The following is a meditation on today’s Gospel, the Wedding feast at Cana, intended as a written form of Lectio Divina, the prayer of meditating on Scripture.
The first aspect of the text I’m drawn to is being with Christ, His disciples and Mary His Mother, in a social context – simply being there. There are so many questions I would like to ask. But, whilst the Holy Spirit has seen fit to make no account of the specifics (what Jesus looked like, how many guests were at the feast, where they sat, what was His relationship to the marriage couple, and all those other incidentals), still we are invited to become guests at this wedding and to engage with Him here, in a special way. As we come to the feast, we draw inspiration from the Holy Spirit: He Who descended like a dove upon Christ at the Jordan, Who works through the Gospel writers and even now, as we hold the Gospel passage before us, Who pushes His electrifying love through Scripture and into our open hearts.
So, as we sit and take in the words that tell of Christ’s first-recorded miracle, it is not too presumptuous to find ourselves inside the story, in our mind’s eye. After all, this same Jesus is in our hearts now, and we approach scripture aware that He is using it to make us open to receive Him. Sister Wendy Beckett has a beautiful vocational phrase: ‘Surrender to the wonder of the story’ and the story currently before us is the wedding feast at Cana, yes. But, in the truer sense, it is a deeply personal story: the story of Him and us, of a personal relationship, of mutual longing and yearning. So it is natural to find ourselves seeking His presence, and entering into Scripture as a meaningful road into Him.
Where do I fit into this story? The Christian posture is to serve, so this is the vantage point we will look at the passage, from the perspective of the wedding attendants.
From this perspective, what strikes me most about the attendants is that, once the wine runs out, they would simply have not known what to do. Suddenly the weight of their worry falls upon the staff: ‘What are we going to do?!’ It would have been a terrible realisation, and doubtless the only obvious solution would be to travel a long way to get more. We cannot underestimate the predicament these attendants were in.
This is where Mary appears. True beacon of trust that she is, in a very real way Our Lady mediates between God and mankind, and says to those servants: ‘Do whatever He tells you’. Her actions at Cana betray her perfectly maternal love for her Son, and for us, whom He is calling to Himself, even now.
Hers is a vocation of trust in the darkness. We cannot know what trials Mary encountered on her way, as Mother of God (and, from the crucifixion, Mother of us, the Church, her children). But, at the wedding at Cana, we see a glimpse of her strength, and how she played out that vocation, oriented as she always was to Her Son, Jesus Christ. She speaks to us now, and she says the same as what those attendants heard: ‘Do whatever He tells you’.
There is a marion antiphon at Vespers with the following words: ‘We are your children, begotten at Calvary, born of the anguish and death of your Son. We are His body, fed at His table, sharers with you in the same faith and love. Pray for us always, dear Mother and Sister. Bring us to knowledge of Jesus, your Son.’ Mary, then, is our mediator.
Jesus worked his first public miracle on the foundation of the Jewish rite of purification. The stone water jars were there to fulfil this rite, and he took them over in order to turn water into wine. In this act, St John shows us that Jesus has superseded these Jewish rites, and that purification now has a whole new meaning. He is the new law-giver, He is the fulfilment of the prophets, of scripture. He has superseded what Cana thought at the time to be the law.
In the next section of St John Jesus goes one step further: we read that He enters the temple and throws out the traders and money-lenders. In so doing, He replaces the Temple with that of His own body.
So close to each other as they are, these two accounts of Jesus’ early ministry are about the same thing: Christ is the new Way, the New Covenant.
Perhaps there is something about this miracle that points to the Eucharist. The sharing of bread and wine between brothers was, after all, part of the Last Supper, which is the institution of the Blessed Sacrament. After a trip to the Third World, Cardinal basil Hume commented that there are two basic, urgent needs in those who have nothing: food and love. This is at the heart of the Eucharist. The wedding feast at Cana is a true representation of family, of celebration, fraternal love, longevity, community. And in the midst of this, Jesus used the foundation of the Jewish rites of purification to produce wine, so that those around Him may continue to share in such a fellowship.
