“L’chai-im! – more wine!” – Epiphany2 C

John 2:1-11
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.” 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.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “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.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

The wedding reception was rocking and the wine had run out. Wine that the Psalmist says, “gladdens the heart”.

My puritanical upbringing should be glad at the moderation of the bridegroom in his logistics. Just enough, never too much.
Jesus, however sees the frugality as a mistake he can remedy.

Taking charge of a potential social gaff, “Did you hear about his wedding? D’you know the wine RAN OUT!!!“, Jesus has some empty ritual washing jars filled with about six hundred litres of water, and turns the water into more wine!

Extravagant? Reckless? Yes!

John tells us that this is the first sign of the reign of God. Immanuel doesn’t call a prayer meeting as his first act of power rather, he empowers a party!

How did the church lose its sense of mischievous abandon which we see exemplified in Our Lord?
The empty stone jars tell a tale don’t they?
Rote religion, ritual observance and purity don’t gladden the heart as much as spontaneous celebration of life. In fact, truth be told, too much ritual and purity can poop the party we are intended to be celebrating.

The key to Jesus’ brilliance in this first miracle, is that he doesn’t conjure up fresh flagons of wine, he uses the existing and perhaps abandoned ritual vessels for a new and radical purpose.

I wonder if we followers of the wine-maker have the same capacity?

Drive around any city on a Sunday morning and you will probably see rapidly emptying ritual vessels, trying to keep themselves going by careful logistics and conservative liturgy.

Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give him thanks and praise.
Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, it is indeed right, it is our joy and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks and praise through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.
(Methodist Service Book)

Who are we kidding?

The drone of the responses and the reluctance to show any excessive enthusiasm is evidence that everyone present knows, that they will only be getting one sip from the wine chalice today.

It is only a hunch, but I think the wedding at Cana was a little more rowdy than our sedate liturgy.

In fact, I am convinced the guests did not need to be told to lift up their hearts. The six hundred litres of fine vintage would have gladdened their hearts and in good Jewish tradition they probably shouted, “L’chai-im” to life! No droning here! Shouts of celebration!

It troubles me that Jesus begins his ministry wanting to show that he can use the old ritual vessels to bring the new life of God’s Kingdom, yet later after experiencing the hardness of our hearts he warns that new wine cannot be poured into new wine skins. (Luke 5:37)

I wonder at what point he gave up on using old vessels?
I wonder if he has reached that place with this emptying ritual church yet?

The third day, is meant to be the day of Resurrection.

This was a third day wedding in Cana, and it makes me wonder, what will still have to be crucified before the church reaches the third day potential of new life?

As I write this, a female colleague who recently celebrated heart gladdening love and life in a same sex wedding, (not in Cana, but in Cape Town)  faces charges, brought by her Superintendent for “being in breach of the discipline of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa“.

Dear Jesus you were correct. There is no place for new wine, nor your reign here!

There are only inflexible, fractured skins, of fear and prejudice.

Thank you that despite us, you remain your reckless extravagant self.

So please Lord, let the wine continue to flow.

Flow out of the disused and dusty jars and into the streets where there can be dancing and joy, and where with the wine maker of Nazareth we may empower all people to call out “L’chai-im!”

Maybe then all people will come to believe in Him.


  1. How neatly you tie the exhilaration of the Cana wedding to the sedate greetings at the Eucharist.
    It fuels me to challenge my expression when I worship or lead.

    Thank you

  2. Hello Chris, thanks for the visit, read and comment. I get the picture!

    You know the old one about, “How many Methodists does it take to change a light bulb?” …

    Be well and blessed

  3. great stuff! thanks for sharing… quote of the year so far… “Immanuel does’nt call a prayer meeting as he”s first act of power, rather he empowers a party!”

  4. Dear Peter, I have just read you post through http://www.textweek.com. It has really challenged me. If you think have empty ritual vessels, then conservative worship in Chepstow South Wales will probably beat it. But the good news is we have a core of spirit-filled people who are gradually filtering the old wine into the radical new vintage!

  5. Brilliant. I love this. Your brain went so much further than mine. Thanks for the food for thought.

  6. Aah the old pension! I would have made that number three too. Mmmmm maybe No1 on a bad day!

  7. Wow! What a refreshing insight! Always such a challenge to preach familiar scriptures with a new perspective!

  8. I guess the bigger question for me is whether our denominational structures are worth saving or do we leave them behind and let the Spirit create something new? I agree with both your statements for the reasons I stay with the organized church but add a third which would be my pension if it has anything left in it:) Wasn’t it your tradition that began because of issues around ordination in the old wine skin of the Church of England? Peace, Phil

  9. Hi Cindy, Thanks for stopping by and for the encouraging comment. Hope you will visit again. Regards from South Africa, Peter Woods

  10. Wow – great stuff! Was thinking along similar lines myself. Thanks for the extra inspiration!

  11. Many thanks for stopping by again, Dr John. I am encouraged by your appreciation. Peter

  12. Peter,

    I happened on to your site a few weeks ago and have enjoyed your perspective. Your words on the subject at hand are thoughtful and provocative. Thanks.

  13. Hi Phil, Thanks for your perceptive question. I guess I have a two part answer. Firstly, I have been invited to be here with Jesus, and secondly I am expectant of the third day possibilities. Regards The Listening Hermit

  14. So why not leave the Methodist Church of Southern Africa as an old wine skin that is going to be burst anyway and discarded as irrelevant to the kingdom ala Matthew 9, Mark 2, Luke 5?

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