On the third day, glory
January 16, 2022
When was the last time you were at a really good party? You know where the food was good, the drinks were flowing; the conversation scintillating? Perhaps even people were dressed up for the occasion? Did you attend something like that with friends or family over the holidays? Or was it longer ago? At this point, I’m not sure I can even remember when I was last at something like that. Certainly it was before March 2020. New Years’ Eve 2018? New Year’s Day 2019?
And if you have been to such events in the more recent past, was your enjoyment muted because of shame or guilt; were you wondering whether it was safe? To sit down with friends for a sumptuous meal, lingering at the dinner table for hours; to gather with a crowd to celebrate a wedding, or a gala fundraiser, or for us, a ballroom dance weekend, all of those pleasures reshaped by the pandemic. But don’t you desire it? To gather with friends or strangers freely, to let loose! Wouldn’t that be fun!
The story of Jesus’ first miracle in the Gospel of John, turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, reads very differently to me today than it did the last time we encountered it in the lectionary, back in 2019. It’s a story rich in detail, overflowing with suggestive symbolic meanings, and for me, now, evocative both of what we have lost and of the hope that the coming of Christ into the world elicits.
It’s remarkable, really that John chooses to begin his story of Jesus’ public ministry in this way. In the synoptic gospels, we are introduced to Jesus as he teaches and heals in the towns, villages, and synagogues of Galilee. We’ll hear Luke’s very different story of Jesus’ entrance onto the public stage next week. So why this? Why a wedding, why a miracle, a sign in which Jesus turns water into wine? Those are all great questions, and it may be that I will address some of them. But let me say this right now. When I’ve preached before on this text, when I’ve taught it, I’ve focused on the wine, the amount of wine, the sheer overabundance of wine, and Jesus providing it only after the party had been going on for some time, and they had run out of it.
This time around I want to focus on something else; the beginning and end of the story. It begins: “On the third day…” and it ends, “… he revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.”
“On the third day, glory.”
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear that phrase, “On the third day”—The Nicene Creed? “And on the third day, he rose from the dead.”
But wait, the third day of what? Well, let’s go back to the beginning of John’s gospel. Remember how it starts? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Starting with creation, a hymn to the Word, the logos, the gospel writer eventually brings it down to earth, to first-century Roman Palestine. He introduces John the Baptist and then, continues his story with chronological references. Three times he writes, “The next day…” Chapter 2 begins, “The third day…” If you add it all up, you get seven days. Seven days from creation: “In the beginning was the Word…” to the wedding at Cana. Seven days of creation. And on the seventh day, God rested from all that God had done. The sabbath, the eternal sabbath, the messianic banquet, the Wedding at Cana.
On the third day, he revealed his glory.
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a Father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
Glory is one of those words that we seem to use only in church anymore. It’s all over scripture, in our hymns, in our liturgy, but it’s likely that we aren’t quite sure what it means. The glory of the Lord, God’s presence, it’s something that in Hebrew Scripture is overwhelming. When Moses asks to see God’s face in Exodus, God says that no human can see God’s glory and live.
In the gospel of John, glory takes on additional significance. Especially in the later chapters of the gospel, as the cross looms ahead, glory, or glorification, is used to describe what’s going to happen. Jesus says, “Now the Son of man is glorified…” It refers not just to the crucifixion, but to the resurrection and ascension as well. Glory, for John, means cross and resurrection: Cana, wedding and wine, glory. Calvary, cross and resurrection, glory.
So to bring it back to this story and to us, He revealed his glory, in the sign of turning water into wine, at a wedding feast, a banquet, where the overabundance of joy, the celebration of that gathering transformed the mundane into the sacred, the ordinary into the extraordinary.
As we survey our world today, we may see little that gives us joy. The deadly toll from the pandemic continues to grow, climate catastrophe revealing itself all around us. The horrific scene yesterday of hostage-taking at a synagogue in Texas reminding us that all the cries of persecution of Christian notwithstanding, in our nation, our world, it is our Jewish siblings who are more at risk for expressing the religious commitments publicly. On this MLK weekend, our hopes and work for a more just and equitable society, where all can vote freely and fairly seems further beyond our grasp than ever before.
There are many reasons for despair. Worse still, many of the things which give us strength to carry on, gathering in community to hear the word of God, to sing of our faith, to fellowship with one another, are once again, restricted. And yet, the glory of Christ is here among us, in our world, in the midst of our suffering and struggles, in the face of our despair.
Christ’s glory shines around us, often in ways we don’t see or know, or recognize. Just as no one saw the water being transformed into wine, we may not at first recognize Christ’s glory among us. And it may be that our senses are dulled to his glory, that it sounds in frequencies we cannot hear, or in registers of light that we cannot see. But Christ’s glory is there.
Indeed, if we understand it as the gospel of John does, the transcendence of Christ’s glory is revealed as much in cross as resurrection, as much in suffering as in celebration, in grief as in joy.
Corrie and I have been showered with meals, prayers, and support over the last couple of months of surgery and recuperation. Friends, neighbors, parishioners have helped us through this time and we have felt your love throughout the season of Christmas. But perhaps no more than by this. Ever since we have been at Grace, we have received a lovely fruitcake from Linda Savage. Corrie and I are both lovers of fruitcake and in our opinion, Linda’s is the best we’ve ever had. Imagine our surprise this year when a few days before Christmas, we received a call from Blair asking when he might bring this year’s fruitcake. From beyond the grave, Linda’s love came to us. The glory of Christ’s love shone brightly in her face, and, I might add, in her fruitcake. We relished every bite.
Opening ourselves to seeing Christ’s glory may mean focusing our attention elsewhere than on the spectacular, the miraculous, the otherworldly. It may mean paying attention to the little ways in which the love of Christ is made manifest in our world, in the gestures of friends, in the hard, self-sacrificial work of health care professionals, in a simple, yet delicious meal dropped off in time of need. The glory of Christ’s love is manifested in wedding feasts at Cana, and on the cross of Calvary. May it also be manifest in our lives.