I missed you last Sunday because years ago, I promised my friend that if she ever got married, I would perform her wedding.
I figured that would mean a trip to Wisconsin.
Turns out it meant a trip to the US Virgin Islands.
Sometimes water turns into wine.
One night over dinner in paradise, the curious bride asked me to share my wildest wedding horror story.
It involved the mother of the bride ordering the umbrellas moved ten minutes before the ceremony so that the groom's side would be pounded by triple digit sunshine.
Sometimes the way to throw shade is to take it away.
Needless to say, this created some awkwardness at the reception, as two families combined like oil and flame to create an explosion.
While I was nervous, Jesus put up his feet and said, "Been there, done that."
The wedding at Cana was also a breath away from complete disaster.
They have no wine, Jesus' mother whispered to him.
This anxious gossip was more than just "party's over, let's go home."
This meant indelible shame upon the groom, a failure in the high cultural value of hospitality to friend—who brought wine, because weddings were week long affairs—and an obvious sign he didn't have enough friends.
Guests would have nothing to drink because the water would not have been potable.
The family of the bride would have reason to call off the marriage and leave the groom and his family with nothing but stigma.
Presumably there were no 24 hour liquor stores nearby.
The situation is desperate: they have no toilet paper.
They have no wine, no joy, no honor, no friends, no future, no hope.
It might not be Jesus' hour—John's way of referencing the cross—but it is the groom's.
Whether or not we appreciate or grasp the severity of this situation, I think we can feel it.
We're done too.
We're out of patience with this pandemic.
We're out of compassion.
Our joy has run dry.
Our tolerance and civility are gone.
Care givers are burned out and still being squeezed.
Two party politics makes my hot, horrible wedding families seem happy and friendly.
Martin Luther King's legacy has been replaced with platitudes on a holiday while his dream still feels so far away.
Life is not even close to what we think it's supposed to be.
We're full of anxiety and depleted of energy.
We've run out of wine.
Emptiness is the canvas of grace.
There is no miracle without it.
God creates everything out of nothing, so that's where Jesus begins: with empty jars.
Epiphany follows Advent in the church year because the church year trains us for life.
On the second Sunday of Advent, I asked, What is so terrifying about nothing?
The doctor will tell you that your airway and arteries need to be clear, not clogged.
Your mother will tell you to pick up the mess on your bedroom floor and put it away so that you can walk safely from your bed to the bathroom.
So why do we jam so much into our storage units and schedules and then go chasing after more?
Are we afraid that if we leave too much room in our lives that God might show up and ruin everything?
Now there is plenty of room for God to work, in our stripped lives and calcified hearts, in Cana's crisis and large, empty stone jars.
Jesus finds the emptiness and tells us to refill it.
Do whatever he tells you, his mother says, which is good, difficult advice.
180 gallons of water is a lot in a small town in an arid climate.
Setting up the miracle is hard, impractical work, even if the well or the lake is nearby.
If we slow down the story, we see a lot of questionable and possible wasted effort, not to
mention wasted water.
Notice that Jesus didn't clear this plan with the stewardship committee or the finance team.
How often and desperately do we scramble to replenish the wine we've lost only to end up with unwanted water and fatigue?
Try harder, do more – it's not enough.
It's never enough.
Except that it's more than enough.
The good news of Jesus is surprise, mystery, and abundance.
We chase water and end up with wine.
We have no idea how.
And grace is always more and better than we bargained for.
What, how much, how?
Jesus doesn't answer our questions, of course—he rarely does—but while we never get a recipe, we do see a restoration of relationships.
The disciples trust Jesus.
The guests trust the groom.
The wedding is salvaged and the community is saved.
The water, created by God and carried by human hands, becomes wine that unites people.
This is the church's story.
We pour water into our purification font, and God provides the baptized with wine that somehow hasn't run out for two thousand years.
We pour effort into ministry, much of it self-serving, yet Jesus works with it and changes it into marvels we never dared to expect.
At our best, we open our hands and doors and share the extravagance.
At our worst, we worry there won't be enough and micromanage grace until we achieve the equally mysterious miracle of the church, which is changing wine into water no one can swallow and then form a committee that wonders why the guests have left.
But Communion continues through it all.
Jesus will not give up on his bride the church, even when she deserves it.
He salvages our honor and saves us too.
He continues to rescue our marriage, our union with God, by completely emptying himself...the blood of Christ, shed for you...wine enough for everyone forever.