The Gospel of John stands alone when put alongside the three synoptic gospels of Mark Matthew and Luke. The purpose of the three synoptic, called such as they share a high proportion of stories covering the same events and follow a similar sequence, is clear and best conveyed in the introduction of Luke’s gospel. Chapter 1 verse 1
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”
But what of John’s gospel? For many years scholars have referred to St John’s gospel as the “book of signs”.
The dangers of trying to discover secret meaning in the words of scripture are of course nothing new. Dan Brown may well have been very clever in catching the imagination and quenching the thirst of those who believe in conspiracy theories when it comes to the church and the figure of Jesus Christ but he is not alone. There are of course many who dedicate their lives trying to look deeper in to the meaning of words and search out secret rhythms and codes from what is actually written.
But with that said, and if you like having noted the danger of such a reading of scripture, there seems to be more justification in doing so with the gospel of John than with the other gospel writers who do indeed have a deeper theology to convey in the way in which they arrange the details that they find, or indeed have seen with their own eyes, concerning life of Jesus.
On the third Sunday of Epiphany, a season that explores and celebrate the revelation to the world that is Jesus Christ we read:
“On the third day, there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.” Jn 2.1
We are not told who was getting married, a detail that would certainly attract a great deal more comment from todays journalist, but we are told that Jesus and all his disciples were there as well. And while they are there disaster strikes. It seems the host has run out of wine. Now how this unfolds is important. Jesus’ mother informs him and he doesn’t seem too pleased. In fact, he says somewhat cryptically, “My hour has not yet come.” But she persists in telling the servants to do as he commands. He then spies six stone jars, six jars that were used for the Jewish rite of purification; big jars, each one holding twenty to thirty gallons.
He has them filled to the brim and then has them draw some water and take it to the master of the feast. When it gets there it had become wine, and not just any wine, good wine! Everyone is shocked, they know that the usual way things work is you serve the good wine first and when everyone is a bit tipsy then you bring out the cheaper stuff and no one is the wiser.
But here the wine Jesus supplies is the best, the very best. And there at Cana in Galilee his glory is manifested in this miracle.
Everything that happens in our text is said to have happened on the third day and to be the first sign that Jesus performs. On the third day we are introduced in John’s gospel for the first time to the mother of our Lord. Remember John’s Christmas story doesn’t begin with Mary and Joseph and the angel Gabriel but with the cosmic story of the creative Word of God becoming flesh. And it is here at Cana that we first hear of his mother.
She isn’t even named but she plays an important role. She is the one who directs all eyes to Jesus on the third day and then we don’t hear about her again until she appears at the foot of the cross at the end of the Gospel. Here he tells her that his hour is not yet come but later he will say that, “the hour has come to glorify the Father.” And the hour he speaks of is his gruesome death on the cross – where we find Mary.
We are told that the wedding feast in Cana happens on the third day, and it is the third day after his crucifixion that our Lord finds his disciples gathered in the upper room, locked away in fear.
On the Third day he who turns water into wine, he who has given new life to his church he himself comes into their midst. He says, “Peace be with you!” And that is exactly what he gives.
We gather on the third day, on the day of our Lord’s glorious manifestation, we gather as he comes in water and wine, as he comes in Word and Sacrament to give you peace. “Peace” he says, “for you are forgiven. Peace, for you have been washed and fed and embraced by God. Peace for it is finished, my hour has come, you are mine.”
Later in the gospel John tells us that Jesus’s speaks of his own mission in these wonderful words “ I came that you may have life and have life abundantly” John 10.10
In this the first sign of Jesus, and in on the third day after his crucifixion Jesus shows us what that abundant life looks like. The water of our everyday life is transformed by his love and presence into the wine of the Kingdom and through his death and resurrection that promise of abundant life means that there is no limit, no best before, no sell by date that we are so familiar with in our daily lives. For Jesus on the Third day at the wedding at Cana and on the third day after his crucifixion reveals to us the truth of his gift and promise that will stand for eternity – life, life in abundance.