Whether we are conscious of it today or not, we live in an age where we are surrounded by signs, symbols & icons. Brand and brand placement dominate the media. Throughout history, in a variety of ways, these have always had significance in society and culture.
To give you an idea of what I mean, I’m going to list several people or brands that I am sure are instantly recognisable if you search for them on the internet. Try taking a look for:
- Audrey Hepburn
- Apple Logo
- Winston Churchill
- Marilyn Monroe
- Afghan girl (taken by Steve McCurry)
The thing about signs, symbols and icons is that they often evoke an emotional response from us – perhaps triggering memories and reminding of us past experiences either good or bad. Let me explain how…
The point is that they often point to something more, something beyond. They can also instil a sense of identity and belonging, and perhaps one of the most striking and enduring signs or icons is that of the cross of Christ. If you search for a picture of the cross of Christ, as you look at it, what memories and emotions does it evoke in you?
Many years ago I studied at the University of Birmingham. I always remember when I came home for the weekend or during the holidays I knew I was getting close to home when I saw a large illuminated cross outside a Church building on the outskirts of the city I lived in. Just seeing that cross spoke volumes to me; it had in many ways become an icon, pointing to something more, something beyond – and in this case the comfort of home.
The Bible, and in particular John’s gospel, speaks quite a lot about signs. We encounter one of those in our reading today in which we learn of Jesus’ first recorded miracle at a wedding celebration which took place in Cana in Galilee. All of Jesus’ miracles point beyond themselves to a deeper truth, to “the revelation of God in Jesus.” The blind man whose sight was restored journeyed into a deeper place of faith and truth, the woman with the issue of blood journeyed into a place of restoration and renewal. Jesus constantly reveals himself and we are always invited to respond, always invited to place our trust in him.
So we find ourselves in this story at a wedding celebration in Cana, a town about nine miles north of Nazareth, and if you remember from our reading and sermon last Sunday this was the place that Nathanael came from. We might think that weddings are big occasions in our country, and don’t get me wrong – they often can be! However, in Jesus’ day wedding celebrations could last as long as a week, and often the entire village or town was invited. It was considered an insult to turn down an invitation to a wedding, so most people would typically attend.
Jesus’ mother Mary was a guest, and we are told that Jesus and his disciples were also invited. Let’s look together at the events as they unfolded:
- They ran out of wine at the celebration.
This would have been a social disaster and brought embarrassment and shame upon the host. There was a clear need which Mary immediately recognised – “they have no more wine”, she said to Jesus. (John 2:3)
- Jesus didn’t draw attention to himself in his response and actions.
Few besides the disciples and his mother actually saw how he responded. What was important in that time and place was actually the journey they went on in their faith and how they responded. I don’t think how Jesus replied to his mother was rude; the sense I get is that he replied with a half-smile on his face along the lines of “What do you expect me to do about it?”.
- Mary responded by saying to the servant present “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5), in other words “He’s got this under control, trust him.” The disciples responded too by “putting their faith in him.” (John 2:11) When we are presented with need, do we put our faith in God and trust him to provide? Jesus’ response encourages us to journey to a deeper place of faith and truth and invites us to respond too.
- There can be no doubt from Jesus’ attendance and actions that God wholeheartedly approves of weddings and wedding celebrations. His actions invite us to look deeper and look beyond and see his wonder and glory and majesty. We see that in our first reading from the book of Revelation which speaks about the Church being the bride of Christ, and the linen of the wedding dress standing for the righteous acts of God’s people. Imagine that – every righteous act that you do for God is helping to provide material for the wedding dress.
- If Jesus turns water into the finest of wines at the wedding feast in Cana, saving the best until last, imagine what the heavenly wedding banquet will be like.
- In Jesus’ response we encounter a real sense of the abundance of God’s blessing, and his desire for intimacy, fellowship and communion with humankind as well as “the glory of Jesus and the wonder of His redeeming love.”
I want to close today by leaving you with a thought…when you think about approaching the Lord’s table to receive either Holy Communion or receive a blessing, what deeper truth does that act point to and how might God be inviting you to respond? What journey is God taking you in your faith?