They symbolize the old covenant, good and pure, but incomplete, destined to give way in the face of God’s new purpose taking shape in Jesus.
The wedding assembly, too, is an old symbol. God’s relationship with Israel is often described as a marriage. Our Old Testament lesson describes the renewal and vindication of the land as a royal wedding. Jerusalem, the blessed bride, is given a new name, “my delight is in her.” When God truly made himself known to his people, when grace and peace reigned on earth, it would be like a wedding.
Wine is the natural emblem of the joys of married life. It gladdens the heart and makes company more convivial. Pressed from the grape, it points back to the fruitful vine so often praised as the perfect symbol of a life blessed by God.
There had been wine at the beginning of the feast, but it was hardly worthy of the celebration. It was pale and watery beside the new vintage uncorked by Christ’s miracle. And there simply hadn’t been enough. Now Christ brings gallons upon gallons, an overflowing, superabundant blessing.
Episcopalian poet Richard Wilbur captured the point quite well:
It made no earthly sense, unless to show
How whatsoever love elects to bless
Brings to a sweet excess
That can without depletion overflow.
Jesus tells his mother, “my hour has not yet come,” but every detail in the story points forward to the purpose for which he has come. Christ will renew the covenant between God and his people, and seal it with blood as red as wine. He will supply superabundant grace, which makes us fruitful and fills us with joy.
Look It Up
Psalm 128 is sometimes used at weddings. In the light of this gospel passage, try reading it as a prophecy addressed to Christ.
Think About It
What do these texts suggest about the sacramentality of marriage?