January 20, 2019

Notes for homily – January 20, 2018


Mary Oliver, the poet, passed away last week at the age of 83. One obituary reads, in part: “She wrote often of mortality, but with a spirit of gratitude and completion. In [the poem] Circles, she pronounced herself “content” not to live forever, having been “filled” by what she saw and believed. In When Death Comes, she hoped that at the end of life she could look back and see herself as a “bride married to amazement”.

A bride married to amazement. Our Gospel passage today talks about a wedding. The bride and the groom do not appear in the scene. Such absence has received all sorts of explanations. We know that, whether the facts narrated in the Gospel of John did or did not happen, they are intended as symbolic. The narrator very explicitly said that the episode of the wedding at Cana was the first “sign” that Jesus did. Not a “miracle” but a “sign”. If we look at the event simply as a miracle, as a case of interruption of the laws of nature, we risk missing the symbolic element, the sign. And of what does the sign consist?

In an agragrian patriarchal economy, like it was that of Palestine back then, weddings are the main occasion for throwing a great feast, one of the few occasions in one's life to be overly generous. It is the occasion for living a communal experience of abundance and overflow, with plenty of well-crafted food, and wine, and dancing. It is a way to extend, beyond the wedding chamber, the experience of ecstasy and joy. Even, or especially, in an economy of scarcity, it is of the utmost importance to be able to throw a great feast on the occasion of a wedding. Partly for reasons of honor... but partly for even deeper reasons. Weddings are those moments breaking the succession of hard work days, they are the promise and the experience that “love is all around”, that human life is not just toil and suffering.

The image of the wedding feast is adopted, throughout Holy Scriptures, as the metaphor for the love between God and humanity. Marriages, we all know, might go wrong or at least be difficult, and the covenant that is sealed at the wedding might or might not be upheld throughout life. That is true among people as well as between God and humanity. But the wedding feast is supposed to be glorious and without blemish. That is a moment of ecstasy in which a deep truth is experienced. It is only by going beyond the usual, beyond the rational use of resources, beyond the economy of scarcity, that people can glimpse the reality of a love which overflows eternally. Such truth cannot be understood when the mind is clear and balanced... when there is no wine involved! “They have no wine”, says Mary. A wedding without wine is a complete disaster. Not only for reasons of honor, but because it deflates the whole experience. It kills the ecstasy!

The overflowing of wine at the wedding at Cana is something quite different than a demonstration of power by Jesus. In fact, only the servants know where the wine comes from and there is no acclamation of Jesus or amazement at his abilities as a magician. It is, instead, a teaching to us about the presence of God with us. It is a symbol of the flowing of love that never ends and is always available. Not in the sense that we can experience it all the time. In fact, weddings are high moments, not everyday moments. Human life is ebb and flow, ebb and flow. The experience of deep connection is true and we need it like we need food to survive. The experience of lack of connection is also true, and needs to be honored for what it is. But I dare say that it is possible for us to tap more often into the flow of love, or to be nourished more deeply when we are able to contact the flow, in order to be sustained when we live ordinary or hard days.

The feast of the Lamb that we celebrate every Sunday is, of course, a wedding feast. It echoes the wedding at Cana which John the evangelist insists to say was the first sign performed by Jesus. A mark on his whole ministry. Bringing our attention to what matters and to what God wants to reveal to us the most. That ecstasy and love are real. Yes, then we need to negotiate their impact on the everyday. We need to balance the expenses of the parish with the costs for throwing a huge party. Yes to all of that and to the hard work that is in front of us. But no to resignation and to lament. We are all called to be brides, brides tapping into the flow of divine love, brides married to amazement. Amen.