Third Sunday of Epiphany
Revelation 19.6-10; John 2.1-11
Come with me to a church where you will find some people like us, listening to this story about Jesus attending a wedding – with his new set of friends and his mum.
Meet Lyn. Lonely Lyn. She’s only in her thirties, but living in a big city she’s found it hard to make friends. She used to be able to go all through the weekend and not speak to a soul.
That was until the Sunday morning when she popped out for some milk and spotted a church with its doors wide open. Something compelled her to go in and since then she’s hardly missed a week.
She used to dread Sundays, but now it’s the highpoint of her week. For Lyn, church is like this weird kind of party where no one ever expects you to bring a bottle. It lifts her spirits.
She’s got to know some of the people by name, but she does wonder whether some of them may have had a bit too much church. The ones who have lost a bit of their spark. That couple there. I wonder if they really look forward to being here, like I do?
Quite often Lyn sits next to Patrick. Pillar Pat, Lyn calls him, because he always sits way over on the left behind a pillar, almost like he’s not sure whether he wants to be in church at all. In his sixties. Single. They say he only comes at 10.30 because the 8 o’clock service died out.
Patrick’s faith is so important to him, but he knows he finds it hard to loosen up. More and more informality in the service, noisier children. Sometimes they even offer coffee before the service.
Patrick never reveals much, but sometimes he sits and thinks: If people knew about my childhood at public school, I think they’d understand me better. If only I could tell someone – I’m sure it would help.
Today’s gospel: Jesus at a wedding reception supplying the drink. I reckon they must have banned the reading of that one in school chapel, Patrick thinks to himself. But, I’ll be honest, it touches me, this generous, big-hearted Jesus.
After the service, Patrick likes to speak with Miriam, the Nigerian lady. Her husband, in his fifties, is housebound after an accident, but you’d never know it from her smile, and her joy, and that laugh which can fill the whole church.
Miriam loves the idea of Jesus at a wedding. She remembers week-long weddings back in Nigeria, events for the whole village. So much better than your British weddings! She pictures Jesus on the dance floor and giggles to herself: Imagine getting to dance with a super sexy Jesus!
And Miriam loves the gospel of John. The way he talks about the wedding taking place on the third day, just like Jesus was raised on the third day. And once the vicar explained that you can work out that the wedding takes place seven days after Jesus’ baptism, so like in Genesis, you get the six days of creation and finally, day seven, when God rests, or puts on the big party.
And then the book of Revelation too. The saints in their pure, fine linen – Nigerian colours, hopes, Miriam! – the sound of heaven like mighty waters and peals of thunder. Everyone gathered in the brightness of God’s glory.
Miriam waves to Vicky, dear Vicky who only comes on Sunday about three times a year. Doesn’t really join in and has usually had a drink before 10.30 in the morning.
Miriam has a soft spot for Vicky and often leaves a cake on the doorstep outside her flat. Have you heard Vicky’s story?
Well. Three years ago the vicar invites the bishop to come along to a discussion group in the pub opposite the church. The bishop is a very tall man and looks like a professor. Some say, yes, that’s because he is one.
Anyway, he agrees to come as long as everyone attending brings a friend who doesn’t go to church. Come the evening, the bishop walks in and immediately susses out that all of them are church folk. Not one has invited a guest!
True story this. He walks out of the function room, past the somewhat embarrassed vicar, through the bar, until he spots a darkened space where some of the regulars are sitting. Vicky is one of them. She sees the bishop enter and, already a bit worse for wear, looks him up and down in his purple and says in a voice slightly too loud, ‘I’m not a bad person, you know. I just may have done a few bad things. Ok?’
Without hesitation, the bishop walks straight up to Vicky, takes off his pectoral cross and puts it round her neck. Doesn’t say a word. But with that action, of course, he says everything. Acceptance, affirmation, compassion. Kindness.
So, since then, Vicky has been along to church, but only every now and then on a Sunday. She prefers a weekday, on her own, sitting before the altar.
So, here we are this Sunday: Lyn, Patrick, Miriam, Vicky: trying to picture Jesus at a wedding at Cana two thousand years ago. Listening to the vicar’s sermon, which is entitled Waiting for a Miracle.
Lyn would welcome a little miracle – to be able to break out of her loneliness. Church is great, but here she’s closer to people her parents’ age than the few of her own generation, who all seem to be married with children. Lyn would like to be a mum one day. She thinks about the wedding in Cana. I’d love to have a chat with Jesus’ Mum.
Patrick is determined to sit in a different seat one of these Sundays. ‘That’ll be a miracle!’ they’ll all tease him. He wants to move in other ways too. Break out of what’s trapped him in this half-life for so many years. He suspects that Jesus is probably part of the answer.
Everyone loves Miriam. But sometimes on Sunday morning, after she’s received the bread and wine, you see a different Miriam. Sitting quietly. Reflective. A little tearful. Not many of them know that every day she prays for a miracle for her and her husband: to rediscover something of their former love in this new situation.
Jesus taking his disciples to a wedding, thinks Miriam – what an inspired move. Day one with his disciples, but instead of a training course, it’s, Let’s go to a wedding!
A celebration of love.
And isn’t this what we all want? To love and be loved?
It’s what Miriam misses.
It’s what Lyn seeks.
It’s part of what Patrick and Vicky have been denied.
Of course, Vicky uses alcohol to smother her pain, but this morning, she thinks, this story – water changed into wine.... a miracle. Like the night bishop gave me his cross. Making me smile like Mo Farah. My brokenness transformed into something beautiful.
Lyn holds on to the possibility miracles still happen. Does Jesus just want me to have a little faith? In him? In my future?
Patrick wonders about the servants in the story, those who did all the heavy lifting, getting hold of all those gallons of water. Do I need to put in a bit of hard work? To enable my own transformation?
Miriam tells everyone to believe in the promise of heaven. But she also wants to live the wedding feast with Jesus now.
I know, she thinks. When I turn 60, I’ll ask the vicar to put on a service in church and afterwards we’ll have a party. A real Nigerian party! And whatever it takes, I’ll get my husband here.
So, let’s leave them now. Lyn, Patrick, Miriam, and Vicky. Ordinary people like you and me. Each with their own story. Thrown together randomly, like strangers on a train? Or something more than that?
They’re in a church, on a Sunday – a day to reflect on all the tangled threads of our lives.
A day to rejoice: in life and with one another. A time for friendship. To open your heart just a little bit more.
One hour in the week to welcome God, as he welcomes us. Receive his promises, pray for a miracle, and hold our heads high, in trust, in hope.
Come now, draw near, with faith – taste and see how good the Lord is.
Put your lips to the cup. Drink the wine.
Reverend Keith Griffin