Saturday, 16 January 2016

The God We Can't Live Without

From this week's "Roots" magazine for All Age worship (p17) - on the subject of the Miracle at Cana (i.e. turning water into wine):
"Of course, in today's world, it would not need a miracle like this - just send someone with sufficient cash or a credit card down to the local off-licence...."
Brought up so short by this I nearly went through the windscreen. That'll teach me to check the Little Pebbles teaching material while driving round Milton Keynes. Hard enough to concentrate as it is - you've got to keep looking up to deal with roundabouts.

There is an insight here, I guess, into the unconscious mindset and background of those who read and use this material. If you don't have enough of something, just go and get some more.

I'm not sure that's true of most people in the UK today. It's certainly not true worldwide. If you are struggling to raise the money to pay for a wedding - and we're told they average at about 20 grand these days - maybe you're not gonna be so quick as to put 700 bottles of Aussie Merlot on the old MasterCard. Maybe you wouldn't fancy getting 3 or 4 grand in tenners out of the cash machine next to the offie. Maybe what with the mortgage for the two-bed flat you've got enough debt hanging over you already.

What the Roots magazine has done, I think - and it often has great, creative worship ideas that I am only too happy to adopt or satirise according to my mood - is take British middle-class situation as being today's normal. And in doing so, it has shown how far mainstream middle-class church is from that wedding in Cana, sure. But also from many normal lives in England and, for that matter, anywhere or any time else in the world.

There's a minor crisis in Cana. The wine has run out. We're not told if the groom knew or, if he did, what he was planning to do about it. Maybe he's over-invited. Maybe he wasn't expecting people like Mary, when told it was OK to bring her son along, to turn up with 12 apostles as well. Maybe he's able to run down the road with a load of talents of gold and get some more wine.

But Jesus is going to do a sign. Of course it's on the third day - he likes doing good things on the third day. This is the third day since he's told Nathaniel that he will be like Jacob's Ladder, which reached from earth to heaven - an analogy of the cross? And on the third day he's at the party.

And what he does is save the host from embarrassment. He saves the  party-goers from an early night. He ensures that everyone has a good time. And he shows a sign of his own nature.

What God does through nature, Jesus does here through his power. God makes wine out of water all the time. Every day of summer sunlight, vine leaves take water from the roots, take power from the sun take CO2 from the air - and make sugar. Every day of summer sunlight, vines turn water into the next stage in the wine-making process: grape juice.

Smash some grapes up and leave the juice around for a bit, and there's a good chance that, without you doing anything else, wine will happen. Yeast gets into the juice from the air or the skins and it turns the sugars in grape juice into alcohol. I wouldn't recommend this method too strongly - without decent cleanliness, and ideally a decent fast-acting proper wine yeast, you never quite know what might ferment out. But it's pretty well how wine is made. Has happened for thousands of years.

So when Jesus does what John calls his first sign, he's making a statement - not to the host of the party, not to the bridegroom - but to his mother, and his disciples and the servants. He's showing God's power, just in sped-up action. He's doing his Father's work, and he's revealing his true nature - to the poor (the servants) and to the Church (the disciples and Mary). In his first chapter, John tells us "we have seen his glory - the glory of the one and only Son" - and here in chapter 2 he's revealing exactly who he is.

The idea that if we need something we can just go and get it - that's an idea that belongs to very few of us, at any time. It makes us independent - makes us forget the source of our nature. Cuts us from the God on whom all things actually depend. To see God turn water into wine is a reminder - "fruit of the vine and work of human hands." Sure the skill of a human will produce the best vintage, but the soil, the sun, the very atoms from which the winemaker is made - all come from God.

So Jesus is saying, "Here I am. I made you, I made everything you're made of. I'm the source of life, the source of joy, the one who first imagined grapes and juice and yeast and wine. I'm the one who first dreamt that two people's joy can be increased in the state of marriage. I take water and make grapes grow. I work in this world secretly and gradually - and to show who I am, I'm going to act suddenly and miraculously. And as I'm doing all that - to make the point about who I am, and how I am not just God but human, not just eternal but also living absolutely here and absolutely now - I'm going to provide some stunning wine to celebrate this special day. Congratulations on your wedding. Nobody ever had a special day like this, did they? Here, in the here and now, I'm doing something special for you.

That's the story of incarnation, for me. The eternal God, at one place and one time, doing something specific for real people. And proving who he was. We depend on that God, every instant of every day. Every action we take, every stir of a leaf, every laugh of a child or heartbroken cry - everything we do takes place in him. We don't just pop down the road to buy a few bottles of wine for a wedding - even that is an incredible act of faithfulness and love on the part of the God in whom we live, move and have our being. He was there - then. He's here, now. He was there for that married couple - and now for you. God and human, eternal and mortal, present in one tiny place and throughout the whole universe. He's here for you, now.


  1. ... and he realises that now is the time to do it because his Mother tells him to.

  2. Somtimes (actually, quite often) you make me feel thoroughly inadequate. Thank you.

    1. The Archimandite took the words out of my mouth. Thank you for this.

  3. So according to Roots it's not about Jesus bringing us the new wine of the kingdom, it's really just about someone running out of wine and Jesus doing the magic. I guess the raising of Lazarus just tells us they didn't have defibrillators in First Century Palestine then...


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