Last week, the First Sunday after Epiphany, also known as the Baptism of the Lord, we renewed our Baptismal Covenant and the very real fact that each of us is a minister of the Lord. Today we consider another covenant relationship, that of marriage. Jesus, after calling his disciples, is invited to a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus' mother is there. Wedding celebrations lasted some days. All the guests, some traveling from distances, needed to be housed, fed, and given drink. It was a shame if they ran out of anything, especially wine.
Jesus' mother saw that the wine ran out and believed her Son could do something to help. Jesus tried to protest that it wasn't time for him to do anything of the sort, but he submitted to his mother's request and changed the water in the huge jars used for ritual washing by the Jews into the finest wine the chief steward ever tasted.
I've used this text at weddings over the years. I love the line in the story where it says: You've saved the best wine until now. And of course its Jesus' first "miracle" that manifests (Epiphany) he is of God. But there is much more to this story than a miracle done on behalf of a newly married couple: This Jesus is a good guy isn't he? Taken with the other readings today it really opens the door to understanding the covenant we all have with God in Jesus.
Speaking to those who were coming out of exile in Babylon Isaiah prophesied:
You shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as a the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
So what the Gospel of John and the Prophet Isaiah are talking about, as well Paul's Letter to the Corinthians, is really talking about our own individual (and corporate as the Body of Christ) marriage covenant with God which mirrors the tremendous love of the Holy Spirit between the Father and the Son. What we see so often is that left to our own human resources, with the tendency to "look out for Number One," we often find ourselves in division and enmity, but human relationships that live in God's Spirit, mirrored by what we understand as the Trinity, continue forever in this Love. Marriage unity, a very natural joining of two persons, is meant to begin and end in God. This goes as well for all our human striving too: leaving God out of the equation is a recipe for failure. The word "religion" is made up of two parts: "lig" as in ligament, holding together, and "re" meaning again. In other words, religion means bringing, holding people together. This can only be done in the context of God our Creator's Love. Left, like I said before, to only human resources, bereft of God's Spirit of merciful love and reconciliation, religion can divide and be a source of sadness and death, rejected by many. The problem is not with "religion" itself, but a practice of religion that has no place for the living God's mercy and love for all people, all God's children. (I spoke here about the recent decision of the Anglican Primates to censure the Episcopal Church for its developing rites for the blessing of same-sex marriages.
St. Paul takes us a step further in considering our virtual "marriage" with God in Jesus when he writes to the Corinthians:
I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Let Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit.
This means much more than dividing people into two groups, basically those who "curse" Jesus and those who "accept" Jesus' Lordship. It's not so much about "words" as it is about real loyalty. Satan knows the bible better than anybody and can say all the "right" words, but what really counts is actual loyalty and love for God, especially to the words and actions of Jesus. Some who have never heard of Jesus follow his example and teaching in their daily lives. On the other hand, it is possible to say all the right words, "Jesus is Lord," but shun its meaning and reject the way Jesus lived and what he taught.
Paul underlines this statement that "Jesus is Lord," as a cry of the followers of Christ, because in his day (and ours too!) there was another cry the vast majority of people took up. In the Roman Empire of the day, the cry was "Ho kurios Caesar!" Caesar is Lord! Instead "Ho kurios Jesus" became the rallying cry of Christians. It was all about complete loyalty to Jesus, not Caesar. That is why so many Christians were martyred, not for their religious beliefs, but for their loyalty to another King and their lack of patriotism and their unwillingness to pledge allegiance to Caesar.
When I first moved to Arizona, there was a governor, who often proclaimed that as arizonans and Americans we lived in a christian country. When I discovered how prejudiced and isolationist he was, I was pretty embarrassed and hard-pressed to see anything "Christian" in what he said. It seemed he had the "words" but no real loyalty to Jesus' teaching and example. It is easy to "compartmentalize" our faith and separate it from our daily lives in the "polis" (political life of the city).
I'll conclude by saying this is where I think God is trying to lead us as his people: our emphasis on patriotism and nationalism must give way to a renewed living of our faith and focus on the example and teaching of Jesus which will always seek to gather together in unity all God's people, in love and shunning all violence, under the one banner "Jesus is Lord."
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.
THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH WELCOMES EVERYONE