Wedding celebrations ran on for 7 days in Jesus’ time, and when the wine ran out after only 3 days, it called into question the honor of the bride and groom, and was a social embarrassment, something that the wedding party, and closest friends, were responsible for taking care of. Wine was a symbol of the harvest and of blessing. And so, running out at the wedding feast, was really bad timing!
The Marriage Equality bill in Illinois got delayed in the Executive Committee of the Senate, earlier this month, because of an obscure rule enforced by its detractors. Though it passed a couple days later, the delicate timing had been undone, and it was too late now to take it to the House before the Lame Duck session ended. Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual and Transgender couples had been fitting their gowns and tuxes, and ordering the wine, and had to put everything back on hold. But the time is coming!
Martin Lutheran King Jr. Day is January 15, on his birthday. But the US Holiday is always celebrated on the 3rd Monday, which, this year, is tomorrow. And, the Inauguration of US Presidents must occur before noon on January 20. But because it falls on a Sunday this year, they wanted to move it to the first business day of the week. It must be because of the NFL’s big play off games today! So actually, to fulfill the law, Mr. Obama is being sworn in officially, right about now, in a private ceremony at the White House, which will be recreated as a public TV event tomorrow. And of course tomorrow, which is the MLK holiday, inaugurating our first African-American President, for his second term, makes for very fortuitous timing.
Like Dr. King, Mr. Obama is the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and personally, a great admirer of King. In his first year in office, President Obama had a new rug made for the Oval Office with 5 quotes woven into it. One – that he thought was from MLK –probably had read it in one of his speeches– but is actually from Thodore Parker, and early 19th C African-American Abolitionist, who King freely attributed the words, but are, none-the-less, on the Presidents rug: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." At the time, it became quite an embarrassment, but over the last 4 years, have proven to fit well with Mr. Obama’s hopeful and pragmatic style.
Another African-American man, Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, had a rather odd sense of timing this past week, when he surprised everyone by speaking on the record, while in session, for the first time in 7 years! And what were his all important words that he chose to share finally? The transcriber may have had a difficult time hearing him, because Judge Scalia was joking with a lawyer in court about Harvard, his alma mater, vs. Princeton, and there was a fair bit of laughter. And so, Judge Thomas’ remarks on the record are just 4 words: “Well – he did not…” That’s it! Thomas has taken a fair bit of criticism in the past for not speaking up and asking questions, as justices are want to do. And so after 7 years, to finally make it into the transcript with such an odd and incomplete remark, only compounds the embarrassment for his sense of timing, and raises more questions about his honor!
Mary, the mother of Jesus, sees right away the embarrassment of running out of wine at the wedding feast, and knows her gifted son could do something about it. It is her words of initiation, that will transform Jesus into action. Though Jesus responds that, My hour has not yet come, apparently Mary also understands his hour more than he knew. The mother of Jesus bides her time in this narrative, and finally shows up again at the foot of Jesus’ cross, the beginning of Jesus’ hour of glorification, and the ultimate sign of God’s glory, in his death, resurrection and ascension. Mary makes her four words count, They have no wine, displaying crucial timing, unlike our Justice of the highest court, by getting Jesus going, initiating his first sign, at the wedding feast at Cana.
A sense of timing is important, not only in getting things done in practical chronological time, but in reading the sign of the times, and the opportunities that God reveals to us, at the right time.
President Obama’s Inauguration tomorrow will need to have impeccable timing, being planned for who knows how long, by who knows how many workers behind the scenes. The stands at the Capital have been constructed, the bands have prepared and are gathering, and the guests have been invited. Even the bibles on which Mr. Obama will be sworn in, a Lincoln bible and a MLK bible, to be stacked on top of each other, were chosen some time ago. Timing is important, for important events, especially when there are so many moving parts and people to coordinate. And a calendar dead line is often a good motivation for any of us.
Reading the signs of the times, when the time is right, is a bit more tricky, but was exactly what Jesus was all about. “The hour of his glorification,” was something he stayed attuned to, once his mother Mary got him started in Cana. But in real time, it was probably not understood well at all. Jesus, offering himself as the new temple, as the bread and wine of a thanksgiving- real-presence -remembrance meal, and as the sacrificial lamb of Passover, was exactly what he came to do as God’s beloved Son, but almost impossible for even his closest disciples to see at the time. Instead, it was, revealed and unveiled at the right time, by transforming old vessels, whether purification jars, or people, even as they looked the same as they always had.
Who would have guessed just 5 or 10 years ago, that in this past election, for the first time, every Marriage Equality bill that was proposed nation-wide, would pass? And that in this New Year there is great reason to hope Illinois will become the 10th state to change marriage discrimination into Marriage Equality, like water into wine! There has been an enormous amount of work to pass this legislation in 9 states so far, a labor of planning and inventiveness. But it has also taken advantage of, the right time. The moment when God reveals something new – when water can become wine!
As MLK once said, “…the time is always right to do what is right.”
“Now standing there [in Cana] were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification.” And this turned out to be rather good timing! Something I hadn't noticed before is that these jars were empty. Jesus is not transforming purification water into wine, because the servants have to first fill them with water before the miracle occurs. But Jesus is transforming new water, placed in old vessels, symbolizing that the old forms have been given new content.
Jesus, whether he is a close friend and part of the wedding party or not, has saved the honor of the groom and bride. Their social embarrassment has been redeemed, and not just with any old wine to keep the celebration going, but with the best wine, abundantly!
This is the first sign of the times, in the Gospel of John, when Jesus begins to reveal who he is, and what God is up to in our world. In everyday events, in this marriage feast, God reveals the joy of the gift of grace, offering us the very best.
Jesus invites us to come to this table, to the wedding feast, as his guests. And here we are fed abundantly with the very best. Here, Jesus overcomes our most embarrassing moments and failures, and transforms us into a new creation. You can depend on the calendar timing of it, weekly, like clockwork. But more importantly, in this meal, where the wine never runs out, you will receive the promise of the joy and fullness of God’s time, now, that points to the renewal and fullness of everlasting life, the ultimate sign of the times, which though still partially hidden in the cross of Christ, will be revealed, at the right time. In the here and now, whenever we dine together, we are being transformed by the body and blood of Jesus, because of God’s perfect timing.