"This beginning of signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee."
(John 2.1 1)
The message of the Epiphany season is the message of the coming and
showing forth of God in Christ. Now, in a certain sense, it is a strange
thing to speak about the coming and showing forth of God, because, surely,
God is always present and always manifest. He is present and manifest everywhere
and always in all his works, for those who have eyes to see. "The heavens
declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork." (Psalm
19.1) As St. Paul says, "the invisible things of God from the creation
of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are
made, even his eternal power and Godhead." (Romans 1.20) The whole creation
is witness to the mystery of the divine power, but in that mystery, God
himself is still hidden.
Epiphany is about the revelation, the uncovering of that mystery: "to
make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery, which from the
beginning of the world hath been hid in God." (Ephesians 3.9) Epiphany
is not about the showing forth of God in his works, but the showing forth
of God in himself: the showing forth of God in Christ, who is "very God
from very God." The very life of God himself, the mystery hidden from the
beginning of the world, is made manifest in the world, manifest in our
midst. The Gospel lessons for this season always speak to us of the showing
forth of some aspect of the divine life: the divine wisdom, the divine
power, the divine love.
But that divine life is manifest in Christ in order that we might be
partakers of it. That is to say, there is to be an epiphany, a showing
forth of the divine life in us. That is the continual theme of the Epistle
lessons for the Sundays of this season. These Epistle lessons, mostly from
St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, form a marvelously coherent series. They
build upon one another, and in every case they are significantly related
to the particular Sunday's Gospel.
For the Epiphany season, the general pattern is this: the Gospel lesson
always reveals some facet of the showing forth of God in Christ; the corresponding
Epistle lesson always reveals how that particular showing forth of God
has also a showing forth in our life as Christians. Last Sunday's Gospel,
for instance, spoke to us of Christ as revealing the wisdom of God in the
midst of the Temple; the corresponding Epistle urged upon us the showing
forth of that wisdom in our life in the Church: "Be not conformed to this
world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may
prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God." (Romans
That is to say, the divine wisdom, manifest in Christ, is to be manifest
in us; not just as individuals, but as members of one another in the body
of Christ, "according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith."
Today's Gospel lesson is the very well-known story of Jesus at the wedding
feast at Cana, in Galilee. It is Jesus' first miracle, "the beginning of
signs," as St. John says. The miracles are always signs, symbolic acts,
and in this case, the occasion itself, the wedding feast, is a sign. It
is a sign of the marriage between God and the soul, "the mystical union
between Christ and the Church." At that wedding feast, Jesus changes water
into wine, and that is a miracle, that is to say, a sign: a sign of God's
power to transform creation. It is the sign that in union with Christ,
our life is to be changed; it is the sign of God's power to give us new
life in his spirit.
It is in that context, and with that understanding that today's Epistle
lesson should be read. St. Paul begins by reminding us of our gifts. Perhaps,
to some of us, it seems that we have no gifts, or that our gifts don't
amount to much. Mary says, "they have no wine." But, by grace, we do have
gifts; by the power of God, by God's grace, water is changed to wine. By
the grace of God, we do have gifts, manifold and differing. Some have gifts
of prophecy, some have gifts of ministry, some have gifts of teaching,
and some have gifts of exhortation. Some have gifts of giving, some have
gifts of ruling, some have gifts of mercy, and some have gifts of love.
Divine wisdom, divine power, divine love are manifested in the gifts
of grace: that is the Epiphany of God in us. St. Paul urges us to those
gifts with honesty and modesty, "fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing
in hope: patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; distributing
to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality." What he speaks of is
really a recreated, a transformed life: God changes water into wine.
The lesson concludes with a call to be charitable. "Bless them which
persecute you; bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice,
and weep with them that weep." But how difficult all that really is. It
is a marvelous vision of a new spiritual life, but can we really do it?
Can we even really try? Perhaps it seems that we have no wine.
But as today's Collect reminds us, it is God who governs all things
in heaven and earth; it is he who makes all things new. He it is who changes
water into wine, not the wine of our own ambitions and ideals, not the
wine of our self-intoxication, but the good wine of his grace. "Whatever
he saith unto you, do it." Those who act in faith will finally surely know
that he has "saved the best wine until now." Amen. +