If you had to sum up the Christian faith with one occasion, what would you choose? Maybe a Sunday communion service or a baptism? Maybe a Winter night shelter scheme? Or a session at the Foodbank?
All these ideas sound good. But what about a wedding?
Weddings can be small and intimate; they can be big and lavish. But they are almost always centred around ‘what the bride and groom want for their special day’ and so they can sometimes feel a bit a self-focused.
So why does the evangelist John choose a wedding to paint the opening picture in his gospel of who Jesus is?
The wedding at Cana, at which Jesus turns water into wine, is a well known story. But what does it really mean?
We all know that John’s gospel is loaded with symbolism. So why this story? And why a wedding?
Well, the answer in truth is ‘Who knows?’
But here are seven thoughts that may help in our understanding. And set the scene for a clearer, richer and surprising picture of who Jesus, who God, truly is.
1. The source of life is love
The essential ingredient of a wedding is love – the love of the happy couple, the love of family and friends wishing them well and the love of God who blesses a new family in the making.
The Bible tells us that ‘God is love’ and so it is love that underpins both creation and our very existence.
A wedding reminds of this. And also of our deepest desire – a desire deeper than our need to seem strong and powerful – which is the desire to love and be loved.
2. We are all invited
A wedding is a celebration and it would not be much of a celebration if it only comprised the bride, the groom, the minister and a couple of witnesses. Weddings need guests. And the Bible tells many stories about weddings and celebrations where people are invited and some come and some refuse.
The truth is that we are all invited to God’s wedding party – his union with the world through Christ – where Christ is the bridegroom and we are the bride.
No one is left out. No expense is spared.
Having recently arranged a wedding for my son and daughter-in-law, I know how difficult it is to draw up the guest list and how painful and upsetting it can be to ‘draw a line’ in order to keep down the costs.
But at the heavenly banquet there is no drawing the line. All are invited. All of us are guests of honour and precious in God’s sight.
3. Weddings are about being not doing
At weddings we switch off our phones, we set aside our work and things to do lists, and we are fully present for the occasion. We come together at a wedding not to do or produce anything but simply to be together, to celebrate our friendship.
Doing less, being more and being more together are fundamental to the message of the Christian faith.
4. The Gospel IS love
The ministry of Jesus is full of amazing wisdom and teaching. But the essential purpose of his presence among us is to reveal, strengthen and deepen love – love for God and love for one another.
John highlights this by choosing the wedding at Cana as the first public sign of Christ’s ministry.
5. The Gospel is not the drudgery of duty but the passion of love
In John’s gospel, Jesus turns water into wine, darkness into light, the Law into the sacrifice of his own body for us. John sees our faith in Christ not as the drudgery of duty but the passion of love.
6. God’s love for us is deep and rich beyond all measure
The wine Jesus produces from the water is abundant and of the highest quality. John wants us to see the wine as representing the love of God for us – a love that is unquenchable and of unsurpassable quality. God will never run out of love and the love he has for us is more wonderful than any other love imaginable.
The story speaks of Christ’s outrageous generosity in loving so much that he is even willing to give his life for us.
7. The heart of our faith is relationship
At the heart of the Christian faith is not a book or a set of Laws but a person, the person of Christ. And what our faith offers is a relationship with that person.
Come and love me, says Jesus. And let me love you.
Just what a bride and groom say to each other on their wedding day.
When we come to Christ, we say, ‘I take you, Jesus, to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish’ - but not, as in an earthly marriage, ‘until death do us part’ but forever. And Christ makes the same promise to us. He says, ‘I, Jesus, take you, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish… forever.’
So, really, it’s no wonder that John chooses a wedding to sum up all that he really understands about Jesus and our faith and trust in him.
To be a Christian is to be in relationship with Jesus. And to be at the heart of the wedding - a celebration and communion that reflects the joy and commitment of God’s love for us all.