The Table of Celebration
By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: John 2:1-11
This morning we continue our Lenten sermon series “Table Talk.” Now, perhaps “tables” seem like an odd choice for the season of Lent; but here is the thing: historically, the season of Lent has been a time when Christian converts were taught about the faith and prepared for church membership; and, it was also a time when church folks who’d “back slid,” we might say, had the opportunity to repent of their sins and return to the church and renew their commitment to Christ and to his people. So Lent, at its core, is about relationships and fellowship. Lent is a time both to strengthen our relationship with Jesus and a time to grow our relationship and fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. And there are not many things I can think of that have more to do with fellowship and relationships than meals. Meals are, by their very nature, about fellowship. We eat meals with family and friends. Even when we have a business lunch or a working lunch, often the idea in mind is that, by eating a meal together, we’ll grow the relationship enough to seal the deal or pitch the concept. There is something about meals that binds us to one another.
And there is also something about meals that is celebrative. I have presided through the years over more funerals than I could begin to count. And most of them have been followed by a meal. Now here’s the interesting thing: no matter how much the family wept during the funeral service, it is a mighty rare and unusual thing for no one to laugh over the meal. Over that funeral luncheon, they tell stories of their loved one – fun and humorous stories. “Remember that time when…”
But, of all the meal settings we can experience, I’m not sure any can compare to the joy of a wedding reception.
The gospel of John is a gospel enormously focused on relationship and so, perhaps we should not be surprised that Jesus’ very first miracle, or sign as they are called in John, occurs at a wedding reception.
It does, however, raise a few eyebrows (this miracle of turning water into wine). I mean, this was Jesus’ very first miracle and when you consider all of the things he could have chosen to do – causing a blind man to see or a lame person to walk or even bringing a dead person back to life, all of which do happen in John’s gospel – it seems a little odd that Jesus begins with a beverage miracle. As a child, I couldn’t imagine why Jesus would have used his godly powers to get a bunch of people liquored up at a wedding reception. But, my interpretation of Jesus’ actions was greatly influenced by my culture, a culture very different from 1st century Palestine. In Jesus’ culture, the practice of hospitality had a significant impact on someone’s reputation and their place in society. To practice poor hospitality was to dishonor oneself and one’s family. If one did not have everything ready and available for their guest’s comfort and satisfaction, it reflected on one’s character. To practice poor hospitality was to dishonor oneself and one’s family. To run out of food or drink for one’s guests could mean that, not only your guests, even your entire community, would shun you. Depending on your offense, you could be shamed or ostracized for the rest of your life. And, the shame might continue even through to subsequent generations. So, to run out of wine at a wedding was no small thing in Cana of Galilee in the first century.
And here’s one more thing to add to the mix… that really, in fact, becomes the key to the whole story. A group of close friends within your village would provide you the things you needed for hospitality on an occasion like this. And, you would be expected to do the same for them, to reciprocate. What I mean is; the burden of expense for this wedding reception did not fall solely on the shoulders of the couple’s families. Such feasting would have been too expensive for a peasant family to afford. So, things like food and wine would have been sent ahead by a close circle of friends, likely peers of the groom. And, when their time came to wed, they could call in a favor, so to speak.
Now in the case of this morning’s story, the provisions were obviously inadequate. There wasn’t enough wine. But the deficit wasn’t really about wine. The lack of wine revealed a lack of hospitality. The lack of hospitality was due to a lack of friends. And, the lack of friends meant a lack of honor or good reputation. So you can see that the crisis in this story is really all about relationships. And perhaps that is why this miracle is kept on the down-low. Jesus’ mother, his disciples and some servants are the only ones who know what’s transpired. In fact, the chief steward – the head caterer – compliments and praises who? Why, the groom, of course. The key concern here is about a shortage of friends which would have been seen for what it was when the wine ran out. This story is about relationships, friends with whom to celebrate this most joyous of occasions. It is about relationships; it is about table fellowship; it is about celebration. And, it is about Jesus stepping into the role of friend to provide for this couple on their wedding day. What a friend we have in Jesus; the one who cares about our gladness, our celebration, our relationships.
This morning we are celebrating 1 ½ years of our Fusion ministry which launched in September, 2018. Fusion was designed to build relationships. Story and food are the foundations of Fusion. We gather to listen to one another and uncover the ways that our own life stories connect to the sacred story; to celebrate how our own stories become woven into the eternal story of God’s love for us. We listen and share and eat. We laugh, we cry, we learn and discover. And even when we cry – perhaps most of all when we cry, it is still a celebration because, through the experience of Fusion, even the most painful parts of our stories are no longer secrets that we bury, that isolate us from one another. Now, our stories are being listened to, honored and respected. Like this morning’s gospel story, Fusion is about relationships; it is about table fellowship; it is about celebration.
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