This weekend our nation gears up for two grand events: the inauguration of a president, and the remembrance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Preparations are being made for elaborate dinners and good wine and heartfelt speeches.
In John chapter 2, Jesus does something very human, very prosaic, very neighborly: he goes to a party. A wedding party, to be precise. If you’ve ever been to a Middle Eastern wedding, you know that they are lavish affairs, often with hundreds of guests. The wedding Jesus went to probably involved an elaborate dinner and at least one or two heartfelt speeches, and we know that it eventually included some very good wine.
We learn right away that Jesus’ mother has been invited to the wedding, too. And we get to witness a faintly humorous exchange between the Son of God and his mother Mary. In verse 4, the mother of Jesus informs him that the wine is gone (clearly expecting him to do something about it), and Jesus says “So what?” (I’m paraphrasing here). In verse 5, his mother says to the servants: “Do whatever he says.” I’d love to know what happens in the tiny white space between the end of verse 4 and the start of verse 5. There’s no break, no transition, not even an “and” or a “but.” What happened in-between verse 4 and verse 5? Did Mary raise her eyebrows? Did she put her hands on her hips? Was Jesus’ question light-hearted, and did he grin afterward and wait expectantly to see what his mother would do? Did either of them smile, sharing for just a moment the knowledge they had that was hidden to everyone else?
As soon as Mary hands the matter off to the servants, Jesus doesn’t argue about it anymore. And just as Mary requests, they do precisely what Jesus tells them to do. Fill the jars! he says. And they fill them. Up to the brim, just to be thorough. Bring them to the chief steward! he says. And they bring them to the chief steward.
The chief steward is so astounded by the water-become-wine that he confronts the bridegroom, pointing out that most people serve the good stuff first and save the cheap wine for later, when the guests have had a bit too much to know the difference, but that this host has saved the best for the end. It’s hard to tell if this is a reproach, subtle advice for next time, praise, or simply an expression of surprise.
What it tells the reader, however, is that God’s delightful abundance has just overflowed through Jesus and blessed this wedding with goodness. Six large stone jars – that is a lot of wine. As the psalmist sings, “They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights” (Psalm 36:8).
John reports that this act is the first of the “signs” that Jesus does. Turning water into wine, walking on water: we might think of these acts as miracles, as the divine bending or creative reinterpretation of the laws of nature, but John insists that they are signs that point beyond themselves. Signs that call forth belief in Jesus (John 2:11; cf. John 2:23). Signs that reveal the glory of Jesus. In the Old Testament, God’s glory was a symbol of God’s powerful presence with the people (Exod 24:15-18; 34:29-35; 40:34-38) – a presence so overwhelming that nobody could look it in the face and live (Exod 33:12-23).
In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ glory blazes forth for all the world to see at his crucifixion and in his resurrection (John 17:1-5). At a wedding in a small town in Galilee, an unsuspecting group of wedding guests sees a glimpse of Jesus’ glory: his true identity as the light of the world.
Let’s go back to the very start of the story, just for a moment. John notes that Jesus went to this particular wedding on the third day. It’s a small detail, but now it sparkles with potential meaning. At the heart of Christian conviction is the declaration that God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day (Luke 24:7; 1 Cor 15:4; cf. John 2:19).
“On the third day, Jesus went to a wedding.” Hear those words again in an entirely new way, in the light of the resurrection, in the splendid light of Jesus’ glory. See a glimpse of the wedding of heaven and earth, the wedding banquet at which all the nations sit. On the third day, Jesus arose and went to a wedding, where he prepares the feast for us.