Epiphany: "Guest or Servant?"

The Revd Margaret Legg

Three things strike particularly in today’s Gospel: parties, power and servants!

St John’s, as you may have noticed if you’ve been here over the last few weeks, loves a party and Christmas/Epiphany give us lots of reasons. Mulled wine, mince pies, fizz, Epiphany cake, sherry, mince pies, fizz and canapés... One of my clearest childhood memories is a family celebration: my uncle’s wedding. This is back in the 1950’s and the whole thing took a day. It was a 3 hour drive from home, so we set off early on the Saturday; stopped to change into our wedding gear at a Trust House (I remember that I was pleased to have a new hat and dress and not hand me downs from my elder sister); the service was in the early afternoon followed by a wonderful buffet in the bride’s home (her father happened to be the vicar so not far to travel!) I remember selecting choice titbits for my grandmother and taking delicacies for my own consumption too! Then back home and to bed. Nowadays, weddings seem to be more complicated affairs. The hen party tends to be a weekend away – abroad; there are make-up trials and hair trials for the bride and bridesmaids. They’re also longer. The evening disco means an overnight stay is often requisite. But that’s nothing compared to weddings in Jesus day in Palestine, where the festivities could last up to a week. Guests would go to work in the day and party in the evening. After all, it’s good to celebrate!

Parties are a golden thread in our lives, as they were in Jesus’ life. He gained a reputation for eating and drinking – and the Bible ends with a vision of heaven as Jerusalem, dressed as a bride, waiting for her husband, Christ. His servants are there too, they are in the wedding party. So it’s not surprising that Jesus’ first miracle in John’s gospel takes place at a wedding.

Power

John calls them signs, not miracles and during his Gospel 7occur. Like miracles, they transform the ordinary – something extra-ordinary breaks into the mundane and everything is different -  but John is also using them as signposts, pointers, to who Jesus is. He is someone with the power to transform the Jewish Law. The 6 stone jars held water used for the Jewish rites of purification, to wash hands and clean dishes – almost empty now after all the celebrations. When Jesus changes this water into wine he transforms the party, which was on the verge of fizzling out in embarrassment, infusing it with a new energy a new, a second lease of life; in the same way Jesus will go on to transform the human condition. The last sign is the raising of Lazarus, a precursor of Jesus own resurrection from the dead, through which our death is infused with the hope of eternal life. No wonder we celebrate at St John’s.

Servants

But things go wrong at parties, as they tend to do in life generally. So while at one level we are joyful, at another level we may be sorrowful, upset, struggling, anxious. Pity those servants instructed by Jesus to fill the 6 stone water jars. Each could weigh up to half a ton and could hold 20-30 gallons. They get on with the job, following Jesus’ instructions, drawing the water from the well and –to the brim- without a word of complaint. Jesus needed their assistance to change the water into wine just as he needs us now, to assist in his work of changing and perfecting the world. As Teresa of Avila put it in her prayer:

Christ has no body but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours, Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world, Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

We, Jesus followers, are his servants now. We may not be able to perform miracles but we can make a difference. Little things can make a huge difference: if a parent we know is stretched, perhaps we could invite their children round to with ours; if an employee has a crisis/problem at home, be patient, supportive, if we have an elderly neighbour, pop round and see how we can help in this icy weather; visit the housebound, offer to drive someone who’s had an accident. The widow of the Sheffield church organist Alan Greaves who died after he was attacked on Christmas Eve said last week that her faith had helped her deal with her ordeal ‘immensely’  and ‘that the support of the congregation had been outstanding’.

The servants were in the know at the wedding – they knew something wonderful had happened to produce the wine from those stone jars they’d just spent ages filling with water. Even the steward had no idea, just, no doubt, relieved the party could continue and puzzled that the best wine had been produced when the guests, who’d been celebrating all week remember, were probably in no fit state to appreciate it. We, the modern servants, also know that God’s power is at work, changing and transforming the world and that can give us a foundation of hope, strength and joy to do our bit to help. Well we love a good celebration at St John’s. May the joy of celebration empower us after we leave to serve others so that they may catch something of God’s power at work in the world.  Amen.