Category Archives: Mary

A Tale of Two Women

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary


Comparing and contrasting Eve and Mary is interesting. In our readings today, we see the stark contrast between the two. Eve shifts blame and shirks responsibility. Mary embraces the call of God. Eve’s reaction to her unexpected visitor, the serpent, marred humanity and the world. Mary’s reaction to Gabriel enabled the most critical event of all history.

Both Eve and Mary were created without sin. Eve came into a sin-free world, whereas Mary was sinless in a sin-saturated world. Eve’s sinlessness made her like the rest of creation. Mary’s sinlessness distinguished her from everyone else. Eve’s act of sin degraded her and everyone else. Mary chose to obey.

God created Eve sinless by default, since he cannot cause sin. He created Mary without sin as an exception. While Eve was truly an act of creation, Mary was born like everyone else, except that she was without sin.

Gabriel did not spend decades appearing to various virgins, being repeatedly rejected. He went to Mary, and Mary alone. There was no reason to visit anyone else. She was the one who had been set aside and prepared.

In contrast to Eve’s, “The serpent tricked me and I ate,” Mary pronounces, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Mary embraces her appointed mission. She has no way to know how it will all play out, but she knows who she is; she is one consecrated to the Lord.

We know very little about Mary outside of Luke’s Gospel, but it makes sense that people would have noticed something different about this Galilean girl. She never did anything wrong. She wasn’t just a teacher’s pet, able to get away with questionable behavior because of her position. On the contrary, humility is Mary’s defining virtue. She would not parade around perfection.

In this season of Advent, which is to focus us on the comings of Christ — past, present, and future — we are given a model in Mary. She knew Messiah was to come; she did not question Gabriel on those points of his proclamation. But she presumably did not know she was to become the Mother of God until Gabriel appeared to her.

When he did, though, she was ready. She had always been “the handmaid of the Lord.” She had dedicated herself to the Lord’s service. This disposition is what enables her to say, “Be it done to me according to your word.” And it is that submission to the Word of the Lord that makes one a handmaid. The two are inseparable.

As we look toward Christ, our only reasonable response is humble submission. We are, after all, sons and daughters of Eve, stained by sin and given to chasing it. But we are also called to become sons and daughters of God. In other words, we are brothers and sisters of Christ, which makes us sons and daughters of Mary.

May we seek to embody and exemplify our adoptive mother’s character.


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Do What She Does

It is May, which, among other indications of spring, includes commencement exercises. At my daughter’s college commencement this past weekend, one speaker told of how he was taught basic dinner etiquette when an undergrad many decades ago. The faculty member he dined with told him to watch her and do what she did. Through this imitation he learned how to eat with fork and knife, and not just his spoon.

This lesson served him well soon afterward when he found himself the guest of a well-to-do family while traveling with a small group of fellow students. At dinner, a vast number of cutlery and dishes were on the table. None of the students were used to such finery and they quickly huddled to figure out how to not bring discredit upon themselves. The one who had recently learned how to use more than just a spoon knew what to do. He told the other to watch the hostess and do what she does. They did, and received praise for their fine manners at the end of the evening.

My mind took this image and ran, uncovering a true guide to life.

The WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) craze inspired by In His Steps was at its height several years ago. While motivated by a desire to follow Christ, it failed to be a solid tool for most people because of two main problems. First, none of us are first-century itinerant Jewish rabbis. Our context is so different from Christ’s that trying to pattern our life so directly after his is difficult. Second, Jesus did and said a lot. We have four Gospels full of things he did and said, many of which we may not be able to do.

We can benefit from a simple, concrete example that is no less profound, but may seem more attainable. It is not easier to do completely, but it is less complicated to understand.

Do what Mary did.

Mary’s recorded words and actions in Scripture are few and attainable for all of us. In fact we can sum them up in two phrases. First, when the angel Gabriel came to her to announce what the Father intended to do through her, she replied, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Second, at the wedding in Cana, her one instruction to others, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5)

In these two statements, we find the whole of the Christian life. Submit to God as a willing servant and guide others to do the same. May we watch Mary and imitate her life — quiet, faithful and devout — that we may receive her reward.

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How Can This Be?


In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:26-38 (ESV)

We know this story; we’ve read it many times. You might see it reenacted by a couple of kids in bathrobes at your church this weekend. But if we pay attention, something sticks out as odd.

“In the sixth month….” The sixth month of what? The sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist. If we go back and read the account of Gabriel’s visit to Zechariah, we see that he also asks a question.

And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

Luke 1:18 (ESV)

Because of Zechariah’s unbelief, Gabriel strikes Zechariah mute until the baby is born and named John. So how does Mary get off unscathed when she asks, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” On the surface, it seems like she should incur a bit of Gabriel’s wrath as well. After all, their questions are very similar, though I grant that Zechariah seems to want proof while Mary seems to only wonder how it will happen.

