Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Jars of clay. . .

Sermon for Epiphany 2C, preached on Sunday, January 20, 2019.

    There were six earthenware jars there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding 20-30 gallons.  This water was not for bathing or for cooking or for drinking.  It was not for the ordinary purposes of every household. This water belonged to the Rites of Purification of the Jews.  After the actual washing that rids the body of dirt and odors, the ceremonial cleansing takes place that puts the body right before God.  The Jews did this for everything from the foods purchased at the market to the feet upon entering the house.  This was not something symbolic that they invented because it seemed cool.  The Lord commanded it.

    Remember when the Pharisees accused Jesus and His disciples of disdaining the laws of Moses because they failed to wash their food so that it would be ritually clean.  Read through Leviticus and you find the commands to wash and the rather tedious lists of things clean and unclean.  Read of the washings that preceded the entrance of the priest into the Holy of Holies or of the preparation for the scapegoat of Yom Kippur. 

    There were many guests at the wedding and many to be made ceremonially clean and now the earthward jars were almost empty.  Jesus called the servants to fill them.  This required a source of living water, a spring or a stream.  A cistern would not suffice.  I am sure the servants were thrilled at the prospect of hauling several hundred gallons of water into the house a second time, more than a thousand pounds!  But this they did, filling them up to the brim.  This had a holy purpose, after all.

    Then Jesus did something shocking.  By turning the water into wine, the jars were ruined.  Clay jars were common enough but who wants to head out to the market for 6 such large earthenware jars – unless you have to!  Yet by turning this purification water into wine, the jars were stained with both the color and the flavor of wine.  This is no incidental detail.  Jesus is telling us something here.  This was not just a miracle but a sign, a sign of the Kingdom.  So pay attention.

    The purification that came by ritual washing with water would be replaced with the washing of a new covenant, of water become wine become the blood of Christ.  The old covenant would be complete and could no longer deliver what it symbolized.  That is because the One whom the symbol promised was already present.  The hour had not yet come, the hour of the cross would wait a few years, but the Bearer of the New Covenant was already here.  He was already bringing the washing that did not simply symbolize but actually delivered the purification that it signed.  Here is the Lamb of God already prefiguring His work and purpose.  Here is the cleansing that does not get repeated like ritual washings but, in the baptismal water, once for all delivers to the baptized what it signs.

    Jesus “ruined” the Old Covenant not by abolishing it but by fulfilling it.  That is what this water into wine is all about.  If it was about more wine for those who had already drunk more freely Jesus would still be refilling bottles for weddings in Palestine.  If it was about a symbol, then the water would have only appeared to be wine and would not have smelled and tasted like wine – wine enough to stain the earthward jars and ruin them so that they could not purify anything any longer.  Jesus was ushering in a new era, a new covenant, and it began with the fulfillment of the Old and the end of its ability to symbolize anything.  The old purification water now pointed to Jesus.  The wedding feast pointed to Christ the Bridegroom who is come to take His bridge, the Church, to cleanse her so that she might be clean, and to make her His own bride forevermore.

    This was not some coincidental invitation to a wedding of a family member but the design of God.  He is the bridegroom and the Church is His bride.  Just as this is the end that Jesus is preparing and the shape of what He has come to do, so does this relationship mark the beginning of that public ministry.  The first of His signs Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, where He manifested His glory and His disciples believed in Him.

    This was not about more wine.  They were drunk enough already so that they could not tell good wine from the cheap stuff.  But Jesus is not some to give more drink to the drunk.  He is come to bestow the pure wine of His blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  Jesus is come to end the old rites of purification and their rules about clean and unclean and He is the cleansing of the sinner and the purification of the unclean, once for all.  Jesus is come to fulfill the promise symbolized in the ritual washings of old and to give a new sign in which He is the power at work making the sign bestow what it symbolizes.

    Last week was the baptism of our Lord.  He went down into the baptismal water clean but He came up stained with the dirt of your sin and mine.  He was preparing the water so that it was no more a symbol but a sacrament and means of grace that bestowed what it signed.  You don’t have jars standing in your entryway at home, waiting for the dirty to be rendered ritually clean.  That is why it says “of the Jews.”  This belongs to the old covenant but not to the new.  You don’t wash in baptismal water over and over again, but once for all.  For the power of this baptism is not its symbolism but what it does.  It bestows the gift of forgiveness and marks with the promise of God’s new life.

    The jars are not simply jars that happened to be there.  The represent the old covenant.  Christ has kept it once for all.  The jars can no longer be filled with purification water.  They were stained by wine.  And not just any wine but the wine of Christ, His blood, that cleanses all sinners from their sins.  We are not baptized again but we are not finished with the wine.  For the wine will continue to come to us, purifying and cleansing us from all that stains the baptismal identity.  This the wine does by becoming the blood of Christ and feeding and giving the thirsty to drink of His blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin.

    All of this happened when?  On the third day.  This is not a nod to chronology of the event but to the kairos, the full and ripe time, the Messianic moment.  Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ now lives again.  In Him is the life, the only life, that can render the dirty clean, rescue the dead for life, and restore the lost to their rightful place as sons and daughters of the King.  We are the baptized.  We have been washed clean in baptism, and now we come to this wedding feast, for the blood that cleansed us, keeps us clean, and marks us for eternal life.

    At this first sign of the Kingdom, only the servants who had to fill the jars with water and carry the cup of wine to the steward of the feast AND the disciples who came as guests with Jesus knew what had happened.  But at the end of His ministry, on the third day when He rose again, a whole world would find out what began here at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. 

    Baptismal fonts are filled with water not for drinking or for cooking or even for ritual cleansing.  They are filled with the water of the Kingdom that has the power to rescue our lost lives, lead us through death to everlasting life, and forgive our sins and all their guilt.  Like the stone jars of old, the baptismal font and its water are used for a holy purpose and this alone.  There is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism for the forgiveness of your sins, Paul says.  There is one Bridegroom who is come for the one bride, the Church.  There is only one who can cleanse the Church and make the bride a vision of beauty, holiness, and righteousness.  This is what Christ has done and does.  This is that to which the first of Jesus signs in Cana of Galilee points.  This is not a story about extra wine for drunk wedding guests of a people worried about what people might think if they ran out.  Jesus does not waste the grace of the Kingdom on such foolishness.  This is about an end to the old covenant, the One who fulfills the past once for all, and about a new future for the bride living with her bridegroom forevermore.

    This story is about YOU.  You and your baptism and you and your new life sealed in Christ by His gracious favor.  Thanks be to God!  Amen


Anonymous said...

A) I had never heard the"Water into wine" miracle in these terms before. "Jesus is come to fulfill the promise symbolized in the ritual washings of old and to give a new sign in which He is the power at work making the sign bestow what it symbolizes." The old jars were no longer useful as they would be stained: but they were no longer needed for purification since Jesus would purify us.
B) Your observation that Jesus, last week, went into Baptismal water clean and came out willingly stained with our sins is also a beautiful word picture.
I like wine and I have often joked that I would really like to taste that wine from the Wedding at Cana because it had to be the very best wine ever made since Jesus made it. Your tying baptism and the "Water into Wine" Miracle gives me a whole new new way to look at this Epiphany text.
God Bless the Preacher
Timothy Carter, simple country Deacon.

Janis Williams said...

Amen, Simple country Deacon!

This sermon opened my eyes to deeper type and shadow. All those people (of whom I used to be one) who Pooh Pooh studying the OT are missing out on the real wealth of our salvation, and just what God was doing in preparation for bringing us life and salvation in Jesus Christ.