What We Need in 2021
What is behind the riots in the Capital building? Who is to blame for our political strife? Who is responsible for the spread of Covid-19, and all our social problems? What a year of tension and anger. If you have not felt anger, fear, or despair in your heart, then you must have your head stuck up in the clouds. The air down here is so saturated with emotion that it drips off the walls. It is our nature to want to blame it on someone. Pin it on a politician, or a political party, or a movement. In actuality, we can blame it all on one person. Behind all the noise, behind the violence, division, and mess, there is a single source: the devil and our cooperation with him. The solution is equally simple: Christ and our cooperation with him. This may sound childish, in our sophisticated twenty-first century. Yet, to reach any other conclusion would be fundamentally catastrophic.
As we set out for the year ahead together, we have to understand our purpose. Therapists advise families to sit together, on a regular basis, to write up a mission statement. What are the family goals? What are its values? What steps does it need to take to live out those values? We have a similar need. We have to deal with finances, lightbulbs, preparing food for coffee hour, and all the business. At the same time, we need to keep our hearts tuned to our ultimate goal. With all the challenges ahead of us this year, what do we need to do to accomplish God’s work?
“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’ (John 2:1-14).
There is nothing really new in our world. We are a small parish gathered in a small city. Think about this wedding. There was no royalty there, no dignitaries, no one especially important. We do not even know the names of the bride and groom. Like our small parish here, they were a handful of ordinary people in an ordinary town. Imagine looking at their synagogue from google maps. Now zoom back several miles, and look at the huge world before you. The Roman empire, gladiatorial slaughter, massive slave trade, plague, famine, tyranny and corruption. A few simple people celebrating a simple wedding, in a world of blood and depression.
What can we do, a few people in a little church? Consider all the problems in our times. The riots, the politics, fake news and slander. Everything is up in the air: the Scriptures, the constitution, morality, even gender. However Christ meant it, his words 2,000 years ago certainly resonate with the way we feel today:
“And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars…nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes…Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake…iniquity shall abound, [and] the love of many shall wax cold” (Mt. 24:6-8).
America really has been a haven for so many years. We have had poverty and injustice like everyone else. Yet, we have had freedom; a freedom which few societies have ever even dreamed of. We have had prosperity — prosperity of the truest kind, where people can vote for their government, where families can worship at church with religious freedom, and parents can choose their kids’ schools and environments. Now, all this seems shaken up. Everything we considered stable feels broken. It is easy to despair. What good can we do, a few people in a little church?
Now come back to the wedding in Cana. `“They have no wine,” his mother told him. “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” Knowing her role, as a good Jewish mother, the Blessed Virgin tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” In obedience, the servants took the stone water-jars, they filled them up to the brim, and brought them to the steward of the feast. He takes a drink and lights up, “What is this? Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now” (Jn. 2:1-11).
What has happened? This is not just a miracle of water turned to wine. This is the miracle called Holy Church. This wedding is a glimpse of Christian community. What we see in this passage is precisely what we have here in our own life and our little parish. This is our work in 2021.
The Roman gladiators were still shedding blood across the Roman fields. The slave trade thrived and the politicians grew fat. Christ did not come to put an end to tyranny. Christ came to create a new humanity. God sent his Son to gather the few who would let go of a dying world and work for a world without end. Christ calls us to change water into wine.
Can you see how the Wedding at Cana is a microcosm of the Church?
"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).
Christ is at the wedding. His Mother, the Queen, is there. His disciples are there. Even we are there, standing by his side at this miracle of transformation.
“His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’…and they filled [the jars] up to the brim” (v. 3,5).
What is this wedding? “The wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready…Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper!” (Rev. 19:7-9).
Who is the bride and groom? “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb’…and he showed me the holy city Jerusalem” (Rev. 21:10).
What are the jars of cleansing waters transformed into wine? These are our souls.
Who are the servants who fill the water jars and accomplish God’s work? We are.
All throughout 2020, I felt a dread for whatever it was that was coming. Now it is 2021. I still cannot shake off that dread. Somehow, I suspect we all hoped that the ails of 2020 would magically disappear in 2021. They have not. 2020 has dragged into 2021, and we are just at the beginning of the ride. We live in hard times. Honestly, I do not think they are going to get better. Our real problems, as a culture, will not be cured by politicians, nor by a vaccine. They are not caused by Democrats or Republicans, or whatever name you can think of. They are the result of evil. The Church Fathers call it apostasy. After a century of abortion, moral degeneracy, atheism…fill in the blank…we cannot deceive ourselves to think that things will get better. We have to anticipate a tidal wave of repercussions. So where does that leave us?
A little time before the Bolshevik revolution, St. Ignatius Brianchaninov wrote a letter to the Church:
“Apostasy,” he says, "is permitted by God - do not attempt to stop it with your powerless hand. Flee from it yourself, protect yourself from it; that is enough for you to do. Learn to know the spirit of the age, study it, so whenever possible you will be able to avoid its influence…Those who are being saved must understand this and make use of the time given them for salvation…Let him who is being saved save his soul.”
What can we do as a little parish? We are not here for entertainment. We are not here to fix society’s problems. We are here for holiness. What is our job? We are here for God, to become his servants. We are here for one another, to learn love and forgiveness. We are here for our city, Wichita Falls, that this building can become a spiritual sanctuary, a hospital for everyone who wakes up to discover life’s meaninglessness, and wants more. Christ took foul water and turned it into wine. He takes our life too, and turns whatever we bring him into something beautiful and eternal.