Sunday, January 14, 2007

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
The Wine is for the Wedding

Readings: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 96:1-2, 2-3, 7-8, 9-10; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; John 2:1-11

Sisters and brothers, the people who go for retreats or seminars for spiritual renewal– and I include myself among them – sometimes have the following experience. During the retreat or seminar we may experience what some call a spiritual high because, I suppose, it’s not unlike the buzz that you might get from a glass or two of wine. It feels great! It’s like you’ve been taken to the top of a mountain where you enjoy the cool breeze and a bird’s-eye view of your whole life. From way up here the problems and difficulties that you were struggling with not so long ago seem so small and insignificant, or at least they seem much more manageable and bearable. There’s peace and joy in your heart. There’s new hope for the future. It seems like you’re in love with everyone on the whole wide earth. It’s exhilarating!

How long this feeling lasts varies from person to person. For days or even months after the retreat, we may continue to feel as though we were still high up on a mountain-top. But there also inevitably comes a time when our feet seem finally to return to ground zero. And the landing can sometimes be quite rough, especially if we had been expecting the high to last forever. To borrow the imagery from our gospel today, the heady wine that was making everything seem so light and easy seems finally to run out and all that we are left with is the plain bland water of our ordinary everyday routine. It feels like we’re back to square one, if not worse. Did we really go on retreat? Or were we just dreaming?

Of course, not all of us here will have gone for retreats or spiritual seminars before. Nor do we have to. But haven’t we all just been through five or six weeks of the Advent and Christmas seasons? And wasn’t this time a retreat of sorts for us? Didn’t many of us experience something of a high then, whether it was the exhilaration or the quiet contentment that often comes to those who prepare for, welcome and then gaze in awe upon the face of the infant Jesus lying in the manger?

But of course the Christmas and New Year holidays very quickly come to an end. And then, as a line from an old pop song goes, it’s back to life, back to reality. Or so it may seem. And especially in the midst of the beginning-of-the-year rush to work and to school we may find ourselves feeling as though the wine of the Christmas season has indeed run out. Or worse, we might even doubt if we actually tasted any wine to begin with. Maybe ordinary water is the only drink available to us. After all, doesn’t even the Church refer to this period as Ordinary Time?

Our readings on this 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time do much to help us negotiate this change of altitude. They help us to reflect more deeply on the significance of what we celebrated on the mountain-top of the Christmas season and to connect it with the apparent ground zero experience of Ordinary Time.

Although the festive high may have worn off, the gospel story reminds us that not only is the one whom we welcomed at Christmas still very much with us, but that he is able to change the water of our ordinary everyday routine into wine. For isn’t Jesus’ miracle at Cana an expression of the same mystery that we celebrated at Christmas? By his coming to us as a human person, Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, makes ordinary things and ordinary time extraordinary. But how does he do this, we might wonder? And what assurance do we have that he will continue to do this for us everyday? Isn’t the problem precisely that the wine the child Jesus provided us at Christmas has run out?

To answer these questions we need to see that the focus of today’s readings is not really the changing of water into wine. Marvelous as this miracle is, the gospel refers to it as the first of the signs given by Jesus. The wine, the high we may experience at Christmas or at any other time, is important not in and of itself. It points us to something far more significant. In the gospel, just as the wine is important only for the wedding, so too is the miracle itself important only because it signifies, it points out, who Jesus is and what he does for us.

More than a miracle-worker, Jesus is the one through whom God binds himself to us in a bond that can never be broken. The wine is really only for the wedding. And the wedding is really our very own. We heard as much in the first reading today: As the bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. This is our assurance that the festivities of Christmas really have lasting value even when the high may seem to have worn off, even when we seem to have been left to struggle with the mundane challenges of daily living. Because in Christ God has pledged himself to us for all eternity.

And we might consider the wine that Jesus provides in the gospel also as a sign of a wondrous wedding gift by which God seals his pledge of eternal fidelity to us. This gift is a far stronger spirit than any wine we can buy, whatever the vintage. For this gift is nothing less than the Spirit whom we heard about in the second reading today. Although we may not be able actually to see this Spirit, we can experience the gifts that the Spirit brings, including the gifts that are described in the second reading from the first letter to the Corinthians, gifts that help us to find new meaning in, and new energy to live, our everyday routine.

But in order to do this, in order to enjoy the power of this wedding gift who is the Spirit, we need to live out the implications of a life wedded to God. We need to live according to the new name that God has given us. We are no longer to be called forsaken, no longer left to live for ourselves alone. Rather, we are now called wedded. Our lives are to be centered upon our Divine Spouse and his plans for establishing his kingdom on earth. As we heard in the second reading, the variety of gifts given by one and the same Spirit are not only for our own personal enjoyment but for the service and building up of God’s people. It is only when we make this purpose our own, it is only when we heed Mary’s advice and do whatever Jesus tells us, that we can continue to experience the true meaning of Christ’s coming not just on the mountain-top of the holiday season but also at the ground-zero of Ordinary Time. For whatever the altitude, whether we may be feeling high or low, nothing can change the fact that we are God’s beloved. We are precious in God’s sight. We are those whom God has called by name.

Yes, sisters and brothers, the wine is indeed only for the wedding and the Spirit for the Kingdom. And although the high of the holiday season may have passed, our new name and our new status as beloved spouse of God remain unchanged.

How might we continue to live our lives wedded to and centered on our Divine Spouse today?

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