But that still doesn’t help explain why Mary asks how. As a young woman of age, betrothed to be married in an agrarian community, she surely understands how things work. The birds and the bees aren’t some shadowy mystery to her. What woman approaching marriage would ask how she is going to have a baby? Is Mary that dense? Would she not have assumed that Gabriel meant once she was wed?

Perhaps it hinges on “since I am a virgin.” If Mary had taken a vow of chastity, then this interchange makes sense. Her question moves beyond either doubt or not understanding where babies come from to understanding that she was under a vow before the Lord. To have a child in the normal way of things would violate that oath.

There is a very old tradition in the church that says this is the reason for Mary’s question. The Protoevangelion of James dates to the mid-second century and while it is considered apocryphal, that does not mean there is no truth in it, only that it is not canonical.

Something to ponder this Advent season.

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You have to be still to reflect. The stiller you are, the better reflection you give. My wife reminded me of these words on a recent walk along the Puget Sound. The particular inlet we were walking next to was particularly still and we could see reflections of the opposite shore.

The proper thing for me to do at this point would be to quit writing and let you reflect. You are certainly under no obligation to continue. In fact, to do so may be counter-productive.

The purpose of a book of meditations is to teach you how to think and not to do your thinking for you. Consequently if you pick up such a book and simply read it through, you are wasting your time. As soon as any thought stimulates your mind or your heart you can put the book down because meditation has begun. To think that you are somehow obliged to follow the author of the book to his own particular conclusion would be a great mistake.

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 215

Authors have different goals than readers. My goal this year is to produce 500 words per day on this blog. I have no idea what your goal of reading it may be. Even if your goal hasn’t been reflection, I hope that something here has sparked that within you. Few things are more necessary, or more endangered, than quiet reflection. This TED Talk on how to find your calling underscores the necessity of quiet reflection.

As colleges and universities are busy indoctrinating their incoming freshman into whatever it is they think is important through the increasingly popular freshman seminars, I wonder what would happen if instead of team building games and diversity presentations, they merely took away all electronics and made the campus quiet for a week. My hunch is that there would either be open revolt or a step toward some meaningful transformation within the lives of the students.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, had a weighty task: to raise the Son of God. Why this particular girl? How did she manage it? God’s grace overshadows the whole enterprise of the incarnation, but perhaps one small contributing factor is revealed in Luke 2:19. Mary is only one of two people who are revealed in the New Testament to have pondered. (Peter in Acts 10 is the other.) I’m sure other pondering occurred in Bible times, but Luke was inspired to make sure we knew that Mary pondered the events surrounding Jesus’ birth. She was still and she reflected the grace of God.

We are not grace, light, truth, or love by ourselves. We only reflect these from their source. To reflect well, we must be still, quiet, at peace. Everything around us wars against that end. To the extent the challenges to our quiet reflection are successful, our capacity to reflect grace, light, truth, and love is diminished. May God make us sensitive and protect us so that we may reflect upon him and reflect him.

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Filed under Discipline, Growth, Mary, Priorities, Silence, Simplicity, Solitude

Catholic or Protestant?


I confuse people. I don’t do it deliberately, but I guess I can understand why to a degree. I wear what looks like to most Americans a “Catholic priest shirt” and yet I attend the Protestant service on our military post. So what am I? My answer to that question depends on the inquirer. Some people don’t want the in-depth answer; they want to know which box I check in their mental categories. My usual answer is, “Anglican,” but this doesn’t really answer the question for most people.

It leads to the bigger question of: “What is Anglican? Catholic or Protestant?” Both. Neither. It depends who you ask. If you ask a Roman Catholic, they will say that we are Protestant. If you ask at least some Protestants, they will say that we are wannabe Catholics.

Why am I not Catholic? I reflected on this question a few months ago and boiled it down to a one-word answer: women—my wife and Jesus’ mother. If I was to “swim the Tiber” over to Rome (which is possible as an Anglican) I would be an oddity as a married priest. I think married clergy are possible and permissible under the teaching of Scripture, but Catholic teaching requires celibacy. I respect that position and see its merits, so I don’t want to become an exception to the rule. Our culture wouldn’t handle that well. (I’m already an aberration as a North American Anglican.)

Then there is Mary. I cannot embrace her as a perpetual virgin, immaculately conceived and assumed into heaven after her death. The case for these three cornerstones of Catholic Mariology is too speculative and tenuous to me. It would be one thing if veneration of Mary was a side issue to Catholicism, restricted to some religious order, but it is not. From what I have seen and read, Mary is a big part of the liturgy and life of the Roman Catholic Church. I respect that, but I cannot in good conscience embrace it.

