The Wedding Feast – Br. Curtis Almquist
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The Celebration and Blessing of the Marriage of Alexis Kruza and Raymond Chin
“…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…”John 2:1-11
We have this wonderful wedding celebration today, but who would have expected this in light of from where they have come? I’m talking about our Gospel lesson we’ve just heard from the Gospel of John, chapter 2: the wedding at Cana of Galilee. Just preceding this story, in John 1, Jesus has called his first four disciples: Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, and Nathanael.[i] They were fishermen from Galilee, not scholars. We don’t even know if they were literate. We have no sense they were well-traveled, other than knowing about the Sea of Galilee, which is actually a very large lake. So we would have every reason to think that Jesus would begin with these first four disciples by teaching them about Jewish law, or the psalms, or the prophesies predicting the coming of the Messiah. He might have taught them about healing. Jesus might have schooled them about political and religious power: about the Roman occupying forces or about the divisions and competing political rivalries within Judaism among the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Scribes, the Zealots, and the Essenes. He might have started with his disciples by teaching them how to pray. Clearly, they have a lot to learn. He might have found for them a place to live, a home base. But how does Jesus begin the formation of his first four disciples? Not in a classroom. Where does Jesus begin? He takes them to a party, to a wedding feast.
In Jesus’ day, the celebration of a wedding did not occupy part of a day. A wedding celebration was feasting for a week. In Aramaic – which was Jesus’ first language – the word for “wedding feast” has the same roots as the word for “drink,” as in drinking wine, “wine to make the heart glad,” as we read in the psalms.[ii]Plenty of wine. Weddings were great celebrations, for an entire village, and for both family and friends from nearby and far away. A wedding feast was typically a huge gathering, a really fine time that went on for days and days, and not to be missed. Jesus and his disciples clearly showed up to a lot of feasts and celebrations, among them weddings, enough so that his detractors called him “a glutton and drunkard.”[iii] I’m not suggesting anything here spurious about Jesus’ character, but I am saying that, for Jesus it was clearly not all work and no play.
In our Gospel lesson for today, something miraculous happens. The wine runs out, which is pitiable at a party, especially at a week-long party. Somehow Jesus makes wine appear in what had been large jugs of water. Miraculous. But the Gospel writer does not actually call this a miracle. In the Gospel according to John, this is called “a sign,” because this has more to do with Jesus’ power than it does with the actual appearance of this new, fine wine.[iv] This is a sign of things to come. Which is important to remember.
Another feature of a wedding is the making of vowed promises. It’s not just the bride and groom who promise their love and faithfulness to one another. They ask for help. They ask for the help of their family and friends so that they can be faithful to their vowed promises. And that’s significant for two reasons. For one, we make principled promises, such Alexis and Raymond will today, because on a tough day, we might easily rationalize or justify doing something else. We don’t just do this at weddings. For example, we periodically are invited to renew our baptismal vows.[v] We may have been baptized years, even decades, ago. But when we are periodically invited to renew our baptismal vows, we are asked, yet again: “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” We don’t say in response, “I already answered that.” No, the answer we give is, “I will, with God’s help.” When we’re asked the question, “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” We don’t say, “This is very tedious. I told you already.” No, we answer yet again, “I will, with God’s help.” When we’re asked, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” We don’t answer, “You surely remember what I said before.” No, we say, “I will, with God’s help.” We periodically renew our baptismal promises, because on a tough day we might easily rationalize or justify doing something else.
We also make our vows in public. Whether they be baptismal vows, or ordination vows, or the profession vows of a monk, or vows of a governmental leader being sworn into office, or marriage vows, we make our vows in public because we are going to need one another’s help for us to be faithful to our vows. We cannot do this alone.
I began by saying we have this wonderful celebration today, but who would have expected this in light of from where they have come? I was initially saying this of Jesus’ first disciples at the wedding feast of Cana. But it’s also true for the two of you, Alexis and Raymond. You come from very different cultural backgrounds. What intrigues you intellectually is not the same. For Alexis, it’s about the arts, and the formation of children’s minds and hearts. For Raymond, it’s about fiber optics, and the almost-infinite reach of IT. For Alexis, the cultural backdrop is your love for all things French; for Raymond, the cultural backdrop is Chinese. For Alexis, what has honed your heart is poetry, the poetry, say, of Mary Oliver; for Raymond, you will trace your wisdom and your life’s values to what you learned on the streets in a very tough neighborhood, and how you can make a positive and powerful difference to people around you. If you need to recharge, Alexis, you want to be in a kayak. Raymond, if you need to recharge, you need to be on a long walk. Who would have guessed you would come together?
Today you really don’t need to make vows to one another. You revere each other with enormous savvy and equally-great passion. Today you really don’t need to make vows to one another. All is right; all is bright. But you make the vows, from this day forward, because in life together, it will not just be for the better. Some days it will be for the worse. You will not just be the richer in your life together. Some days you together will be the poorer, and not just financially. Some days you will not just know health, but you will assuredly know sickness. On a really bad day, you may even be sick of each other. And you vow to love and cherish, lest you be tempted to loathe and chide. We make our vows in life, not to get us through the good days – those days just flow like the river – but rather, we make our vows because of the inevitably challenging, even bad days. And we make our vows in the presence of both family and friends because we will need their help. Especially on tough days, it’s the people who surround us in their love for us who will keep us together in our vowed commitment to one another.
And as earnest as all this is, we also come together today to celebrate. A wedding is a celebration. Though the garden party will not go on for a week… it will need to be repeated, Alexis and Raymond. You will want and need to make plans very regularly to celebrate and enjoy your life together, lest your life together be all work and no play. That’s true for us all. Celebrate life. Do it regularly. Celebrate life. You’re worth it. Let today be a reminding sign of God’s provision, God’s joy. God will provide.
We pray blessing on you today, Alexis and Raymond, which is to outwardly claim what is already true. You are clearly a blessing to one another, already. And you are clearly a blessing to so many people who know, and respect, and love you, already. And you are a blessing to God. There’s absolutely no one else like the two of you. God adores you. In our presence, you make your vows “for better for worse.” There will be many, many, many better days for the two of you, in your life together, and for us, who have the privilege of knowing you.
[ii] Psalm 104:15.
[iii] Matthew 11:19.
[iv] John 2:23; 4:54; 6:2, 14, 26; 7:31; 9:16; 10:41.
[v]The Book of Common Prayer (1979), pp. 304-305.
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Thank you. I needed to hear this today. M
This message brought good tears as today is my husband birthday and I am so happy he is alive and well. Simply beautiful. Our vows, our faithfulness, our commitment to our partners is the heart of what God also promises to us. How great a gift is it that we can trust God with our lives and our relationships for He is the father of accountablity. As we promise to hold our partners close we celebrate what we have for we know there we will be weepy days. It is a gift to be able to learn how to do this together. God’s great love and great grace keep us wanting to be Holy, accountable, loving, supportive through darkness and light. The greatest marriage feast is yet come and I bet there will be no problem with shortage.
Relationships with anyone – life partners, children, siblings, parents, friends, employers, employees, team mates, congregation members – are not for the fainthearted! Your homily is a reminder to all of us that intentionality and prayer are needed in equal measure. Thank you for such a thoughtful, joyful, uplifting message.
Beautiful thoughts on marriage
Having just celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary last week, I found this sermon to be a wonderful wedding present!
Thank you, Br. Curtis.
So enjoyed reading your sermon. I want to send it to my newly-wed granddaughter and husband. Such good admonition and appropriate scripture!
Thank you, and God bless you.