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The Hour has Come

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By Virgil - Posted on 17 July 2008

by the Bishop of Durham, Dr N. T. Wright
On the front of your service sheets there is a painting of ‘the Wedding at Cana’, to story we read a few moments ago. The focal point is of course on Jesus and Mary at the left of the picture; but I want you to imagine thought bubbles coming from the heads of some of the other characters, particularly the two in the middle, the ones wearing crowns and anxious expressions, the bride and the groom. What are they thinking, and how does Jesus deal with that?There are many reasons why St John’s story of the wedding at Cana seems appropriate for today, but there was one that struck me with peculiar force as I thought of Michael’s remarkable achievement in putting off this happy moment as long as he has. ‘Woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ One might even suggest a repunctuation: ‘Woman? What! Has this to do with me?’ It’s very nearly thirty years since I first encountered Michael, and throughout that time this kind of Johannine suspense, from the first mention of an ‘hour’ which has not yet come, has been maintained to this very day, the true day of love and glory. As with the wedding at Cana, today we witness a sign which speaks of both love and glory, and speaks, not just to Michael and Abigail’s family and friends but in a sense to the whole world, the whole cosmos. One of the reasons why marriage is so important, and actually one of the reasons why marriage is so difficult, is that it puts up a signpost, against all the odds, speaking of love and glory in a world of suspicion and shabbiness. And, Abigail and Michael, we are here today as much to thank you for raising that flag, for putting up that signpost, as to congratulate you and pray for you and wish you well. The question has been answered; the hour has come; the glory is revealed.

Glory! When St John declares that Jesus ‘revealed his glory’ by changing the water into wine, we shouldn’t limit his meaning to that single extraordinary act – as though God’s glory should be understood in terms of what some might see as a spectacular conjuring trick. (I know it’s dangerous for bishops of Durham even to mention conjuring tricks, but this is a party and I trust you’ll cut me some slack.) No: as John says elsewhere, Jesus did plenty of other signs, and John has chosen this one, the wedding at Cana, very carefully as the opening one in his sequence. Everything in God’s creation points beyond itself. The first creation account in Genesis builds carefully through the different pairs: heaven and earth, light and dark, sun and moon, sea and dry land, animals and plants, and finally humans, part of creation yet standing over against the rest of creation as God’s image-bearers, God’s under-gardeners – and themselves divided, as are the animal and plant kingdoms, into the ultimate complementary pairing, male and female. John’s gospel is all about the marriage of heaven and earth in Jesus Christ. That is the final purpose of God in creation – not the separation of heaven and earth but their wonderfully fruitful combining. And it is that coming together of the complementary God-given pairings that we celebrate in the marriage of a man and a woman, of this man and this woman, of Michael and Abigail. And let’s say right off the top, in case anyone is in any doubt: the faithful and joyful mutual love of man and woman is no curious social convention, no accidental genetic quirk, no arbitrary regulation made up by some mad old moralist. It is a sign of what the wise creator intends for the whole creation.

And that of course is why marriage is not only difficult – so difficult as to appear to some today totally impossible – but also full of potential for awkwardness and embarrassment. John’s splendid little story of the wedding at Cana turns on one of those moments when it all goes horribly wrong. One of my first memories of Michael was of him spending half of his own twenty-first birthday party frantically finishing the preparations for the second half; and one of my most recent was of him and Abi, last week, getting cases and cases of wine out of the car in readiness for today, guarding no doubt against the possibility that reading John 2 might be tempting providence. I’m not sure how far they went: the six stone jars John speaks of would together hold about 150 gallons, that is, about 800 bottles’ worth. Sounds like quite a party. In fact, it’s a bit like the picnic in the desert four chapters later, when Jesus feeds the crowds out of next to nothing and they find twelve baskets of bits and pieces left over. This is all about God’s lavish provision, God’s generous overflowing love, the glory of heaven filling the earth as the waters cover the sea.

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