Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Filling Our Cisterns

Scripture for the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany includes Isaiah 62:1-5; I Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

These have to be among the most upbeat and jubilant readings we’ll ever hear in our three-year cycle of romping through the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

Isaiah’s oracular words are on fire with evidence of the burning passion God has for people who hitch their wagon to the star of God’s covenant love. “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” What kind of religion rises from this? Jubilee!

Paul’s lesson about God’s Spirit shows how faithful to us God is, pouring out on us varieties of gifts by that Spirit, activating varieties of service throughout the covenant community. All these manifestations, showings, epiphanies of the Spirit are for the common good, for us, for our wellbeing. Not the us we see when the Church huddles around the fire to keep warm, but the us the Church sees and reaches out to when we leave this table where we’ve been fed and go into the world to collaborate with the Spirit who dances in the world and draws together all who care for the common good.

In case we’re not yet giddy from inhaling all this amazing grace, John draws us into that wedding in Cana of Galilee. Now, I want to spend some time with you on the dance floor there in a village that exists no longer but is thought to lie beneath an unexcavated hilltop at a spot nine miles from Nazareth, a spot where there are stone cisterns and the remains of buildings, a spot where sherds and coins from the first century have been found. But you will have to use your imagination, to get the most from this visit. And to that end, I’m bringing three poets into the pulpit this morning, to help us catch the dance step.

You’ve already gotten your invitation to attend, but let me read it to you again, the opening verses this time from a different New Testament version.

“There was a wedding in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. Jesus and his disciples were guests also. When they started running low on wine at the wedding banquet, Jesus’ mother told him, ‘They’re just about out of wine.’

“Jesus said, ‘Is that any of our business, Mother—yours or mine? This isn’t my time. Don’t push me.’

“She went ahead anyway, telling the servants, ‘Whatever he tells you, do it.’”

Notice, in this version Mother Mary does not wait long to address the problem. She notices, she speaks up, while there is still wine in the pipeline, still enough for one more toast. She intervenes, she presses Jesus to intervene, while there is still some juice in the system. This heightens the drama, suggests that Jesus is standing at a pivotal moment, now, right now.

Jesus doesn’t see that, not at first. He says it’s not their business to change the course of events. Demand exceeds supply? Let others worry about that. Besides, perhaps he thinks they’ve had enough to drink, as it is. Getting involved in the conventions of wedding receptions isn’t in his mission statement.

Mary, on the other hand, is ready to see the shattering of conventions. She knows what’s in him, as only a mother can. Thirty years before, she had her own season of shattered explanations and expectations, and back then she staked her life on the radical covenant faithfulness of God. She knows what’s in that love of God. William Butler Yeats caught that knowing in his poem “The Mother of God”:

The threefold terror of love; a fallen flare
Through the hollow of an ear;
Wings beating about the room;
The terror of all terrors that I bore
The Heavens in my womb.

Had I not found content among the shows
Every common woman knows,
Chimney corner, garden walk,
Or rocky cistern where we tread the clothes
And gather all the talk?

What is this flesh I purchased with my pains,
This fallen star my milk sustains,
This love that makes my heart’s blood stop
Or strikes a sudden chill into my bones
And bids my hair stand up?

“Don’t push me,” Jesus tells his mother. Mary pushes, anyway. She whose mother’s milk and heart’s blood had filled the cisterns of his infancy now pushes him to cross the membrane between the expected and the unexpected and utilize common wine to dramatize the Spirit’s ability to occupy and transform common human experience—thirst, hospitality, celebration, marriage, community, having, not having.

What is this wedding story about? It was, we heard earlier, “the first of his signs… and revealed his glory.” Or, as our alternate version puts it, this was “the first glimpse of his glory.”

It made no earthly sense, unless to show
How whatsoever love elects to bless
Brims to a sweet excess
That can without depletion overflow.

Which is to say that what love sees is true;
That the world’s fullness is not made but found.
Life hungers to abound
And pour its plenty out for such as you.

Those are Richard Wilbur’s words in his poem “A Wedding Toast,” on the occasion of his son’s marriage.

Now let’s have one last poem as we circle the meaning and the mystery of this wedding story. This is Edgar Lee Masters’ “The Wedding Feast”:

Said the chief of the marriage feast to the groom,
Whence is this blood of the vine?
Men serve at first the best, he said,
And at the last, poor wine.

Said the chief of the marriage feast to the groom,
When the guests have drunk their fill
They drink whatever wine you serve,
Nor know the good from the ill.

How have you kept the good till now
When our hearts nor care nor see?
Said the chief of the marriage feast to the groom,
Whence may this good wine be?

Said the chief of the marriage feast, this wine
Is the best of all by far.
Said the groom, there stand six jars without
And the wine fills up each jar.

Said the chief of the marriage feast, we lacked
Wine for the wedding feast.
How comes it now one jar of wine
To six jars is increased?

Who makes our cup to overflow?
And who has the wedding blessed?
Said the groom to the chief of the feast, a stranger
Is here as a wedding guest.

Said the groom to the chief of the wedding feast,
Moses by power divine
Smote water at Meribah from the rock,
But this man makes us wine.

Said the groom to the chief of the wedding feast,
Elisha by power divine
Made oil for the widow to sell for bread,
But this man, wedding wine.

He changed the use of the jars, he said,
From an outward rite and sign:
Where water stood for the washing of feet,
For heart’s delight there’s wine.

So then ‘tis he, said the chief of the feast,
Who the wedding feast has blessed?
Said the groom to the chief of the feast, the stranger
Is the merriest wedding guest,

He laughs and jests with the wedding guests,
He drinks with the happy bride.
Said the chief of the wedding feast to the groom
Go bring him to my side.

Jesus of Nazareth came up,
And his body was fair and slim.
Jesus of Nazareth came up,
And his mother came with him.

Jesus of Nazareth stands with the dancers
And his mother by him stands.
The bride kneels down to Jesus of Nazareth
And kisses his rosy hands.

The bridegroom kneels to Jesus of Nazareth
And Jesus blesses the twain.
I go a way, said Jesus of Nazareth,
Of darkness, sorrow and pain.

After the wedding feast is labor,
Suffering, sickness, death,
And so I make you wine for the wedding,
Said Jesus of Nazareth.

My heart is with you, said Jesus of Nazareth,
As the grape is one with the vine.
Your bliss is mine, said Jesus of Nazareth,
And so I make you wine.

Youth and love I bless, said Jesus,
Song and the cup that cheers.
The rosy hands of Jesus of Nazareth
Are wet with the young bride’s tears.

Love one another, said Jesus of Nazareth,
Ere cometh the evil of years.
The rosy hands of Jesus of Nazareth
Are wet with the bridegroom’s tears.

Jesus of Nazareth goes with his mother,
The dancers are dancing again.
There’s a woman who pauses without to listen,
‘Tis Mary Magdalen.

Forth to the street a Scribe from the wedding
Goes with a Sadducee.
Said the Scribe, this shows how loose a fellow
Can come out of Galilee!

Our scripture today should get us asking questions about conventional religion. These readings are about jubilant religion, religion that shatters conventions that constrict the human spirit, conventions that would even try to confine the Spirit of God. Isaiah, Paul, and John in their writings bear witness, and blessed Martin joins them in showing us, that it takes jubilant religion to fill our cisterns with the abundance of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.