When you think of miracles, I wonder what comes to your mind.
Do you think about parting the Red Sea or the Virgin Birth and wrestle with how God could break natural law?
Or do miracles that relieve suffering come to mind? Do you think about healing lepers, restoring sight to the blind, or making the lame leap for comical joy, and then wonder why some people get lucky while others can’t catch a break from God?
In any event, reflecting on miracles leads us to consider some important things. Does God really control things? Does he have a plan? If he really loves us so much, why is there so much suffering in the world?
Not many of us would put the Wedding at Cana at the top of our amazing miracles list. Changing water into wine is a nifty trick, but it’s really a minor league miracle. Jesus helps a family avoid some embarrassment, but he doesn’t relieve suffering. And even though he provides a flood of exquisite wine, this is still a small ripple in the natural order. It’s almost like a magic trick, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat or sawing a woman in half.
At least, that’s how it may seem. But there is far more to this small-time, behind-the-scenes miracle than may first meet the eye. In John’s account of things, it is the first of Jesus’ signs.
The miracle at Cana is first in chronological order, but it is also first in theological order. John, after all, is not known for his preoccupation with historical narrative. That was Luke’s focus. The apostle John wanted to help us get to the bottom of spiritual truth. And so to talk about something as first for him can also be to talk about something as central, foundational, or essential.
At Cana, Jesus wasn’t just honing his miracle-making skills. He was providing a sign whose meaning would, in a way, be repeated and clarified throughout his ministry. Signs point to something beyond themselves. And the miracle at Cana points to Jesus himself.
The Nature of Things
Let’s begin by looking at the basic details of the miracle itself. Jesus changes water into wine. One substance into a different substance. It looks a little like alchemy, transforming lead into gold. Some people struggle with miracles because they break natural law, and if that’s you’re quarrel with miracles then the Wedding at Cana gives you pause.
The problem here lies with how we think about natural law. Once we think about natural law in a different way, we’ll be able to get our minds around the meaning of the sign that Jesus gives.
We think of natural law as the impersonal rules that govern natural phenomena with no reference to God at all, so miracles must be God’s disruption of those rules. Since Newton, we have thought of nature as a self-contained system, a kind of a machine, that runs according to an internal set of principles. Miracles are interruptions of the natural order.
Consider the regularities of nature–its predictable patterns and reliable order–from a different perspective. God is the governor of all things. With the wave of his hand he moves things in accordance with his will. What we call natural law is God’s accustomed way of ordering things.
Quantum mechanics, chaos theory, and the uncertainty principle already show us from a scientific perspective that nature is characterized by far more chance and serendipity than Newton ever dreamed.
Now amplify that scientific view of a universe marked by contingency, randomness, and open possibility by folding in the biblical view that the nature of things has gone awry. God intended for things to be good, for the creation to be a harmonious whole, and for us humans to live in joyful peace with our Maker and our neighbor.
That’s not how things are. Nature itself has become unnatural. Departing from God’s vision. Suffering, strife, sorrow, and death were not in the original design. They emerged as a result of the fall.
Miracles are not a disruption of the natural order. They are God’s restoration of things to their proper order. When the lame walk and the blind see, God is bringing nature back into line with his will. God is redeeming the very nature of things.
When Jesus turns water into wine, he is not merely changing one thing into another. He is showing us that God–in and through his Son Jesus–is restoring the nature of things to his vision and purpose. The miracle at Cana points to Jesus as the redeemer of all creation.
Life of the Party
But this does not exhaust the meaning of the miracle at Cana. The context of the miracle bears on its significance.
Jesus is attending a wedding feast with his disciples.
Think about what’s happening at a wedding feast. The people are celebrating a holy and sacred and tender covenant. Two people weave themselves together in love, a love far more important than how they happen to feel about each other on any particular day. This is for real and for keeps. Bone of bone. Flesh of flesh. For better for worse. With bad hair day, morning breath, love handles, crow’s feet, and all.
At this particular feast, the host runs out of wine. When the wine runs out, the party is over.
So, Jesus turns water into wine. Only his purpose is not to keep this party going, but to transform it–at least for those who are able to see it and only in a partial and fleeting way–into a different wedding banquet. The heavenly wedding feast.
Jesus has come to unite heaven and earth. To restore frail and fickle humans to union with their loving God. At Cana, Jesus gives us a glimpse of heaven’s celebration of the reconciliation, the second wedding of God’s fallen people with their God.
Jesus himself is the life of this party. The wine he provides is his very own blood, the source of eternal life for all who come to celebrate at his feast.
The Best for Last
Let’s turn to one more layer of the meaning of the sign that Jesus performs at Cana. Think about what that wine steward says about the wine. Not knowing that Jesus has provided the wine, the astonished steward tells the bridegroom, “You’ve saved the best for last.”
Jesus always saves the best for last. At Cana, he gave a glimpse, a preview of life everlasting, joy uninterrupted, love unguarded. It tasted out of this world. Well, of course it did. But it was just a foretaste.
When we follow Jesus, our lives at times will feel full to bursting. At times we will wonder at our ability to endure the unbearable. At times will will look wide-eyed at the distance we have come without realizing it.
But in Jesus, there is always more. You see, God is working his purpose out. . Sometimes with sudden royal fireworks displays. Mostly behind the scenes. Gradually. Intermittently. In quiet corners, humble kitchens, and servants’ quarters.
Jesus is changing the water of our ordinary lives into the wine of the heavenly wedding feast. Only we can decide whether we will insist on being the host of our own fleeting party, or we will let the Son of God be our gracious host at the eternal wedding banquet.
This sermon was preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Shreveport, Louisiana.