January 19, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Water above the firmament:
winter rain descending; the roots of vitis vinifera clutching earth.
water drawn through vinestock, stem, and leaf; tendril, flower, fruit.
sun fierce upon the hills; in the grape now, water, glucose, fructose, tannin, acid; all beneath the thin firmament on which the Spirit’s brooding leaves behind a bloom of yeast; Saccharomyces ellipsoideus: the thumbprint of the Lord and Giver of life.
basket, press, vat; sugar and yeast wantoning; earth’s old September love revived…fermentation; the warm must… rejoices in the pleasure of good company…
Water come of age
in the vast pots of this old Cana, where the Word, in silence, orders up new wine.
racking off, barreling, clearing, bottling; the long wait—for esters: alcohol and acid reconciled, wine bodied forth to roundness and a nose; for oxidation: tannin and alcohol softened, corners smoothed by the Spirit’s thumb, purple shaded to brown
(in Heaven it is alwaies Autumne) earth’s last best gift is brought to sere and velvet elegance,
To Wine indeed
To Water in excelsis.
St. John calls the turning of water into wine a sign (shmei,wn)— This Jesus did, the beginning of the signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed His glory; and His disciples believed in Him (v 11). The fact that water turned into wine wasn’t all that miraculous—after all, even the first wine at Cana’s wedding started its life as water. The reason that this first of Jesus signs is called a miracle is because of the way in which it turned from water to wine.
Jesus turning water into wine was pretty miraculous. But it’s no less miraculous that God turns water into wine all the time. Clouds rain down water on the hills along the Missouri River, which is drawn through the vine and blooms into flower, then plump fruit. Then the water is transformed into something altogether new in the grape. Then miracle upon miracle: infect it with a yeast, and not only does it not spoil, it transforms yet again into something altogether different. More miracles occur when this new wine is left to rest—it takes on a new character, new and subtler flavors combining and emerging. The water is now become wine.
At Cana in Galilee, Jesus short-circuited this natural process. And on the third day, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and His disciples were also called to the wedding. And when the wine began running short, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They do not have wine.” And Jesus said to her, “What of me and you, woman? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” There were six stone water jars standing there, for the cleansing of the Jews, each containing two or three measures [of about 9 gallons]. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, “Draw some now and take it to the master of ceremonies.” And they brought some. When the master tasted the water that had become wine, and not knowing from where it came—though the servants who had drawn the water had known—the master called out to the groom and said to him, “All men first set out the good wine and when the guests should become drunk, the lesser. You have guarded the good wine until now (vv 1-10).
When it was in the jars it was water. When the servants drew it, it was water. But when the master of ceremonies tasted it, it was wine. Something happened when the servants drew the water, something was added to it. By Jesus’ Word and command, Cana’s water was transformed into water in excelsis, water in the highest, a new spirit in those old jars.
This was the beginning of Jesus’ signs. Signs always point to something. The first thing to which this sign points is that God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is still actively involved in upholding creation with His almighty Word. He Who shines with God’s glory and is the Expression of His Being sustains everything by His mighty Word (Heb 1:3 AAT). It’s not just in Cana of Galilee that Jesus turns water into wine by His Word, but also at Roebbler of New Haven and Stone Hill of Hermann.
The first of Jesus’ signs shows that the Word that He speaks is the same Word of God spoken in the beginning—the Word that creates, the Word that sustains, the Word that accomplishes what it promises. This is the particular glory of Jesus revealed that day.
In the beginning, God created all things by His Word ex nihilo, out of nothing. And God said, “Let there be….” and there was. But ex nihilo, out of nothing, is not the only way that God creates. There is one particular piece of God’s creation that is different. God created man from the dust of the earth; He created woman from man. He shaped him, formed him, breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. God started with something and recreated it into something altogether new.
Which is good news, because we who were created special among God’s creation have been hard at work in every generation trying to undo what His Word commands. Not in the sense that God created us to subdue and rule over and tend creation, but in the sense that we rebel against the very Word that sustains creation. We would have ourselves be lords of creation, to tell the author of right and wrong what is right and wrong in our own eyes. Yet, even though we are the infection that’s causing God’s good creation to spoil and waste away, He doesn’t eradicate us. He doesn’t sanitize His creation. He recreates—He produces something new, something altogether different.
Now here is something truly miraculous: just as God uses the infection of yeast to bring about something completely new from the water stored in the grape, so does He use the infection of sin to bring about a new creation. He actually joins Himself to this mess. Though He is born without sin, He places Himself smack in the middle of sinful men. He gives us exactly what we want and allows us to become lords over Him. He suffers under the same laws. He receives the same punishment. He dies the same death.
And then He adds this Word to it: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Lk 23:34 KJV). This is the Word of the One who called all things into existence from nothing, the Word that still upholds creation, the Word that does what it says. The is the Word that He speaks to you, the Word that creates something altogether new. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Cana’s best wine started as water before Jesus’ added His Word to it. Water seems to be one of His favorite means of creation. They deliberately forget that long ago God’s Word made the sky and formed the earth out of water and with water. Then this water also flooded the world and destroyed it. And the same Word has preserved the present heavens and the earth for the fire and keeps them for the day when the ungodly will be judged and destroyed (2 Peter 3:5-7 AAT).
Christ added His Word of forgiveness to water in order to create in you a New Man, a new spirit, by the working of the Holy Spirit. By water and His Word, He continues to recreate within this sin-infected world. And it is for this reason, and this reason alone, that He continues to sustain and uphold this corrupt world by His Word.
When you’re making wine (or, in my case, beer), you have to stop the fermentation at some point, or else your bottles will explode and you’ll have a big mess on your hands. One way to do that is with heat—you kill the little yeasts with fire. And with a little age, you’ll have a pretty good wine. In the same way God will put an end to the infection of sin on the Last Day, and all the evil and wickedness will be burned away. And that which will be left is something altogether new.
This is the second thing to which the first of Jesus’ signs points:
Christ’s Word Creates a New Spirit in You
A spirit created out of water, a spirit aged to perfection, a spirit that will endure this age, and raised to glory in the age to come.
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
Opening poem from R.F. Capon, The Supper of the Lamb.