Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Second Sunday after the Epiphany Year C

Second Sunday after the Epiphany C
 (Revised Common Lectionary)

Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; I Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

After a long, unexplained silence, the Lord speaks, the book of Isaiah reports.  And, it is a damn-burst.  The Lord announces a "vindication" for the Lord's people that will be the cause for a "new name that the mouth of the Lord will give."  Names of derision, like "Forsaken" and "desolate" will be replaced with "My delight Is in Her" and "Married."  The Lord will be to the people as a faithful "bridegroom."

The psalmist draws a black and white distinction between human crime/injustice/cheating/exploitation and the Lord's kindness/faithfulness/judgment.  "In Your light, we see light."

Paul must address the immediate question of how the church determines authentic interpretation.  Paul insists only one Spirit inspires/motivates/animates all the varied expressions-- as varied, actually, as each individual member of the church-- under one rubric: "Jesus is Lord." 

After the majestic opening prologue, John's narrative quickly offers a verison of the baptism of Jesus, the identification of his first followers by name, and his first public miracle.  "On the third day" (from what John does not bother to say) Jesus, his disciples and his mother attend a wedding in Cana, a small town near Nazareth.  Mary reports to Jesus that the host has run out of wine.  Jesus curtly responds that is neither his nor her concern.  Furthermore, "My hour has not yet come," which in John's carefully crafted narrative is a direct reference to the tragedy of his final days capped with God's stunning reversal.  Mary continues on her own and tells the servers to do whatever Jesus instructs them to do.  Jesus requests that six large jugs, usually used for "Jewish rites of purification," be filled with water and a tasting taken to the master of ceremonies.  Without knowing its source, he quizzes the bridegroom why the best wine has been saved for so late in the party.  This is the first "sign" that begins to "reveal his glory" in John's narrative, which is also the beginning that "his disciples believed in him."

The creativity and inventiveness of biblical writers is truly remarkable and should be inspiring.  In the Hebrew scriptures, God and God's actions are described in such nurturing terms as Father, judge, Mother, caregiver and, in this beautiful excerpt from Isaiah, bridegroom.  

John's narrative strikes out on its own distinctive path, including  beginning the public life of Jesus with a party where the wine flows freely.  John introduces the guiding themes of his narrative with these tidbits that infect our imaginations-- a supply of the best wine that never runs out; a sacrifice of blood that exceeds all human rites of "purification."  This is cause for celebration (eucharist); it is even intoxicating.

The imaginative writing included in the Book of Isaiah evokes another unforgettable image-- a solicitous, nervous, eager to woo and impress groom on his wedding night-- to hint at the nature of God's love for us.  That love is full of ardor, attentiveness, tenderness, and passion that culminate in an act of love-making.

Choose your metaphor.  They both confront us with the impossible/possible love of God, which, if we allow ourselves to become enamored, never reaches bottom and pursues us with delicate but intense passion.

Olivier Clement describes the eighth century Syrian bishop and theologian St. Isaac of Nineveh's "icon" of "God's crazy love for humankind...."  and then continues, God  "is the foolishness of love that never ceases coming...." to us to raise us up again and again.  (The Roots of Christian Mysticism: Texts from the Patristic Era with Commentary, Theodore Berkeley and Jeremy Hummerstone, trans., Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1993, pp 304-306)  John evokes the excessively happy, even giddy, atmosphere of a wedding reception for Jesus to make a "foolishly" extravagant gesture that provides an endless supply of wine, which, in John's narrative, does not let us forget its association with the blood that must be sacrificed on the cross and the celebration that continues in the eucharist.

It seems significant that in taking on the assumption of deferred gift and the ethics derived from the work of Derrida, Levinas, Marion, et al., John Milbank  returns over and over to a "complex of ideas, or characterizations of the ethical as gift exchange, marriage and resurrection."  Milbank finds an "openness to divine grace..." rather than a lack that initiates longing and obligation.  ("The Winter's Tale,"  from Postmodern Theology, Graham Ward, editor, p. 122)

And so John jumbles in one event all these considerations together as he launches the public life of Jesus-- happiness, celebration, gift-giving, love, intoxication, passion, excesivness, extravagance, bloody sacrifice-- not in a linear explanation but in a  way that reaches deeper into life and and into the core of our being.

The Chicago (American) poet and novelist, Edgar Lee Masters (1868-1950) wrote his own version of "The Wedding Feast."  After recounting how Jesus changed the water into wine, he imagines the groom asking who is responsible for this generosity at his wedding this way:

     Said the groom to 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 grape is one with the vine.
     Your bliss is mine, said Jesus of Nazareth,
          And so I make you wine.

(The full poem is available in  his collection, Starved Rock, originally published by Macmillian)