Isaiah 62:1-5; John 2:1-11
3rd after Epiphany (8am)
St Barbara’s 20.01.19
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Both our readings this morning contain wedding themes; both of them speak of revealed glory. But other than that, they seem so different.
Isaiah is writing at a time when the people of Israel are in exile in Babylon. But he sees the political upheavals pointing to the fact that the exile of Israel might well soon be over. He writes that kings will see the glory of God as God vindicates this tiny, exiled nation. Worn-down exiles would be a crown of beauty in God’s hand, a royal diadem; their ravaged homeland would be called “married”. God’s delight would be in her again.
Contrast this overt revelation of God’s glory with our muted, under-stated Gospel account. John picks up on Isaiah’s imagery of marriage heralding the beginning of the Messianic age, but whilst Isaiah puts this in terms of nations on the international stage, John’s account is remarkably mundane and domestic. Events at a nondescript village wedding, a wedding special to the families concerned but few others, and in a context of poverty where drink could run out, are the setting for the first revelation of Jesus’ glory.
And few notice. Yes, the servants knew where the wine came from; but the steward, though he knew it tasted good, did not know its origin; and the bridegroom seems blissfully ignorant of everything. Mary and the disciples knew and believed in Jesus, but that was it. It all happened in a backwater. This was not Christ revealing himself in a blaze of glory, with flashing lights and pyrotechnics, suddenly parachuted onto the world stage. This was Christ at a village wedding of a couple whose names we never learn, and where most of those attending never realise that anything has even happened. Jesus’ glory revealed on earth was modest and unassertive. If one didn’t have the eyes of faith, one would miss it.
And that is the truth about all Christ’s revelations of his glory. Without faith, we never see his glory. With faith, we begin to see his glory revealed everywhere, in the ordinary and mundane, as much as in the extraordinary and remarkable.
St Augustine wrote: “The presence of his glory walks among us, if love finds room.”
Or in the words of Gerard Manly Hopkins in his poem “As kingfishers catch fire”, “Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his, to the father through the features of men’s faces.” Christ is at work transforming the mundane into the miraculous. It is for us to notice and give thanks, and that happens when we look with the eyes of love, the eyes of faith.
But how do we live alert to the glory in the ordinary, to the water being turned into wine almost beneath our noses? Two pieces of wisdom passed down by the church over the centuries may help us become more aware. A monk called Brother Lawrence in the 17th century wrote a book entitled “The Practice of the Presence of God”. In it he simply encouraged his fellow monks to think of how God was present in every act, from the washing of the dishes, to the gardening, to the lying down to sleep. To consciously remind oneself that God was present in every moment of every day, and live accordingly. Brother Lawrence was not known for his theological mind or his soaring preaching – far from it, he was a simple and quiet man – but his desire to live as much as possible always aware of the presence of God with him, left a profound impact on the lives of those around him.
The other is the practice of the Examen, an act of daily reflecting on the events of the day and asking at what times has God been present in your day, whether in a conversation, or an activity, or in creation. The deliberate act of stopping to review and reflect begins to help us notice the work of God transforming the ordinary into the miraculous.
And a thought from a writer, Annie Dillard, which no doubt I have quoted before. She lived for a year observing nature in what she described as a fairly nondescript creek in America. Of her experience she wrote that she began to marvel at the beauty of the created world around her. As she observed and truly paid attention she grew in awe at the majesty of it all. She wrote: “The least we can do is not allow nature to play to an empty house.”
The turning of water into wine at the wedding of Cana, the first of the signs of Christ’s glory, is remarkable for its understated, unassuming nature. But it points us to an extraordinary truth. God in Christ is revealing his glory all around. Today we will be in places shining, alive, with the glory of God. In the words of Augustine, can love find room, can our eyes of faith be open, to seeing God’s glory shining in our midst?