We are now well into Ordinary Time, but we still cannot leave the Epiphany alone; because the Marriage Feast of Cana is still an Epiphany theme, along with the adoration of the Magi and the Baptism of Christ. It may be puzzling to some why a miracle of changing water into wine should be considered a theophany, and hence an epiphany theme. For one thing, so few people knew about it. The majordomo of the feast didn't know. I don't suppose the guests either knew or cared, once the wine was on the table. Yet St John makes it out to be a theophany, on a par with God speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai.
This is the significance of "On the third day there was a wedding.". It is not immediately clear what happened on the two days before this event. In fact, it is a reference to Exodus 19, 18, which begins:
On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightening, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people that were in the camp trembled. Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God."Only a little before, Jesus had told Nathanael, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened, and angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man." Now we have an example. St John called it a "sign", a manifestation of God's presence on earth. However, it is not the main revelation of God's presence, the one that will reveal to us his very nature as self-giving love. This supreme revelation is what Jesus calls his "hour" when he says to his mother, "My hour has not yet come/" Jesus and his Father will be truly "glorified" on the cross. If the marriage feast of Cana is a revelation on a par with God's revelation on Mount Sinai, Christ on the cross is far, far superior, the ultimate revelation. Those who know Christ crucified can really claim to know God. No Old Testament theophany, however dramatic, can hope to reveal God to the extent that Christ on the Cross does.
At the same time, both the Marriage Feast of Cana and Christ on the Cross are only theophanies for those who participate in them through faith; and,in so far as faith is knowledge that springs out of religious love, firstly, God's love for us, and then our loving response. Thus the "disciple who Jesus loved" was always the first to recognize him, was consulted by Peter during the Last Supper on the meaning of Jesus' statement that someone would betray him; he stood with Jesus' mother by the cross; and he was the first to see the significance of the empty tomb, even before Jesus had appeared. New Testament theophanies are explained in terms of Old Testament ones; but they are unlike them in that New Testament theophanies take place in a way that goes unnoticed by the world, however great and revealing they may be. "Is he not a carpenter's son?" Perhaps then it is fitting that this gospel should be read in Ordinary Time when we remind ourselves that God manifests his will in the ordinary and the humdrum, the infinite in the finite, the extraordinary in the ordinary, the greatness that created the universe is manifested in humility and weakness. We belong to a religion in which a small, insignificant lamb, slain but standing, is hailed by heaven as the Lion of Judah.
Another set of ideas are helpful in our understanding of the Marriage Feast of Cana: it can be seen from the perspective of the Feast of Tabernacles. In this feast which celebrated the Jews forty years in the desert when they lived as nomads. They built huts out of branches and lived in them for the duration of the feast. It was a number of days of music, processions with branches, singing psalms (117 or 118 according to your way of counting) and waiting for the coming of the Messiah. On the final seventh day of the week of celebration, they would process round the altar seven times and cry out "Hosanna to the son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna to the son of David." The covenant between God and Israel they saw as a kind of marriage in which the marriage hut where bride and Bridegroom meet was the Temple, the marriage act was the sacrifices in the Temple; the marriage contract was the Law of Moses. The awaited Messiah would renew this marriage between God and his People; and the new relationship would be much greater and satisfying that the previous one In the words of Isaiah from this Sunday's first reading:
You are to be to be a crown of splendour in the hand of the Lord, a princely diadem in the hand of your God; no longer are you to be called "forsaken" nor your land "Abandoned", but you shall be called "My Delight" and your land "The Wedded"; for the Lord takes delight in you, and your land will have its wedding. Like a young man marrying a virgin, so will the one who built you wed you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so will your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62, 1-5)The renewal of this covenant according to the prophet's promise is being symbolized in the Marriage Feast of Cana. We can now start our commentary.
When Mary points out to her Son that the fiesta has run out of wine, he answers, "What is it to you and to me. My hour has not yet come." I think it is important to point out that John's Gospel can only be properly understood with any profundity within the context of religious love, first God's love for us, and secondly, our love for God and for others. Hence, the interpretation of the word "Woman" may well be different according to whether you are citing it for polemic purposes, to catch out Catholics in their errors, or whether you are reading it within Catholic Tradition, which is its proper context. In this context, Mary is the "woman" of the Apocalypse who is at once the personification of faithful Israel, themother of Christ, and the personification of the Church in its relationship to Christ. In all three roles she asks Our Lord to do something about the wine. He protests that his hour has not yet come, thus reminding the reader that, great as this manifestation of Christ's glory it is, it is linked to, and is only a pale shadow of the theophany on the Cross.
"What is this to you and to me." She would accompany him and be with him until he drew his last breath. All this prepared her to love universally and thus be capable of being, as was Eve, the mother of all the living. She tells the servants to do what her Son tells them to do - something that is part of her normal role as our mother. Her role requires of her a perfect harmony between her motherly activity and her Son's activity as Saviour, something brought about by the Holy Spirit. Without Chrst, she cannot fulfil this role: without the Spirit she cannot be united with Christ. All she contributes is her complete availability, "I am the slave of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." Because she it utterly available and at the disposition of God, she learns through suffering, to love as her Son Christ loves; and this love reaches out to us. This is illustrated in the icon beloew. Called "the Bridegroom" or "the marriage of the lamb", it shows Mary in Byzantine bridal dress, embracing the body of Christ "dead but standing". The body of Jesus is illuminated from within because he died to save all members of his body. Hence, as she embraces Jesus, so she embraces us as well. We too are called to be so united to Christ that we learn to love universally as Christ does, and so become his instrument of love for the whole of humankind. This is the role of every saint.
This is the sign by which we recognize those who have arrived at perfection: even if they were to throw themselves into the fire ten times a day for the sake of humanity, they would not be satisfied. That is what Moses says to God, "Now,if thou wilt, forgive their sins - and if not blot me, I pray, out of thy book which thou hast written (Exodus 32, 32) That is also what the blessed apostle Paul says, "I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren." (Rom. 9,3) And above all, God himself, in his love for creation, delivered his own Son to the death of the cross, "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son for the world's sake." (cf John 3, 26) So too... the saints, like God, pour out the superabundance of their love upon all." (Isaac of Nineveh)
This perfect union in love between Christ and his mother who is also the personification of the Church in its relationship with Christ, a union that is replicated, little by little, in the saints as they (we?) attain perfection in love by the power of the Holy Spirit, a union in which Christ is all in all, is called the "marriage of the Lamb" in the Apocalypse:
"Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and the bride has made herself ready, to her has been granted to be clothed in fine linen, bright and pure", for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb."
We, the Church, participate in this "marriage supper of the Lamb" together with the angels and saints of heaven in the Holy Eucharist which, as Pope Benedict XVIth has written, is the very constitution of the the Church, what makes it what it is.