Weddings join more than the people being married. They join families, traditions,and stories. Generations come together. Children who were strangers become cousins. Two become one in many ways. In this story told in John’s Gospel, there is a wedding with a problem. The wine has run out. Jesus is there, with his mother. In the hands of this gospel author that situation turns into an opportunity to make a point about a moment in the first century when the religious landscape was changing. This is a story about the transformation of traditions.
Durng the time that John’s Gospel came into being, synagogues were being disrupted by Jews who were proclaiming a new religious vision within the context of Judaism. Their voices were raised in worship and community gatherings. What they proclaimed was disruptive to the religious traditions of their day. They were syaing that a carpenter’s son who was crucified by Roman guards was the Messiah for whom they have been waiting. Talk about conflict! Talk about turmoil! It must have been hard for everyone. John’s gospel emerged in the middle of this commotion. That is why this Gospel often takes traditional religious symbols of its day and put them in the hands of Jesus who transforms them.
The jugs that Jesus fills with wine were used for religious rituals of cleansing. What was sacred and symbolic is, after Jesus gets through with them, now filled with wine…a symbol of celebration and newness. There are many ways we can think about this. One is that by using ritual vessels for wine Jesus joins what we think of as ordinary with our sacred practices.
Many of our churches experiment with new ways of worship and new ways of transforming old traditions. In Cleveland, at our own Amistad Chapel, in the summer of 2018, artists gathered from all over the country. They were visual artists, dancers, scholars of liturgy, writers, and storytellers. They gathered to create and wonder and experiment and discover a new language of our fatih–a language for a new century already well underway. They gathered to develop resources for the local church and to support our justice work, and they all came to share how the sacred speaks through our creative selves made in God’s image. One of the participants, Reverend Erin Beardemphl said this about art, “If we could in our churches and in our communities, show people that they really are creative beings, I expect the world would be so much more loving”. Like what Jesus did at the wedding, they were filling old vessels with new wine.