I have been to Cana in Galilee. It is on the outskirts of modern-day Nazareth. From Cana, the road winds down a hill to hit the 77 motorway toward the Sea of Galilee. Not a whole lot to see there these days. In Cana, our group stopped at a roadside diner. I had falafel and a Coke.
Who knows what Cana was like two thousand years ago? We know that Nazareth was a relatively new and very small settlement of immigrants transplanted by King Herod to shore up the tax base in his northern most—and backwoods-most—territory. Cana was likely similar, though our Gospel text today does share with us that there was at least one resident established and affluent enough to host one heck of a wedding.
It’s a great story. As commonly known, it is the context for the first of Jesus’ signs. Still today, it serves as the very beginning of the Episcopal wedding liturgy, where we say that “the bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.” As a wedding account, it’s a realistic one, with irritable mothers, aloof sons, and furtive staff rushing around making sure everyone has a good time. At this point in my ministry, I’ve officiated more weddings than I can count, and I’ll tell you that not much has changed in the past two millennia.
But as with all of John’s Gospel, there’s more to this story than meets the eye. There are two levels of activity in John’s narrative, one cosmic and the other intimate.
Cosmically, to understand what’s happening here, we actually have to back up a chapter. John’s Gospel begins with the Bible’s fourth creation story. The first two are in Genesis, and the second is in Job, and in John 1 sacred scripture gives us one more cosmic account. Just like Genesis, John’s first words are “In the beginning,” but unlike Genesis, here the Creator God is not alone: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”
This creation story includes light and darkness, and it tells us that in God’s great project of creation there is intention and trajectory, that the world of which we are a part is not meaningless, that from the start the Word—the Christ—has been present throughout, shining light, giving life, and weaving grace through the whole. John’s first chapter is grand and fantastical, and it intends to jolt us into seeing the world with new eyes.
But then, like a cinematic panorama shot showing the galaxy, then quickly zooming in to the blue marble of planet earth, continent, country, city, street corner, and individual person—can you see it?—John’s Gospel shifts to specific, everyday lives, and it begins describing the world day-by-day. Day 1 in the Gospel, John the Baptist preaches. The Gospel then says, “The next day” John the Baptist meets Jesus. The Gospel then says, “The next day”—that’s day 3—Jesus calls his first disciples. At verse 43, “the next day”—day 4—Jesus calls two more. And then we arrive at chapter 2, which begins, “On the third day, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee,” which, if you count them off, is day 7.
It only takes a moderately attentive reader to see what John has done here. How did the bible’s first creation story in Genesis go? It followed God’s progress through seven days. Once again, like Genesis, John is hearkening to the creation story.
But there’s a difference. In Genesis, on the seventh day, the last day of creation, the culmination of creation, God rested. But in John, on this seventh day, something entirely different happens: There is a party! And not just any party. There is a wedding. This culmination is a consummation. After all, a wedding is, itself, the beginning of something brand new. It is not the last day, but the first day. Which is to say, the process of creation begins all over again.
Why does John tell the story in this way? Why does he doubly describe creation, beginning cosmically, at a sixty-thousand-foot view, and ending up at an intimate, common, human event?
The key, I think, is that Jesus is at both. Jesus, the Word, is present in the cosmic opera John describes, but Jesus the man is also present at the wedding. In other words, God’s creative act is not only about forming the stars and seasons. God also creates each and every day, in us and through us. The Irish poet Padraig O’Tuama says it best: “If the incarnation means anything, it must speak to us on our own turf. It must enter into the clay of our landscapes, the texture of our languages, and the tensions of our cultures.”[i]
And so, when John the Baptist preaches repentance, that’s God creating. When Jesus welcomes disciples into relationship with him, that’s God creating. And when the community gathers in hope and joy as two lives are joined as one, that’s God creating. In each of these moments, and infinite others like them, God is doing something new.
Creation is cosmic, but it’s also intimate. Creation is spectacular, but it’s also mundane. So mundane that as we trudge through life we are liable to miss it. How do we stay alert and attuned? How do we notice what God is doing all the time among us and in our own lives?
For that, the mom in the story gives us the answer. After Mary berates Jesus just a little bit to jolt him into action, she points to Jesus and says to the stewards, “Do whatever he tells you.” They do, and as a result they are wowed by the final act in this week of creation, as water becomes sweet wine. The mundane becomes the miraculous, and they are a participating part of it. Through their own cooperative, creative action, the veil is pulled back, and all experience the wonder of God. And the next day, Jesus begins creating all over again.
Upon reflection, it makes sense that modern-day Cana is just a bend in the road, a place where one stops for a snack and a Coke. Because it isn’t the grandeur of the place or the portent of the moment that makes the difference in the creative action of God. John’s lesson is clear. God is incarnate in our world, and God is creating—remaking—that world every day, in each moment, all the time. Every morning when your eyes open, a new creation story begins. And you are part of it. We all are. All we have to do is listen to the Incarnate God and do as God says, and we will become the agents of miracles. That is an epiphany, indeed! This year—this third year of pandemic in which the mundane seems to overpower all else—I can’t think of anything more important to hear. All things are made through the Word. Christ is incarnate, even here, even now. Creation is happening. I wonder what God will do on the next day…
[i] O’Tuama, Padraig. In the Shelter, 47.