The Wedding: Allegory of the Church
No story better describes parish life than the Wedding of Cana. Everything in the Mass is there. Our worship, parish life, the intercessions of the saints, and coffee hour are all laid out in this gospel. Moreover, it brings what we do together into the light of the age to come. The Wedding of Cana is a foreshadowing of God’s union with the Church, and it should be our driving vision. Yet, perhaps, one of the most significant parts of the story is the most unnoticed: the simple wedding servants. These represent you and me, in our work together as a community. We do not even know their names. Yet, their hands were central to the miracle as are all our small efforts in parish life.
“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come’” (John 2:1-14).
Immediately, we get a snippet of the big picture. “On the third day,” it says. This phrase ties in this Cana wedding to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hosea prophecied long ago: “After two days [the Lord] will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up” (Hos. 6:1-2). Jonah was spat out of the belly of the whale on the third day. St. Paul was given back his sight on the third day. When we read the scriptures, we always read them not as a mere historical account, but as mystical revelation. Every phrase has weight. The wedding “on the third day” is talking about us, the Church.
“And the mother of Jesus was there.”
The psalter exclaims: "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness...at your right hand stands the queen in gold of ophir...in many-colored robes she is led to the king, with her virgin companions following behind her" (Psalm 45:6-14). Wherever Christ is, there is his holy mother. The wedding of Cana is one of the most glorious passages about the Blessed Virgin and her role in the church. Everyone is gathered there at the wedding, as here in the wedding of the Christian life. Yet, they are out of wine. The wedding feast is blemished. We Christians are sinful and weak. Who intercedes for us? The Blessed Mother. Christ knew that they were out of wine, but he likes to work through his people.
“They have no wine,” she told her son. Christ responds, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” His response makes this passage all the more wonderful. He calls her, “woman,” the most endearing phrase in the Jewish culture, yet all the more important because of who she is. “I will put enmity between you and the woman,” God told the snake, “and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:15). Today, this woman who gave birth to God intercedes for mankind.
Mary instigated this miracle. It is astonishing that Christ followed up with her request. He says it is not time. “What concern is this to you and me. It is not yet my hour.” Despite the fact that it was not his hour, Jesus obeys his mother.
There is a story on Mount Athos, Greece, of a time when pirates had surrounded a monastery. Raiding was common in this part of the world, and so the monasteries were built like large fortresses, surrounded by thick stonewalls. They were impenetrable, so long as the gate was shut fast. One day, at the crack of dawn, the gatekeeper went to open the gate, when he heard voices above him.
A woman spoke: “Don’t open the gates, pirates are waiting outside.” A child responded, “No, let him open the gates. These monks are degenerate. They deserve their destruction.” The gatekeeper marvelled, and looked up to find an icon of the Mother of God holding the Christ child. The infant Christ and the Madonna went on for a while disagreeing. Christ discussed the monks’ sins. The Mother of God interceded on their behalf. Finally, the mother lovingly put her hands on the child’s lips, and spoke to the gatekeeper: “You must not open the gates, lest the pirates come and destroy everything.”
I was a little shocked when I heard this story. Does it go too far? Yet, it is not so different than the dialogue between God and Moses on the mountain. God had enough of the Jews and was ready to strike them down. Moses stood on their behalf and interceded for them. Through his intercessions, God had mercy. In the same way, the Mother of God and all the saints intercede for us today. It was not Christ’s time. Even still, he obeyed his Mother. He called the servants together and gave them a job to do.
This is where you and I come in.
“His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’
What about the servants? We hardly even notice them in this great miracle. They remain in our minds like the servants of a great British court, silent and non-present. Yet, here, they are critical. Christ transformed the water into wine. The Blessed Virgin Mary intercedes for the people. The servants accomplish the work appointed by God.
We are the servants in the divine wedding.
“We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us,” St. Paul writes to the Church, “prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness” (Rom. 12:6-16).
“Grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift…he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-14).
Do you recognize your role in the Church? Can the eye say to the hand, “I don’t need you”? Can the foot say to the head, “I have nothing to offer”? I never appreciated how important each person was in parish life until becoming a pastor. It is easier, perhaps, from the pastor’s perspective to be aware of all the different needs at a church, and all the different gifts among the parishioners. At times we feel tempted to quit. At other times, we think we do not really matter. If we disappeared, who would notice? In reality, each and every one of us is here for a purpose, the building of this Church.
When one stone is pulled out from a building, the whole building is weakened. When one of us withdraws, all of us are impacted. Whether your gift is in leadership, in singing, in preparing food at coffee hour, or simply spreading encouragement and cheerfulness, God does not call anyone who does not have a role central to his purposes for a church community.
The servants’ job did not feel very profound. They took dirty jars and filled them up with water. They dragged those jars back and forth, till all the work was accomplished. Our day-to-day work as Christians is the same. Most of the time, it feels like we are just dragging on, working with insipid water. Our job is to obey. If we do, in his time, we will see all of it transformed like water into wine.
The servants took the jars to the master. He tasted the wine and marvelled. Everything in the Church is a transformation. Christ turned water to wine. All our struggles, all our seemingly mundane jobs in the church, all of it is this beautiful process of transformation. Today, as we meet for our annual All Parish Meeting, we can remember this vision. Our little jobs in this little church are no less significant. We need only to be willing servants, and God will work the miracles.