2nd Sunday after the Epiphany
Texts: John 2:1-11;
Isa. 62:1-5; 1 Cor. 12:1-11
CELEBRATING HOLY COMMUNION
Nuptial imagery rings through the Bible like a peal of wedding bells. The first two chapters of Genesis reach their climax in the creation of man and woman in God’s image; the last two chapters of Revelation unveil the New Jerusalem, dressed as a bride adorned for her husband. In between, weddings form significant steps in the story of God and his people. In today’s first reading, the prophet Isaiah compares the joy of Jerusalem’s glory before the nations to that of newlyweds. The world (or is it just TV’s reality shows) may scorn, sentimentalize or trivialize marriage. God still celebrates it.
It’s hardly surprising, then, that the first ‘sign’ of Jesus’ glory in John’s Gospel takes place at a wedding, and lifts the party to new heights. Jesus takes the ritual purification jars of water and turns them into new, exquisite wine. The coming of the bridegroom, that is, of the Lord’s Messiah for God’s people, has begun. Celebrate!
Every Sunday we celebrate, too, with that same new, exquisite wine, the gift of our Lord himself. Do we fully understand why we celebrate? It is a Holy Communion we celebrate, yes, but do we fully appreciate just how holy it is? From the very beginning of time, God has created us to be in Holy Communion. When I say “communion,” I’m simply applying that basic term for our sacrament to the most basic arrangements of human lives. I’m talking about “communion” as those ways of human beings coming together in community. From the very beginning, God saw that it’s not good for us to be alone, and so God created us to live in community, just as God lives in community, too, the community of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But things got messed up, as we know. We began following each other’s desires, instead of following God’s desires, and so we’ve ended up in rivalries with each other that break apart our attempts at Holy Communion. We do manage some efforts at communion, but they are not as holy as God intended.
Here’s what I mean. The communions we attempt are not holy because they always end-up based on being over against someone else. God intended, on the other hand, for our communions to be holy by being for others, not over against others.
Consider the communion at the heart of today’s Gospel, namely, marriage. We come together in communions as families. But how do our efforts at family play out? In a holy way? Do we come together for the sake of others, or over against others? As husbands and wives, do we come together to serve others, or to serve ourselves? Are we more like Romeo and Juliet, together against the world, ending in terrible tragedy? Or are we more like, say, Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter, together to serve others. Have you ever thought of your marriage in terms of a mission statement? Is it a mission to receive as many ‘blessings’ for you and your family, or is it closer to being a blessing for others? The same applies to our roles as parents and children. Are we blessed for our own pleasures, or are we blessed to be blessings for others? Or do we ever really think in terms of mission beyond day-to-day survival? Have you ever noticed that Jesus taught us to think of God as a family? Father and Son. And this Father and Son came together to give the world Holy Communion. ‘For God so loved the world…’
Now, to understand this business of Holy Communion, we need to see that communion, or community, doesn’t end with just family. The family is only the most basic level of communion, that is, the most basic level of human beings joining together in community.
Extemporize on: the level of clans, tribes. Again, our communions weren’t holy. Sacrifice.
Extemporize on: Tribes weren’t the end, either. Tribes finally joined together into nations, empires. And they based themselves in law.
So is this all hopeless? It sometimes seems so. I know that I really fight it at all levels of community. There are so many temptations for our family to be self-absorbed. Extemporize about having a family mission: we are prayerfully considering adopting a child from Liberia.
Extemporize on: Jesus comes as Lamb of God to bring Holy Communion to all levels of human communion. He brings the fulfillment of both sacrifice and law. He brings Holy Communion. Each week he comes to nourish us in the way of living for others, not against others.
Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Grace Lutheran,
Kenosha, WI, January 18, 2004