“When the Beer Runs Out”

Posted: January 10, 2022 in Uncategorized

“When the Beer Runs Out” or the Wedding as an Expression of Community Love”

The Epiphany season of the church year, as we shared last week, traditionally celebrates the ‘showing forth’ of Jesus. In our everyday contemporary language we could say we have come to the time to return to work, Covid willing that is? We could also say that the time of partying is almost done and we could say that Epiphany is about ‘going on a journey, searching’. During Epiphany we often hear a collection of stories: of the Magi or Eastern Intellectuals arriving to broaden one’s horizons. It is already the time of the baptism of Jesus, the marriage feast of Cana, and the so-called calling of the first disciples. The Cana story is surely one of the most charming in all the Bible. And let’s remember that John is the only one to tell this story. The wedding itself would have been a great social occasion. A celebration probably for the whole community. We don’t know how many days the party had been celebrating when the wine ran out. Weddings were traditionally occasions for festivities lasting a week or more. Relatives sometimes traveled great distances, and friends and neighbours poured in. It was a communal event in the life of the community. All the usual one-up-man ships etc etc. And the groom’s father usually paid the bill!

So how did the story survive in the tradition till the time of John’s gospel? Why did not one of the other evangelists pick it up? How indeed does it fit in John’s gospel? Well! There are no easy answers to any of these questions, though perhaps all one has to say is that it is a great story, so why not use it. The question is just what meaning can we give to it?

A lot of theological ink and perspiration has been spilled on that subject. Perhaps the most obvious but not always offered meaning we can give it, is: Jesus by his attendance at the feast endorsed feasting and singing and dancing and human sexual love. And just in case I am opening some doors here let’s remember that the puritans, prudes, and party-poopers will try to tell us otherwise, Their Jesus was a no- human saint after all it seems. Andrew Greely would say they; “have never been to a Jewish wedding.” For others, such a meaning is just too human. They claim we should take this story as written testimony to Jesus’ powers over the laws of nature. He has somehow miraculously violated the laws of fermentation and instantaneously turned plain old tap water into wine of the best available vintage. And on the surface maybe this would be enough for this story. But! And here’s the rub. John never calls any of the signs Jesus performs ‘miracles’. This is in spite of what some English translations of the Bible would have us believe!

To John, these are ‘signs’ not nor natural events, and signs are objects or gestures with one meaning that suggests another. They are signals of the coming metaphor. In the story of the wedding feast at Cana we meet Jesus celebrating… Yes, celebrating the joyous human event of marriage with a young couple, their family and friends and neighbours. So, it is with us.
We will continue to meet Jesus in every ordinary event in our lives. Good and bad. Joy filled or grief stricken. And when true love travels on a gravel road it is an all-inclusive loving, no one is excluded and love is a real human event of living. Yes, it is the celebration of sexuality and it is withing the context of being fully human, Beer runs out! Rex Hunt shared a moment when reading a colleague‘s comment on this passage. His interest was sparked when at the conclusion to the story of the Prodigal Father, his colleague commented on the wedding feast at Cana and he was surprised and intrigued!  Remember… in the story of the Prodigal Father, the father pleads with the older son to join in the celebration, and the son replies: ‘Listen!  For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so I might celebrate with my friends’ (Luke 15:29).  This colleague then suggests: “We can safely assume the son is not lying.  If our Christian life has the character of ‘working like a slave’, ‘never disobeying’, never being able to celebrate with our friends, what have we made Christianity into?  Not only do those outside miss out on the celebrations, we too have lost what is the essence of our faith”.

This is a very big challenge to some fundamentals of our faith. Relying on belief systems, or belief itself. Accepting that fear is a valid driver of a loving world, identifying the Jesus Way as an exclusive way and indoctrinating our faith is in question is it not? We are told by John that this was Jesus’ first sign… A sign of how and what God through Jesus is ever trying to show us. That grace-type events are everywhere. Divine spirituality is even in common or unlikely places. Love and grace are meant to overflow freely for everyone. Not just is some rarified New Age sacredness or fundamentalist religion. Not just is some ‘totally’ other. But also lurking in the midst of the grace-full events of secular human life that ordinary people enjoy. James Taylor and Ian Harris might argue that the events of secular life are in face the divine events. That a spirituality of the secular might be better understood as what Incarnation is all about. Incarnation’ is when grace overflows freely for everyone, and it is said people come running…

To tell another Rex Hunt story. “It was about 2.30 in the morning. A young minister – first year out of college – called Tony, was still struggling with his sermon… He just couldn’t get his thoughts together. “I’ve just got to have a break”, he said. So, he went for a walk to a local roadhouse to get a cup of coffee. As he sat finishing his coffee at the counter, three blokes – three homeless blokes – came in. One of them in a kind of half-drunk voice said to the others: “Tomorrow’s my birthday”. One of his mates responded sarcastically: “So what?” And they had a cup of coffee and left. Tony found out from the roadhouse owner, Harry, that these blokes came to the roadhouse every night at the same time, and the chap celebrating a birthday was named Rob. Tony asked Harry if he would help set up a birthday party for Rob. Harry agreed. Early the following morning, the roadhouse was filled with party decorations. Even a birthday cake. Several other people had heard about the party and had come in off the street.

When Rob and his mates came in, everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to him. And when the candles on the cake were lit, he was speechless. When it came time to cut the cake, Rob asked to take the cake with him to admire. No one had ever given him a cake before in his life. After the party was over, there was an interesting conversation. Harry leaned on his elbow on the counter  and looked across at Tony and said: “I bet you belong to some church”. Tony replied: “I belong to the church that celebrates birthday parties for bums at 2.30 in the morning”. Harry looked at him and said: “If I could find such a church, I’d join it in the morning.” When the beer runs out!!



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