Julian Browning reflects on Jesus’ first miracle
At a recent carol service I sang ‘Why, impious Herod’ which tells the three traditional Epiphany stories: the three wise men; Jesus being baptised and being washed in the flowing Jordan; and then—
‘Yet he that ruleth everything,
Can change the nature of the spring,
And gives at Cana this for sign—
the water reddens into wine’
The water reddens into wine. You have an inner life, an interior life that’s yours alone, a life which is rooted in God, a life which never ends, eternal life. You know it’s there, it surfaces sometimes in that uncomfortable feeling when we know we were created for something better than this, just day-to-day survival. That feeling doesn’t go away until we do something about it. The reason why Christianity is failing to connect with the spiritual needs of people in this country today is because people just don’t know there is an inner life to be uncovered. It’s not their fault. The mother of Jesus said: ‘They have no wine, they’re running on empty.’ We can know that feeling too—this is the sorrow of the human condition. The wine is always running out, and as the day wears on, as life moves on, we realize we cannot replenish it from our own resources. But so secular is this age that for many there is no wine to start with. So a human life is reduced to an internet photograph, a second’s worth of vanity, here today, tomorrow deleted.
Christ is searching for your soul. He is looking for that inner life. He can transform the flowing water of your life into the new wine of his kingdom, which has no end. He finds his kingdom, the life of God, in everyone, whatever they’ve done or failed to do. Christ is God’s poet, an artist; he shows us life’s mysteries clearly, not though some fable, not through artifice, but in the story of his own life and death. The marriage at Cana in Galilee is a piece of music on which endless variations can be played. That story itself grows in meaning as our faith deepens, as the water reddens into wine. It is our invitation to a life-changing mystery. Here’s the miracle: our life, our whole relationship with the world and each other, is changed. The water reddens into wine. St John says this is the first of Jesus’ signs. Every sign that Jesus does has a twofold effect. It fulfils a human need and it shows who Jesus really is. The miracle is that Jesus reveals that inner life within us and we learn to see him as the son of God. But this is only the beginning, a taste of the best wine. What comes next, what we do next, is beautifully camouflaged in the story itself. It is a wedding, it is the uniting of a man and a woman who are beginning a new life together as one flesh. You have an inner life and you have an outer life, the face we present to the world, how we behave towards each other. We shall know happiness when the outer life reflects the inner life, when there is no division, no conflict, when the two lives are one. 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. The conversion of England begins when the fire of faith in our hearts is also the light in our eyes. We become the Gospel. Then all can see that God is light and in him is no darkness at all.
There’s no reason why you should know this, but when the priest at the altar is preparing the bread and the wine for the Eucharist he adds a little water to the wine. There are several reasons for this. The early church knew that Jesus would have added water to the wine at the Last Supper, because that’s what everyone did then. This action also represents the blood and water which flowed on the cross from the wound in the side of Christ. But there’s more. The water is Christ’s human nature. The wine is his divine nature. Both are offered together, physically lifted up, on your behalf, divine and human united, your inner life and your outer life now reconciled. The water now has the qualities of the wine—the water reddens into wine.
This is an epiphany then, an epiphany to you and me, the manifestation of Jesus as human and divine, two natures, the mystery of the Incarnation. It sounds more complicated than it is. It’s an end and a beginning. It is the end to our search for some meaning beyond what we know, but it is only the beginning of your life with God. The water reddens into wine. A life without colour becomes blood red. And this is just the first of the signs which Jesus did, at Cana in Galilee, the first of so many signs each of us will see as we enter the kingdom of God.
This sermon was preached at All Saints’, Margaret Street where Fr Julian Browning is Assistant Priest. The text for the sermon was John 2.3.