It’s the wedding season! Have you been to a wedding yet this summer? Are you going to one in the next few months?Weddings can be exciting and romantic, but they can also bring out the worst in people. There are so many expectations about the day itself, and about the supposed perfection of the new spouse.But wedding days can be very stressful. Marriages can be a source of disappointment.
When I was 19, and my boyfriend said, how would you like to get married? I was on cloud nine! My feet didn’t touch the ground! I had a picture in my mind of my life, that getting married was what you did when you grew up, and everything would go fine from here. You see, I had the blessing of parents with a very healthy marriage. They were my main role model. I soon discovered that my marriage was not what I had hoped. I was always wanting more. Wanting more time and attention, wanting a fuller relationship. I had not taken into account my husband’s underlying problems, and I had no experience to deal with them.
Our Isaiah reading presents two possibilities – deserted and childless, or happily married. But I’m sure all of you know that there are many other options in relationships. How about married and childless? Married and lonely? Happily single? Unhappily married? to name just a few.
But God presents both ends of the spectrum to us as a contrast. First, that sense of complete desertion, aloneness, having been let down and deserted by everyone, with no one to care for us in our old age. The other end of the spectrum is Happily Married – maybe it’s an aspirational state, but I think we all know what it can mean. That sense that when you walk into the room, your spouses’ eyes light up at the sight of you. Maybe that sense of companionship that means you don’t have to talk to communicate.
God wants that sort of relationship with us. We no longer have to feel deserted, as if there is no one one in the universe who cares about us. We don’t have to feel that when we die there will be no one to miss us, to mourn, or to carry on our legacy. God is always with us, filling our loneliness, caring for us, and God has human hands and feet, and arms. In those people round us, made in God’s image, we can find family, we can find children, we can find love. We all need each other.
These days, so much of our interaction takes place on a screen, with a keyboard, or a mouse, a stylus. Last week at prayers and squares, 6 of our kids were here, it being the school holidays. I looked in to the church to check up what everyone was doing, as they were very quiet, to see 6 young heads drooped over 5 small screens. I don’t think they were interacting at all! This is a very real danger in our technological world, that we spend all our time on line, and forget how to look someone in the eye, how to smile a them, how to hug them. We all share the Peace very enthusiastically here at St Mary’s hugging and talking to everyone. It’s often a bit of a challenge to get everyone ready to sing the offertory hymn actually! But how about when you go home? Do you spend many hours with a screen in front of you? God wants us to give more of ourselves to each other.
The other end of the spectrum from Deserted and Childless in our Isaiah reading is Happily Married. Isaiah predicts for the people of Israel a time when God will be so near to them that they are like a happily married couple. You know the sort, that finishes each others’ sentences, that knows when to give each other a bit of space, that loves each other unconditionally, even when provoked and grumpy. This does not mean that you have to be happily married to enter the kingdom of heaven. No no no. It refers to a type of loving relationship that we can have with God if we let God in, and that means letting other people in.
Churches have often been very much centred around the family, and single people and people without children have often felt like they just didn’t fit in. But we don’t need to have our neat and tidy family along the pew next to us to belong to the kingdom of heaven. I haven’t got a neat and tidy family anyway, mine are challenging and all over the place at times. It’s people outside the church who are quick to look at the family life of Christians, and say, ooh look, the pastor’s teenage daughter is pregnant, what sort of an upbringing must she have had? The pastor must be a hypocrite.
No, the pastor is a human being, and so is her daughter. I’ve found that when I first meet people outside the church, and tell them I am a minister, they can be a bit inclined to sit up straighter, try visibly to not swear, and look a bit uncomfortable. But if I give them a bit of my story, such as saying that I was divorced, or a single mum for some time, they relax, knowing that my life has not been (and still isn’t, I might add) squeaky clean. As if such things matter. What matters is loving God, following Jesus, and showing others Jesus’ love.
Today’s Gospel is the great story of the wedding at Cana, often used to illustrate how much God values marriage, by showing us Jesus’ first miracle in the setting of a wedding. In the Jewish society Jesus lived in, marriage was very important, but it’s the hospitality side of the wedding feast that is the main point of this miracle story. The wedding had taken place, the couple were legally married and would still have been if the wine had run out. But providing generous hospitality was a high value in the prevailing culture. The hosts would have lost face, reputation, and community standing if they had run out of wine.
Let’s look again at what Jesus did. He took water that was used for purification rites, and transformed it into wonderful wine. We use the phrase in the prayer book, ‘making ritual water Gospel wine, cleansing all our worship.’ Here we see the water of a religious ritual, something that was required, a legality, if you like, being transformed into something wonderful, rich and intoxicating, and having a different effect on us. We must allow God to transform our rituals from being a long tall drink of water, to the heady richness of wine, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us.
I hope there’s no cop breathalysing us on the way home today…
Only then when the Holy Spirit’s power is transforming us, does it ‘cleanse all our worship’. And that doesn’t just mean the part of our lives that is Sunday mornings. All our lives can be lived as worship, every relationship, every encounter, as we see the face of Jesus in all those we meet. Then the marriage metaphor can be fulfilled, that we are joined into the kingdom of heaven, as in a happy marriage!