Cana of Galilee was not quite what I’d expected – then again, I’m not quite sure what I had expected. A few palm trees dotted around, small white flat-roofed houses, and the odd camel? Anyway, Cana wasn’t – isn’t – like that at all. Standing outside the church which has been built over a possible site of ‘the first of Jesus’ signs’ was a particular surprise, not least the bright ring of neon bulbs surrounding the giant statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Inside the church was a long queue of couples, filling the central aisle. They had come, as hundreds do, to have their marriage vows blessed by the priests. Our guide led us down a side aisle, and into the crypt underneath the church: and it was here that the surprises continued.
For there, in a large glass case, was a stone water jar. The sort, perhaps, once used in the ‘Jewish rites of purification’. It was not at all as I had imagined, not least because it was huge – but, if it was capable of holding ‘twenty or thirty gallons’, then it would be.
In his sermon last Sunday, Jon did the maths for us. We're talking in the region of 1091 bottles of very good wine. Not plonk – this is better (surely) than even Château Lafite 1945, which was marketing yesterday at a reputable London wine dealer at just over £3000 per bottle. The villagers of Cana have already had a skinful, and they now have well over 3 million quid’s worth of wine to keep the party going.
The stone water-jars, St John tells us, are not designed to hold drinking water, but ritual water. The jars are a symbol of old religion, dependent on rites of purification and cleansing. What is being celebrated in Cana of Galilee is not old religion, but new life; not purification but celebration. And the wine now being tasted at the wedding feast is something that tastes better than anything which has gone before it.
In his 1843 book Fear and Trembling, the monumental Christian Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said this:
our age is not willing to stop with faith, with its miracle of turning water into wine, it goes further, it turns wine into water.
Many Christians seem to be trying too hard to make Kierkegaard’s aphorism real. Let it not be so with you.
But how dare I speak of celebration? Haven’t I noticed Covid? Natural disasters? International unrest? Disgraced political leadership? Money getting tight, people depressed? Well yes I have. I also notice that those are not far off the conditions that people found themselves in at the wedding at Cana in Galilee. The Spirit of God, the Spirit of Cana, needs to flow, and you are I are the vessels through which it should flow.
On the day the Church began, the disciples were infused with the Spirit of God to such an extent that they were accused of being filled with new wine. We too need to be brim-full of that new wine which is Christ's gift to all those who thirst for the Kingdom of God. Because it’s all about new life, isn’t it? Why else would John bother to tell us when the wedding took place? The first four words of verse 1 – ON THE THIRD DAY. Now that reminds me of something …