Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Beginning of His Signs


Dear Parish Faithful,


“Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana of Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.”  (JN. 2:11)


Yesterday evening we had the second session of this summer’s Bible Study.  For those unaware of this , we are studying the Gospel According to St. John (actually the first eleven chapters known as the “Book of Signs”).  The first of these great “signs” performed by Jesus, was the transformation of water into wine at the marriage in Cana of Galilee.  Jesus had been invited to the marriage there together with His mother and disciples.  When the wine ran out, and when this presumbably was going to spoil the festive atmosphere of the wedding – or perhaps embarrass the bridegroom and the bride – the mother of Jesus intervened.  In his Gospel, St. John never refers to the Lord’s mother by her name of Mary, but always as the “mother of Jesus,” (JN. 2:1,3) or “His mother” (JN. 2:5; 19:25-26).  At one point, Jesus even addresses her by the term “Woman,” certainly a strange and unprecedented term for a son to use for his mother according to Jewish custom.  Always with a profoundly insightful eye for the “symbolic” or the typological (an Old Testament prototype that anticipates its fulfillment in the New) the evangelist is presenting the Virgin Mary here as the counterpart to the “woman” in the garden of Genesis 3.  The mother of Jesus is the “New Eve” that will act in a way that is in harmony with the will of God, and not in a way that will subvert that will.  According to the biblical scholar Raymond Brown:


In this light we can compare the woman in the Garden of Eden who led Adam to the first evil act with the woman at Cana who leads the new Adam to his first glorious work.  In the prophecy of Genesis we hear that God will put enmity between the woman and the serpent and that her seed will crush the serpent.  In calling his mother “woman,” Jesus may well be identifying her with the new Eve who will be the mother of his disciples as the old Eve was the “mother of all the living.”  She can play her role of intercession, however, only when her offspring on the cross has crushed the serpent.  (The Gospel and Epistles of John – A Concise Commentary, p. 29)

I would submit that the “mother of Jesus” begins that role of intercession – or anticipates her later role as the intercessor on our behalf following Her Son’s death and resurrection - when she intervenes as the wedding at Cana of Galilee by telling Jesus that “they have no wine;” and after his seeming rebuke of her, by telling the servers “Do whatever he tells you.”  (JN. 2:3-4)  And Jesus responded to his mother’s intervention/intercession by changing the water into wine.  The water used for the Jewish purifactory rites is now no longer sufficient to satisfy the thirst of those seeking the fullest possible communion with God.  It is the Word made flesh – giving us the “good wine” at the end of the age - that makes possible the “tasting” of a greater reality. This occurred on the “third day” after the call of Philip as recorded in Ch. 1 of the Gospel.  The “third day” on which Jesus will first reveal His glory by performing this great sign, is a clear foreshadowing of His glorification when He is raised from the dead on “the third day.”  When that happens, then the wine that is offered in thanksgiving and praise of the Lord will become the blood of Christ that we receive and share in the Eucharist.  If a wedding celebration and the abundance of wine is often used to convey something of the joy of the messianic banquest in God’s Kingdom in biblical thought (IS. 25:6; JOEL 3:18; AMOS 9:13); then the consecrated wine of the Eucharist is our joyful anticipation of the feast in the Kingdom of God – referred to as the marriage supper of the Lamb in the Book of Revelation.  The blood flowing from the side of the pierced Savior on the Cross is a “sign” of the Eucharist that will nourish the members of the Church.  In this light another comment made by Raymond Brown is also helpful:  “It is interesting too that at the cross the themes of Mary and of blood from Jesus’s side [the eucharist?] come together.” (p. 29)

A further and careful study of the chronology of the opening of Christ’s ministry in St. John’s Gospel, will yield the result that the sign at Cana occurs on day seven from the first appearance of St. John the Baptist following the Prologue (JN. 1:19).  Here is another clear allusion to the Book of Genesis and the revelation that the ministry of Jesus - the Word made flesh - is the beginning of a New Creation in which God will be reconciled to a sinful humanity through the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (JN. 1:29).

Anyone married in the Orthodox Church knows that the prescribed Gospel reading for the service is JN. 2:1-11, the Marriage at Cana of Galilee.  This reading captures the joy of the Sacrament of Matrimony, for we believe that as Christ was present in Cana, He is now present at every marriage within the Church, blessing and sanctifying this new union between a man and a woman.  (The Church has never known or recognized – and never will know or recognize as “marriage” - any other kind of “union” besides that of a man and a woman).  Only that which is “according to nature” is blessed within the Church.  The celebrant of the service makes the connection between the marriage at Cana and every marriage within the Church by the following prayer after the crowns are removed:


O God, our God, who didst come to Cana of Galilee, and didst bless there the marriage feast:  Bless also these Thy servants, who through Thy good providence now are united in wedlock.  Bless their goings out and their comings in.  Fill their life with good things.  Receive their crowns into Thy Kingdom, preserving them spotless, blameless, and without reproach, unto ages of ages.

We know sadly that not all marriages fulfill the hope expressed in this prayer.  Some do not develop well and some are cut short and dissolve prematurely by human sin.  Other marriages flourish and love remains through many years and through many trials and tribulations.  Yet, the potential for a good marriage is given through the sacramental grace that is made truly present by “the all-holy, consubstantial and life-giving Trinity.”  The Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit bestows this grace in abundance.  A “civil marriage” is one thing; but an ecclesial and sacramental marriage is another.  The “water” of institutional marriage is transformed into the “wine” of a Christ-centered marriage, when husband and wife believe in Christ and the glory that He continues to manifest today as He first did at Cana in Galilee.

There are more signs – and powerful discourses - to come in the Gospel According to St. John.  “Come and see” what Jesus has revealed to us by committing to a close study of this extraordinary Gospel together with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

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