Fireground, Adelaide Hills

Superphospate and Champagne

Week of Sunday January 17
Gospel: John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ 4And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ 5His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ 6Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

The implement shed on our farm was high enough to accommodate the header, and wide enough for the grain truck and the tractor and the combine, along with the family car and the farm ute. These 1950s sheds were basic, open along the long northeast side for light, and with a gap under the walls at the back so you could work with some breeze during the summer. Most of them had dirt floors.

And it was in here, sitting on the ground next to a crate of ploughshares, a small spillage of superphosphate, and two rolls of high tensile wire, that I found 4 cases of champagne. They were left over from a family wedding. Only my dad would store champagne in the implement shed. He wasn't a big drinker, and I suspect the stuff was still there when they sold the farm. But he had one thing right: they didn't run out of wine at the wedding.

Weddings lasted for a week in Jesus' time. They were the joining of two families: they were key points in building the local society and making it stable. They were often symbolic of formation of major political alliances. They were occasions where a family's honour would be enhanced, or diminished. The feast of food and wine was also a symbol of divine blessing. We get some sense of this in the reading from Isaiah 62

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
   All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. 
8 They feast on the abundance of your house,
   and you give them drink from the river of your delights. 
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
   in your light we see light.

To run out of wine was… to run out of blessing. It was an omen for the future of the marriage and, remember, the marriage was about far more than the young couple. To run out of wine was an omen about the structure and stability of the district.

Jesus arrives on the third day of the wedding… and they've already  run out of wine. It's a very bad sign.

The way John writes these stories is to insert markers— hints— and to leave us to play with them and see where they lead us.

  • It's on the third day: Jesus is raised on the third day. That's when the new wine really starts flowing.
  • There are six stone jars— and they are specifically related to their Jewish religious significance. Six is one short of the perfect number seven. Jesus is the one who brings what is missing to the faith of his people.
  • There is a huge amount of wine here: probably in the region of 500 litres, six or seven hundred bottles of the best wine. The blessings of God for humanity are… over the top!
  • And if we have not made connections yet with the true Vine of John 15, and the wine of communion, maybe we should have a glass or two and take time to let our minds wander through the story!

The little detail in the story which strikes me is that the only people at the wedding who know what's going on are the servants! John makes this very clear. All the guests get to drink the wine, to partake of the blessings of God, but the only people who really appreciate what is going on— the ones who know— are the servants.

I got to chatting with one of the servants at the last wedding I attended. She had been on her feet since 6am. It was now 9pm, and everything would need cleaning up after we finished. Folk in hospitality work unconscionable hours for low pay. They get abused. Nothing has changed. But in John's story, only the servants know what is going on.

We are called to be the servants of God. The Greek word for servant is diakonis: our Deacon Sandy is formally named after this word, but it is, more generally, the calling for all of us. We are the ones who are to administer the blessings of God to the world. We carry the wine. It's the hard, inglorious work of Hospitality.

You can see the paradox in this. We are the chosen ones, according to parts of the Tradition, but God gives us no special place at the wedding. Indeed, we are to serve, to work the unconscionable hours for low pay, with the powers above us wanting to remove the penalty rates that make it bearable. And yet we get to see— to understand-stand under — his glory.

There is a hint here of something that cuts to the heart of our life as rich Australians. We can walk out of this church and never come back, and materially it will not affect us. In fact, if we remove the regular pricking of our conscience by scripture and sermon, we may do better for ourselves. We may have more money to appreciate the finer things of culture, for tickets to the opera, or fares to the great galleries of Europe. God's blessings are indiscriminate: the rain falls on sinner and righteous alike.

But John says we would miss something. It is in the trusting (believing in him) and serving that we understand; that is, stand under, the source of life's blessing. It is in the serving that we truly appreciate the best wine. It's only then that his glory is revealed: the word glory here means the significance of Jesus, and it's not just a head thing. It's a full realisation and enjoyment of the profundity of life. It's like an especially good wine which is beyond description. You can only appreciate it, or not.

In an implement shed there is a unique blend of limestone, dirt, grease and grain dust, and the evidence of visitation by pigeons. And you can look at the case of champagne that was opened at the wedding— two or three bottles missing, the remaining labels stained and  faded in the heat, and wonder at the priorities of a farmer who would stack that blesséd stuff down there.

You might also stand under a great flow of memory; of family, of love, of joy in the land, of generosity, and of compassion. And see that champagne is pretty ordinary stuff, because the real glory of life is far deeper.

But we will only see the fullness of that glory if we serve and give and love. It's the servants who understand where the wine comes from, and what it does to life. 

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!

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Kathy Donley 11-01-2016
I'mm seeing several details in this story for the first time. I really appreciate your point that it is only the servants (overworked and underpaid) who really know what is going on. And it's a great family story for sure!

Re: Servants
Andrew 11-01-2016
Thank you Kathy. I'm obliged to Janet Hunt for showing me the servants.

We all need a shed
Allan Nield 31-01-2016
I don't drink (much) wine (my Methodist upbringing getting in the way of having a good time). So perhaps I can't grasp the extent of the 'blessings of God'. Thanks for the great example of the shed. Only would find communion grape juice in our shed and hopefully a good conversation.

Re: We all need a shed
Andrew 01-02-2016
Hi Allan. Nice to hear from you. You were always good at conversations... and a source of great inspiration to me. Thanks. Andrew

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