Thursday, 12 April 2018

And there was wine

During our Maundy Thursday liturgy at Carrs Lane we reflected on the different elements of the communion service and why they are important.

I was given "Why wine?" to speak about, and offered the following thoughts:

I am aware there is a huge amount of significance and symbolism in the different cups of wine drunk during the Passover celebration, and therefore at the Last Supper ... Symbolism I know to be deeply important in our understanding of how Jesus enters into, and then transforms his community’s experience of their ongoing journey with God. But I don’t really feel qualified really to explain it, nor did I, if I'm honest have time to do the necessary research ... so I decided I would speak about something else instead.

For me, when I think of wine in the New Testament there is, other than the Last Supper, one main story which comes to mind, and which also has, I think, something important to offer to our understanding of why wine might be an important symbol in our worship. (Well actually there are two: the other being the Good Samaritan, but I decided I didn’t have time to talk about that one as well) So I want to speak about the Wedding at Cana, that celebration at the very beginning of Jesus ministry where Jesus performs his first miracle. Interesting, first of all perhaps, that Jesus ministry (if you don't mind mixing your gospels which is always a bit of a risk) both begins and ends with the sharing of wine.

Weddings in first century Palestine didn’t have guest lists and seating plans. Anyone who considered themselves to be part of your community was invited.  So while it is possible, I guess, that the guests at this wedding were particularly heavy drinkers, it seems to me a more likely explanation is that this family had underestimated just how many people might count themselves as part of their circle.

When there are more people than you expect, you have to make a decision: to turn some of them away or to make what you have stretch. It is a question that is as alive for us today in our current cultural context as it was for the family hosting a wedding feast 2000 years ago. It plays a part in decisions we make as individuals, families, communities and as a country.

My understanding of Jesus’ action in this miracle is that it is not about telling a limited group of people that they can get as drunk as they like ... rather it is about calling us to push back the limits on who we count as “in”, of who belongs to our community. Jesus creates more wine, so that no one has to be turned away. He reminds us that even if all you have left is washing water, you can create a beautiful feast with the doors flung wide to all who want to come. He invites us to trust, and when those in the story dare to do so, a miracle is made possible.

When we drink wine together, it holds, I think, an inherent challenge to extend the boundaries of those we call our community. It is a call that says when you have more than you need, or even when you don’t: build a bigger table, not a higher fence.

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