Saturday, July 24, 2010

Vintage Wine

To Paul Crego and Isaiah Poole, on the occasion of their marriage in the Church of St. Stephen and the Incarnation, Washington, DC, July 24, 2010

John 2:1-11

What you have just heard is quite possibly the most widely referenced biblical passage in all of Christianity. Scarcely a wedding takes place in any of the major Christian traditions that some reference, however slight, is not made to the wedding at Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle (according to St. John’s Gospel). If you were to listen carefully to the opening address in the Book of Common Prayer, the model for all those other marriage rites in the English language, the one that begins with the familiar “Dearly Beloved, we have come together in the Presence of God,” you could see that the Church is footnoting its sacrament of Holy Matrimony with a reference to the Bible showing that Jesus obviously approved of marriage because he attended one. And not only did he attend one, he saved it from being a total flop by miraculous changing water into wine.

The reason that the Church got into the habit of giving a lengthy rationale for marriage at the beginning of every wedding was that, believe it or not, there was always some question as to whether marriage itself were something that the Christian community ought to be blessing and calling holy. It took something like thirteen centuries before the Church officially numbered marriage among its sacraments, so deep ran the understanding that marriage had to do with property and contracts and families and heirs—not to mention sex—and thus belonged to a part of life that did not seem to fit nicely into the Church’s business. You would never know all that listening to American debates in the last twenty years where scores of people assume that marriage itself floated straight down from the clouds with God’s signature on it as the principal plan for everybody.

But, like a lot of things, the story of the wedding at Cana started out serving one purpose and today serves a slightly—or perhaps very—different purpose. For in choosing this story to be read as the climactic lesson in their wedding today, Paul and Isaiah have given us the quintessential story about the miracle of change. It is in fact perhaps the very best story in the whole book about how the ordinary is transformed into something quite extraordinary. It is Christian alchemy at its highest: the dazzling news that there is a Power in the universe that takes the common and makes it holy. And this Power is none other than the Word made flesh, the one who looks and acts like every bit the human being that he truly is, and yet at the same time is the sublimely creative energy that brought all water and all wine into existence.

If this wedding today is about anything, it is certainly about change! Who would have believed, even a year or two ago, that in a church in the District of Columbia a group of people would gather to witness and bless the joining together of two men in marriage? And yet, water has become wine! The gloriously impossible has become real! And those of us in The Episcopal Church have been filling the water jars for the rites of purification for a long time. They have been standing, waiting, waiting, waiting for the moment to come when those who have had no taste of marriage joy could at last drink the same sweetness that all the other guests imbibe.

None of us thinks that this wedding is principally about the politics of marriage, or even about the wondrous social change that makes the marriage of two men or two women legal. It is about something far deeper. For Isaiah and Paul’s marriage is about their being transformed. Their transformation has less to do with the government of the District of Columbia than it has to do with the Holy One who soaks their life with meaning, who works quietly and mysteriously to produce growth, who opens their hearts to unexpected reconciliation, who touches common moments and makes them sparkle.

In his novel What’s Bred in the Bone,* one of my favorite writers, Robertson Davies, made the wedding of Cana the symbol of almost unimaginable power. Francis Cornish, dead before the story begins, came from a strange, mixed-up, somewhat shame-blighted family. But at an early age he knew he was different. He had a talent: painting. So off he went from his native Canada to England and then to Central Europe where he learned to paint in the style of the old masters. He became an internationally known art critic and specialist, and wound up in the center of intrigue, saving great masterpieces as the European art world was being ravished by the Nazis. In the center of all this was a mysterious painting that no one could exactly date, a stunning statement of the union of opposites that seemed to belong to the Reformation period. Was it real or was it a fake? And if the latter, who could have pulled off so marvelous a fake, and why? The painting depicted the wedding at Cana, the changing of water into wine. It turns out not to have been a forgery, but deeply authentic—though the world is never sure it can trust real authenticity. Francis Cornish himself was the artist. The genius that was bred in his bone came out on the canvas in a composition so stunning and colors so rich that people would have never believed that anyone short of a Rembrandt, say, could possibly have created something so powerful.

Isaiah and Paul, the wedding of Cana is the marriage of God and the human soul. The wedding of Cana has been going on in your lives now for some time, as you would be the first to say. Your wedding, this wedding, is the wedding of Cana, where the Power that created you and sent you forth on a journey has finally brought your marriage to the place where you can fully and freely celebrate who you are, where with all your guests you can serve and drink the very best wine of all—the wine of authenticity. No longer is your life a rich work of art that the critics can cheapen by questioning its legitimacy or its reality, let alone dare imagine that yours is a clever copy of the real thing. Yours is a marriage which is touched by the Master’s hand, the great Creator who made you the way you are and loves you as if you were the first two human beings or the last two on the planet. Yours is a marriage where ordinary stuff becomes holy, where bodies convey spirit, where the cracks in your hopes and deeds become the places the light of God shines through. You and your marriage are the authentic thing, this wedding of Cana. And through it and through you the rest of us are able to glimpse the unexpected joy of the young Lord whose hour has come and now is.

• Robertson Davies, What’s Bred in the Bone (New York: Viking Penguin, 1985).

© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2010

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