St Andrew's Church

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Water into wine – saving the best till last

Sermon by Rowland Bareham, 29th January 2017

Bible reading: John 2:1-11

What a wonderful gospel reading.  Just imagine that you are at that wedding feast, two thousand years ago.  Just imagine that you are one of the wedding guests.

You are mingling with the other wedding guests and you taste the wine.  You taste joy with every sip from the cup.  On this happy occasion you, along with all the other guests, rejoice with the family.

You look across the room and you see Mary from Nazareth, one of the bride’s relatives.  You see that she is there to support her family.  You watch her making sure all the guests have enough food and drink to share the rejoicing at this new beginning.  This is a celebration to mark a wedding.  You listen to the laughter of family unity and of the hope of new life.

You continue to look at Mary across the room; you watch the smile on her face turn to a frown.  You watch her realizing that the supply of wine is not going to be enough for all those who have responded to the wedding invitation.  Even her son Jesus has brought along his new friends.  You strain your ears to hear Mary’s embarrassed admission to Jesus that they have no wine.  At a wedding feast, there is supposed to be plenty.

Now you look across the room to see Jesus from Nazareth.  He is a member of the family circle.  You watch him ponder what to do.  What is he thinking? “Should he leave the party and go along to the village shop to buy more wine?”  You strain your ears to hear Jesus’ curt reply “Woman, this is not the time and occasion for me to reveal my power.”

You turn towards Mary, you watch her beginning to organise the servants.  Her faith in her son is so strong that she believes that his actions will speak louder than words.  You turn towards Jesus, you watch him step forward.  You see that he is responding to her faith and to the needs of the people.  A little bit later, you see a steward coming towards you offering you another glass of wine.  You taste it.  It is the best you have even enjoyed.  Drink a toast to life.  Drink a toast to Jesus.

Ok, back to today.  Thinking about wedding feasts, I remember helping with my daughter (her name is Kelly) at her wedding and the reception afterwards.  The previous vicar suggested marrying on a Sunday (possibly with tongue in cheek, I’m not sure).  Anyway I thought it would be ok.  Kelly thought it would be ok.  A Sunday was booked.  But it was Kelly’s grandmother who pointed out that hairdressers don’t do Sundays!  Sundays were a no-no for weddings.  The booking was changed to a Saturday.

Thinking back on Kelly’s wedding which was on a modest scale and comparing it with the feast as in the reading, I see that wedding celebrations are a time of unity and fellowship.  It is a gathering of two families and their friends.  Over the feast they become one, just as the bride and groom are united as one.  The wedding feast fulfils our dream for the unity of all people through the love of God.  Here is a sign that all the families of the world will be united into the one family of God.

At wedding celebrations, food and drink are important for they make a party.  It is socially fatal if there is not enough food and drink to go round.

I’ll tell you now about some of the feelings I had about this reading – I felt it was a bit puzzling, bewildering even.  I did not feel content with this reading, there were so many questions arising:

  •             Who were the bride and bridegroom?
  •             Why was Mary concerned?
  •             How could Jesus be so dismissive towards his mother, rude even?
  •             Why did Jesus turn water into wine anyway?

Jesus can meet human needs with a miraculously divine power.  For example, in the other gospel writings, he helps the desperately sick – he heals lepers and those with demons and he helps the desperately disabled – he restores the sight and the hearing of the blind and the deaf.  He has even raised a dead person back to life.  But here the need is that a party has run out of wine!

Sure, to run out of wine would have been a social disgrace, but the family was hardly poor – they had servants and could afford expensive stone jars for water.

On re-reading the reading, I felt a breakthrough when I considered what the man who was in charge of the feast said – let’s call him the head waiter.  He said to the bridegroom (as he didn’t know about the miracle of Jesus turning the water into wine) that he had saved the best wine until last.  This is a bit of a jump, but you see, God saves his best gift to Israel and the World to the last.  Jesus makes something that is good even better, for this is a sign that Jesus will turn the old waters of Judaism into the new wine of the gospel.

Feel Mary’s relief as she sees the servants pouring the wine out of the massive water jars at the command of Jesus.  The good water was turned into something even better – a renewed celebration represented by the wine.

On the face of it this story does not add up.  What wedding party would need 120 to 180 gallons of wine to quench a second thirst?  But when you do some research, the clues that John gives reveal in dramatic fashion a changing from the good to something even better – the gospel message.

Consider carefully the first clue: ‘Three days later’.  Initially this phrase seems irrelevant.  Three days from what starting point?  Deeper thinking helps us understand that ‘Three days later’ is the clue to the resurrection, a changing from the good to something even better.  This story reveals how the resurrected Christ brings about a change to the whole of life to something even better.

Consider carefully the second clue: ‘My time hasn’t yet come’.  The words might be better expressed in the form of a question: ‘Is not this the turning point of time?’  The phrase is used in John’s gospel as a ‘clue’ phrase about the time when Jesus is revealed as the source and the instigator of divine activity – a divine activity that changes from good to something even better.

Consider carefully the third clue: ‘Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification.’  This story is about the contrast between the way of salvation in the old religion and the way of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Ritual water becomes gospel wine.  There is a new way to find forgiveness and new life, and it is Jesus who acts to bring about changes from good to something even better.

Consider carefully the fourth clue: “You have kept the best until last.”  Despite God being active in the ‘old’ wine of the people of Israel, God’s full riches are now poured out in the superior wine of the death of Christ.  Here is a change from something good to something even better.  Here we see echoes of the Eucharistic feast celebrated in the communities to which the gospel was addressed.  They would understand the clues.  With careful consideration we can too.  In the new wine of the Eucharist Christ reveals his glory and we believe in him.



Rev’d Chris Ramsey
Tel: 01787 376 293
Further contact details can be found under the “About us” menu


Address: St Andrews Church
Church Road,
Great Cornard,
CO10 0EL


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