Working on a miracle

A sermon for the second Sunday after the Epiphany in 2022. The Gospel reading is the story of the wedding at Cana, at which Jesus turned water into wine. Other texts referenced include the Psalm for the day, Psalm 36.


How priceless is your love, O God! Your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.
They feast upon the abundance of your house; you give them drink from the river of your delights. (Psalm 36:7-8)

And who will draw the water? And who will taste it, to find that it has been transformed, by the grace of God, by the presence of Christ, into something new, and unexpected, and long-awaited?

When I was a child in the 1970s, there was a drought – I remember the year I learned the word and its meaning – which resulted in planned water shut-offs three or four times a week. I remember filling the bath in the morning with a few inches of water to throw down the toilet or to wash hands; my mother filling the kettle so that there would be water for tea after work; pans of water sitting idle on the stove, ready to be pressed into service. I have to wonder, now, whether we really saved any water that way.

But either way, it meant that when a man came to my front door Thursday and said that they were about to shut off our water for the remainder of the day, I was ready, and I remembered. I remembered my mother, and as I – not too reluctantly – put off washing the kitchen floor till later, I remembered her mother, my grandmother, who once worked as a domestic servant. And as I pulled together the wherewithal to get our household hygienically and well-hydrated through a single afternoon, I thought about the servants in the story of the wedding, the ones sent to haul the water to make the miracle happen.

There are only a couple of stories in the gospel in which Jesus is said to have changed his mind about what he would or would not do. This is the one of them.

At first, when his mother came to him to report the lack of wine, Jesus responded … wearily? Why do I have to do everything? What has this to do with me anyway? How is it my problem? And don’t I get even an hour off to enjoy the wedding? (I’m paraphrasing.)

But Mary, his mother, in a way that only she could, read the man and ignored his words. She did not argue with him, merely turned to the servants and said, “Do as he tells you.” She put him in his place – amongst the servers. Was it from this incident that he derived his famous aphorism, “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve”?

“Now standing there were six stone water jars, …. each holding twenty or thirty gallons.”

Some say that the next wars will be fought not over oil but over water; but it doesn’t have to be that way. When one runs short, it is all of our business. There is no, “What is that to me?” There is, for instance, no distance between Flint, Michigan and here, no difference between its children and the children of any city cornered into substandard housing and fed lead instead of water. 

You all know that the work is not done. Jesus, for the rest of his ministry, preached repeatedly parables about fair labour, a living wage, the value and dignity of each person and an end to their exploitation. The work is not yet done. There is time yet for us to participate in the miracle, to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)

The shortages that we encounter tend to be those that we have created, through overuse, exploitation, gluttony. Where we have hoarded access to clean water, creative medicines, even access to the vote; where we have created shortages, it is not for us to say, “What is that to me?”

The work is not yet done, and those who will not see, who turn a blind eye to the continuing  and corrupting effects of greed, of privilege, of racism, and antisemitism; who complain about running out of wine while others are still hauling water; we don’t even know what it is that we are missing.

I can only imagine my grandmother’s face if she were serving at a wedding, tending to all sorts of details and dust-ups and delicacies so that the guests never even knew how much work it took, and someone told her, “Stop what you are doing and go fetch – I don’t know – like 150ish gallons of water for me, would you?”

This was not a small ask. But then, when the water was drawn and poured and her face was sweating into it, he told her with a twinkle, “Now draw out a measure and take it to your leader.” Now, having let her in on the work, he was letting her in on the joke, on the cosmic laughter that was his wedding gift not only to the couple but to all who were in on the secret, the servants and the servers, and his mother.

When Jesus first demurred, it was his mother, knowing that he would not resist, could not resist protecting the joy and the celebration of the loving couple; it was his mother who recruited him helpers, and reminded him that he did not have to perform the miracle alone. When he recognized that he was not alone in the work, he was also ready to share the joyful revelation of the result, the surprise on the chief steward’s face, with his new friends.

It is such a gift that Christ has shared with us, to share not only in the labour of love but also in its sweet rewards: the waters of purification turned into wine as repentance is turned into new life, which is resurrection; contrition into a celebration of the mercy of God, which is justice.

The work is not yet done. God knows, the work is not yet done. Which also means that there is time yet for us to participate in the miracle, if we are willing.

“How priceless is your love, O God! Your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.
They feast upon the abundance of your house; you give them drink from the river of your delights.” (Psalm 36:7-8)

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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