When the Wine Runs Out

John 2:1-11 ~ Jesus Turns Water into Wine

The wine ran out, just when the party was about to kick into high gear. There wasn’t a whole lot to celebrate in the impoverished region of Nazareth, so everyone looked forward to a wedding. It was the one time when no expense was spared – the best food, wine and musicians were always there. And the love which passed between the bride and the groom was infectious.  Young boys were dancing with the old ladies; boys and girls were flirting with one another. The wine was flowing freely.

And then the wine ran out. This is not only a tragedy in terms of the party itself. It’s humiliating for the bride and groom to not have enough for their guests. Mary comes up to her son holding an empty wine glass, obviously having made an unsuccessful trip for a refill. She whispers to him, “The wine ran out.” It would just be a matter of time before the music died down, and the dancing stopped, and the bride and groom would be looking helplessly at each other and their parents who would be mortified.

Has that ever happened to you? Life’s going along just fine, and then, without warning, the wine runs out. The life, the vitality, the joy that was your life runs out. As a church, we always hope that when we celebrate baptism that the person being baptized will live a life that is rich and full, a life in connection with God and with others, a life of love and happiness. But sadly, that isn’t how life works. Many, many people, baptized or not, feel at some point in their lives that they are empty – that the wine has run out.

Sometimes it’s a case of receiving a note that your boss wants to see you. You can’t remember all the details, but you do remember something about how the company was ‘right-sizing’, not even ‘down-sizing’. All ‘right-sizing’ means as far as you are concerned is that you have to go home and tell the kids you won’t be taking that trip to Disney World after all. In fact, you may even have to sell the house. It happens. Out of the blue, the wine runs out.

When Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed for his work with the civil rights movement, he may have felt empty, wrung out and like he couldn’t go on. It can happen to any of us at any time, and with any situation of life – the death of a loved one, the diagnosis of a serious illness, encountering prejudice, or a relationship falling to pieces. When our wine runs out, we don’t know where to turn. It feels like the life has drained out of us.

In the story from Cana, we hear how Mary turns to her son in this moment of desolation. She’s seen him in action, and knows that he has some kind of exceptional power to bring life back into situations that seem lifeless. He has the ability to bring hope where it seems all is lost. Jesus has transformational powers, and turns water into wine.

Bringing hope when all seems lost is a theme we really need to hear in our day, in our age, in our situation. In an environment in North America where struggling mainline churches is the norm and not the exception. And yet, while this means a loss in the way in which we’ve been in western society for the past few hundred years, it means that God is providing us with a possibility of transformation. God is calling us to something new. We may only see that our wine has run out, but God’s abundance and life and hope and joy are still there.

We forget that in the early church, where Christians were a tiny fraction of an indifferent population, that the faith flourished and grew at more than three times the general population. This was at a time when no church buildings stood on a street corner. This was at a time when the Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, and people were scattered to the four winds. Yet this small collection of the population believed in the possibility of transformation, believing that God’s love was for everyone, that no-one would be excluded and that Christ’s love was lived out through the tiniest acts.

Early Christians had to be creative in how they made a difference in the world. They couldn’t simply set up shop and hope people showed up. Rather, they met people where they were, making a difference where they could. They would then gather together, often in secret, to personally recharge, and then get back out there to be the living presence of Christ in the world. They did this in a society that was either indifferent or even hostile to their existence. Remember that in the times of great persecution under the Roman Empire, they flourished, because they embraced the power of life.

Christ calls us to be in touch with the power of life within every life situation, inviting us to transform bleak situations into ones full of life and possibility. It is that reunion which is the focus of Christ’s mission and ministry. He calls it the Kingdom of God, or the Commonwealth of God. This is not a place, but rather reality itself when lived in the presence of God. The way for those who are Christian into the reign of God is Jesus Christ. We believe His is the incarnation of the eternal, divine presence, which is the source of all life. He is the life underlying our life situation, however miserable that may be at the moment.

The trouble is we tend to think that our life situation is life itself. But it’s not. To take Christ into our life is to take the very power of the source of all life into ourselves. This is why the author of John’s gospel comes to the stunning conclusion that those who believe in Jesus Christ have eternal life. We have tended to understand eternal life as a reward in the hereafter for living a good life on earth. But I don’t believe it. Eternal life is the power and presence of God, the ocean of life out of which all life emerges and into which all life returns, which is available here and now for those who avail themselves of it. This is the wine that Christ offers, after we think the wine has run out.

When the wine ran out, Mary went to her son, and let him know about it. In the same way, we can take our life situation to Christ, let him know the joy has disappeared, and that hopelessness has taken its place. He still changes water into wine today. In fact, for those who are in Christ, the best is yet to come. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Original Text by the Rev. Sarah Fanning, additions/modifications by the Rev. John Crowdis