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Adorned with Transformation

Updated: Jul 31, 2022

Epiphany 2: Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 36:5-10

1 Cor 12:1-11, John 2:1-11

The Rev. Cameron Partridge

January 16, 2022

Good Morning, St. Aidan’s, and welcome to the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, a season saturated in the light of God who came among us and transformed the very stuff of life—water, wine – and invited us to revel in his glorious, life-giving presence. We came into this season celebrating the gifts of the Magi brought to the Christ child. Last week we bore witness to Jesus baptized in the River Jordan and proclaimed beloved. Today our worship lifts up another story long associated with Epiphany, the Wedding at Cana.

The story is a striking one, from early in the Gospel of John, that comes to us once every three years on this day in the season of Epiphany. And while other stories come to us once every three years, this one is without parallel in the other gospels, causing it to stand out all the more. In it, Jesus, Jesus’ mother Mary, and his disciples are attending a wedding. The banquet is a space of celebration and enjoyment, including wine. At some point in the revelry the wine runs out. Mary points this out to Jesus. Why he would need to know is unclear—perhaps she tells him conspiratorily, can you believe it? They’ve run out! The tone of his response to her disturbs me – perhaps something has been lost in translation, but he should not speak to his mother this way! Yet in the next moment he effects a miraculous transformation. He asks for the six, very large stone jars there for purification rites, to be filled with water, and then for some of it to be taken to the chief steward. The steward has no idea of this wine’s recent history—only that it was unusually good for this point in the festivities, and therefore deserving of acknowledgment as a credit—wrongly given to the bridegroom. This whole story is a kind of comedy of erroneous assumptions amid transformation that is not quite visible. No one sees the moment of the water’s change (except possibly “the servants who had drawn the water [who] knew” where it had come from): as with so many miraculous stories, including the resurrection itself, the process of transformation is signaled but not depicted. It is honored as a work of God, a revelation of God’s glory, beyond the capacity of our minds to understand. It follows, too, on last week’s gospel story, as liturgical theologian Philip Pfatteicher notes: “As Jesus baptized the water in which he was baptised, so too he consecrated the water at the marriage feast.”[1] This transformation hallows a space of celebration in which, as our Psalm puts it, all could “feast upon the abundance of [God’s] house” and “drink from the river of [God’s] delights” (Ps 36:8). Imbibing the glory of creation transformed, all are reminded of the well of life itself, in whose light we see light (36:9).

This week as I sat with the Cana passage, I could not but think of the late October day when Kateri and I got married. It was 2005, and marriage equality was still a new enough reality in Massachusetts, where we lived, that the diocese, as well as the wider church, was allowing the church to bless but not solemnize the marriages of same sex couples. As a couple who had once been categorizable as same sex (before I transitioned), and for whom the reclaimed word queer continued to resonate in its critical edge and expansiveness, we decided to uplift the themes of love and transformation in our wedding. It was meant to be a celebration and sign of hope, that love is love, that marriage was already a queer thing, and that it was and is a vessel of transformation in which those who are called to it are changed over the course of a lifetime. In working on the marriage liturgy, I was aware that the opening words of marriage liturgies in the Book of Common Prayer tradition have long referenced the Wedding at Cana. Jesus’ presence and miracle in that context are seen, in the words of the 1979 BCP, as “adorn[ing] that manner of life.” The wedding at Cana basically becomes Jesus’ endorsement of marriage. To me, that use of the image misses the Cana story’s heart. So in our liturgy we changed the wording: “marriage is a gift of God the Creator, a gift formed anew when God reconciled all creation to Godself in Jesus Christ. Jesus celebrated the new creation of marriage when he changed water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.” Marriage, as one relational vocation among many, invites us into loving transformation, calls us to manifest God’s new creation, God’s dream.

When I think of the transformative dream of God, I cannot but think of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. whose birthday we lift up this weekend and that many workplaces officially observe tomorrow. Toward the conclusion of his “I Have a Dream” speech, given before the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 at the March on Washington for Civil Rights, Dr. King used the language of the dream to evoke the glorious reign of God justly manifested on earth. He proclaimed all human beings created equal in all their particularity, even in the wake of terrible racist history. He dreamed of people upheld and knit together in the world. He spoke of the children of those who had been enslavers and the children of those whose ancestors had been enslaved brought into new, just kinship, as “able to sit down at the table of brotherhood.”[2] He dreams of states “sweltering with the heat of oppression [being] transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.” He dreamed of his own children not being judged “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” He dreamed of black and white children, children of all races, being able to join hands and to sing “free at last.” He evoked the language of the prophet Isaiah, of every hill and mountain being made low, the rough places being made smooth. Dr. King proclaimed in Isaiah’s language, “the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all flesh shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:5). Even if incompletely and in a window of time, as Dr. King’s widow Coretta Scott King later commented, “at that moment it seemed as if the Kingdom of God appeared.”[3] If you’ve seen video of his speech, or better yet, if you were there or watched it on TV, you know of what Mrs. King speaks. The reign of God, the dream of God’s justice opened out in that moment, drawing all within earshot into the transformative heart of God’s hope and God’s continuing call to us.

This hopeful, transformative call of God’s dream gloriously shines out to us in the very heart of the story of the Wedding at Cana, and in the season of Epiphany. Even as so much work remains to be done in our world and in our church to manifest God’s dream, we are grounded, saturated in, transformed by the hope of God’s in-breaking reign, God’s good news. Jesus indeed adorns our lives in his presence at this banquet. He adorns us with transformation, with a sign of the banquet of God, that great celebration in which people of all races and ethnicities, all genders, all sexual orientations, all abilities, are knit together around God’s table.

A closing image from Kateri’s and my wedding: I mentioned that it took place in late October. The leaves were well into their turning, and the weather had alternated crisp and warm. But on the day of the wedding, the temperature dropped significantly. When we came out of the church, we discovered something unexpected. Big fat, glorious snowflakes were floating down, coating the roads – not too much to be dangerous. Just enough to dazzle our guests, especially those from California. As our reception unfolded in the refectory of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, we could watch the flakes continue to fall through the large picture windows. We were gifted with a transformed world that day, a world of peace, of justice of grateful quiet and rest, of celebration. The snow became a sign of that transformation, water made crystalline, manifesting God’s glory, steeping us in divine love, and calling us and all our beloveds to carry that love into the world, that all of our relationships might be knit anew into manifestations of God’s justice, God’s peace, God’s delight.

[1] Philip Pfatteicher, Journey into the Heart of God: Living the Liturgical Year (Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ), 117. [2] Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, ed. James Washington, A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. (San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 1986), 219 [3] Testament of Hope, 218

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