When I consider the pivotal, Eucharistic words of St John throughout his Gospel, it becomes clearer why Cana was the first miracle he recorded. He wrote in the 15th chapter:
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.’
And speaking of Eucharist, there is the moment in chapter six, when He supersedes the manna of the torah and the manna of Moses:
‘Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, as it is written, ‘he gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Very truly I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.’
The true bread, as we believe it, is Him. It is Jesus. This is the great miracle of our lives as Roman Catholics, the miracle repeated weekly and daily, of the Blessed Sacrament available to us throughout the world. This means more to us than six pots of water become wine. Like the stone water jars themselves, the miracle is a kind of vessel, in which is held the true miracle who is Jesus, the new way. But upon the ancient structure of faith, now Jesus comes and He builds a new Church. And we are it! He the way, the truth and the life. And He says:
‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty… I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever: and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’
‘Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.’
‘My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.’
We believe that the Church is indeed the body of Christ, and I look back to the words of that antiphon to Our Lady: ‘We are His body, fed at his table, sharers with you in the same faith and love.’ We, as members of the Church, the body of Christ, still come to Mary, as did those attendants at Cana, asking for the way forward. She turns to us now and says ‘Do whatever he tells you’ and we have read what He tells us to do.
If you ever worry about your understanding of the Blessed Sacrament, you should not try to reason, as did those one-time followers of Jesus who turned away from Him. John wrote:
‘Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with Him.’
Instead, perhaps you can turn to Mary the great Mediatrix, and ask her to lead us to her Son, which is to say, to trust in Him with the kind of trust she exemplifies. As the Vespers antiphon says: ‘Bring us to knowledge of Jesus, your Son’. In this is no definitive answer to any worries you may have, it is true. But Jesus did not follow this eucharistic teaching with a breakdown of understanding, either. More importantly, perhaps, when many of His disciples turned their backs on Him, He didn’t run after them to explain that He was only speaking metaphorically. No, He let them go. He was speaking plainly.
And to the disciples who stayed with Him, Jesus then asked: ‘Do you also wish to go away?’
We, the spiritual successors of those disciples, can take on the words of those who remained with Him. They too, like us, did not understand. But they said: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.’
The miracle at Cana was a kind of foretaste of Christ’s institution of the Blessed Sacrament: a miracle through water and wine based around His new commandment to love, which is found in community. Through the daily miracle of the Mass we come to encounter Him – and therefore to share in His divinity – by eating His flesh and drinking His blood. As the priest says each day before the gifts: ‘By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.’
It shouldn’t be too presumptuous to find ourselves inside the story of Scripture, in our mind’s eye. When we imagine ourselves as part of the story, we can sometimes feel like trying to daydream about a loved one who we wish to be with. There is wisdom in praying like this, because we are making room for Him inside us. But as Catholics we have so much more, because of the Blessed Sacrament. Indeed, when we approach the altar rail, it can be that we pray to be closer to Him. But we can forget the truth, which is that, in a real way, He IS present. We are receiving Him in that host, and from the chalice.
We are guests at this Eucharistic feast, and our presence opens us into our participation in the heavenly banquet.
So Our lady tells us: ‘Do whatever He tells you’. Another way, perhaps, of saying those words of Sister Wendy: ‘Surrender to the wonder of the story’. Like the attendants at the wedding, allow ourselves to be led by Him. Do what He says, even when it seems difficult or pointless – because faith can sometimes be a white-knuckle ride. After all, put yourself in the place of one of those attendants as you fill up a stone water jar to the brim. You’re not doing so in the knowledge of knowing the story… and it seems futile… what is this guest telling us to do this for?! But you put your trust in Mary, the very exemplar of trust itself. And you become part of the miracle.
And that is just what we are. We are part of that miracle of Jesus!