Two of today’s texts are all about weddings...
January 17th, 2016
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
I have officiated weddings now for over five years—not a long time in pastor years, I have to say—and my favorite part is always the exchange of vows. I like seeing the relief and joy in the faces of the couple. It’s funny to watch them during the ceremony—most of the time, I get the feeling they just want me to shut up, and like, in the Princess Bride, just say, “Man and wife! Man and wife!” But of course there is scripture, and prayer, and a blessing—a five-minute ceremony can happen at the judge’s. We add a little bit, because we think God has something to do with life, and we also think God wants to bless the union of people, and indeed, even wills the union of two people in marriage.
It’s something of an astonishing thing. Contrary to the views of some Christians, marriage has had varied instantiations in time. It has been an economic arrangement for almost all of its history, and only recently has lost that aspect, supposedly, in the most advanced countries. For much of the Bible, marriage was between one man and several women. Moses, David, Solomon, and even old Israel himself, Jacob, had more than one wife at the same time. Paul listed the qualifications for bishop as having no more than one wife, which implies a different view of marriage than our more conservative brothers and sisters hold. Nevertheless, throughout it all, there is still something through human history that seems to hold true, that the writer of Genesis was onto something: a man shall leave his father and mother, he wrote, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. There’s an impulsion for human beings to cleave to one another. Humans look for love—“twue love,” as the bishops says in the Princess Bride. And in this cleaving, we recognize that we are incomplete alone. And so, I think, it is always appropriate to party at a wedding, to dance with joy, because two people have found one another, and now cleave to one another, and are complete. And we rejoice, too, that marriage has extended to people of all sexual orientations, and that to whomever you cleave, you can celebrate your completion here with a barn dance, here in this building, which is the closest thing to a barn you’ll find in our neck of the woods.
Why does Jesus perform his first sign at a wedding? I think it has something to do with this cleaving of flesh to flesh. There’s a moment in a wedding when the couple exchanges rings, and as one person slides the ring onto the other’s finger and says, “With all that I am and all that I have, I honor you.” I know this anachronistic, but still I think there must be something to this desire, deep within us, to fall in love and unite, despite all the ways it goes wrong, and you hear this as God’s own desire in the prologue of John: And the Word became flesh and lived among us. John, you might consider, also tells us that God so loved the world he gave his only Son, that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have eternal life. God cleaves to us in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God cleaves to us flesh to flesh. With all that he is and all that he has, God cleaves to us, so that we may come into possession of all that is God’s.
Cana was not a bustling metropolis. It was not the center of anything. It was an out of the way little village in an out of the way little province, about 10 or 15 miles north of Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, an even smaller spot of nothing. In other words, Cana was a perfect place for a barn dance. Even in little towns people fall in love and get married. Even in little small towns deals get struck. People live as they are able, some as fully as they are able, others in a stupor. Cana, in other words, was like most places—completely unremarkable relative to any other human settlement. Yet Jesus was there. And he was at a wedding, and the wedding party, which to be honest, was probably kind of boring, just like most wedding parties. He was right there in the quotidian, he was in the middle of a normal human life, with all its mistakes and joys. And that’s the moment when he performs his first sign, turning water into wine. It’s both fantastic—the wine is the best anyone has ever tasted—but also far too subtle. Most people had no idea that it was Jesus who performed the miracle! But Jesus saves face for the groom, who would have been outcast for not providing enough wine for the party. The sign for us is that Jesus is right there in the middle of life.
And Jesus redeems this life. I think it makes a lot of difference for us to know that cares about the life we live now. God is not waiting around for us to get to heaven. He’s not up there checking his watch, and jotting down notes our life plan. God comes right into the world with us, and that means what we do now matters. Our choices matter. Our relationships matter. And God wants them to matter. God wants them to be good choices, good relationships. God wants our lives to be good. And so God cleaves to our lives, flesh to flesh, to sanctify our lives and make them complete and whole.
And this is why our worship is a barn dance. Our hymn of the day has it right: Soul, adorn yourself with gladness…Bless the one whose grace unbounded this amazing banquet founded; Christ, though heavenly, high, and holy, deigns to dwell with you most lowly.” Indeed, Christ rejoices to be with us in our humble, homespun lives. Christ can be found right there, in the meeting of people to praise his name, in forgiveness and reconciliation, and especially in worship, where he comest to us the Word and in Holy Communion. Humble things, material things, the stuff of life. Christ is here to bring us joy and gladness. It’s a dance, it is a wedding, the marriage of God and the church, the cleaving of God to the people God created. Let’s celebrate. Amen.