So, that makes me a Protestant, though I am uncomfortable with that title as well. I have no admiration for Martin Luther or John Calvin as I believe both corrupted the “faith once delivered” in their own ways. I tend to read far more Catholic (and Orthodox) authors than Protestant and I have a predisposition for those before the Great Schism that divided the church east and west.

Maybe I’m a “primitive Catholic”? I haven’t searched Google for that one. I’m sure there is a group out there somewhere already claiming that title. What I really am, as near as I can tell, is a Christian who wishes our ecclesiastical landscape was different. I wish there was one visible church throughout the world. We managed that for about a millennia before the Schism, but the “Reformation” has probably destroyed any hope of that until the return of Christ.

I am a Christian who is not afraid to cross Protestant/Orthodox/Catholic boundaries in my pursuit of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’m saddened by the divisions in the church and I’m grieved by those who uphold them as good and necessary. Mostly, I’m a stranger and an alien longing for home.

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Filed under John Calvin, Martin Luther, Mary

Water into Wine

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Epiphany, Year C 2015

We are in the season of Epiphany in the church calendar. It’s not as well-known as Christmas or Advent or Lent or Easter. Epiphany is the season that commemorates the revealing of Jesus to mankind. Epiphany has long been associated with three key events from the Gospels: the visitation of the Magi, Jesus’ Baptism and the wedding at Cana. These are the first episodes in the Gospel that begin to reveal Jesus to the world and reveal him as the Messiah. In year C of the lectionary—our current year—we get to follow this ancient pattern of Magi, baptism, and the wedding at Cana on successive Sundays. It is to this third story that we turn our attention this morning. Please join me in the second chapter of the Gospel of John.

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

(John 2:1-11 ESV)

Collect of the day:[1]

         Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Our Gospel opens with the phrase, “On the third day.” The third day of what? If we read through chapter one, it is third day since Jesus starting calling disciples. According to John, Jesus has 4 disciples by this point—at least he names four of them—Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, and Nathanael. Jesus is just at the very beginning of his public ministry.

They are at a wedding and Jesus’ mother notices that something is amiss. They are running out of wine. She points that out to her son, and he has an interesting reply. “My hour has not yet come.” This phrase is used in several other places in the Gospels. In both John 7:30 and 8:20 it is use to explain why those who sought to arrest or kill Jesus where unable to. It was not his time.

We can compare these scenes with Jesus praying in the Garden where he says, “The hour has come.” (17:1) In other words, now it’s time. Apparently, at this wedding, it’s not time yet. Maybe Jesus was just foreshadowing Paul Masson?[2]  “We will sell no wine before it’s time?” (I didn’t really expect anybody to get a reference to a wine commercial from 1979.)

Anyway…. Jesus is the creator of time. He is not limited by time and schedules as you and I are. What does he mean, “My hour has not yet come?” It reveals that he seeks to do all things in a fitting and sequential manner. He knows that we, as imperfect and fallen people, need time to process things. We need time to draw connections and come to conclusions. If Jesus had been arrested and crucified immediately after his baptism would anyone have understood what was going on or its significance? It seems highly doubtful.

“My hour has not yet come,” I have just gathered these disciples. I have barely had time to teach them anything. I’m not sure they are quite ready to see a miracle happen yet. I plan to call a few more. I don’t want them to get the wrong idea that I’m just some sort of genie that goes around granting wishes. The requirement for time is ours, not God’s. In part, because of these considerations, we see Jesus perform a low-key miracle. Let us observe as events unfold.

“Do whatever he tells you.” Mary presumably knew that Jesus’ reluctance came not from lack of power but from humility. Her word to the servants at the wedding feast is her word to us sitting here in chapel today.

My son Jesus is here. Do whatever he tells you.

We’ll return to that thought in a few minutes.

“Six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification.” This is not some trivial detail, but is actually a key point in this narrative for several reasons. First, it is given to us. The Gospel writers, generally speaking, aren’t big on detail, are they? There are hundreds, if not thousands of details we can find ourselves wondering about as we read these pages. What did Jesus wear? Did he and his disciples look like they do in our movies? Which movie? Did Jesus make white wine or red? The list goes on and on. So when we get a detail like this given to us, 6 stone jars, of the type used for the rites of purification, each holding 20-30 gallons, we had better pay attention. There is some reason for its inclusion.

What was the normal purpose of these jars? To have water on hand to be able to perform the ritual cleansings that were part of the law given to Moses. Remember, there was no running water in those days. These jars held the water necessary to have on hand to keep the Old Testament law. This detail lets us know something else—these jars never contained anything but water. You had to use pure water for purification. Therefore, John is letting us know what happened was actually a miraculous transformation, not merely the servants cutting what wine was left with water and somehow passing it off.

But I get ahead of myself.

Jesus tells the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. These servants modeled to the disciples, and for us, perfect obedience. They took no half-steps. They fulfilled the Lord’s command to the uttermost, filling the jars to the brim. Perfect, unquestioning, obedience.

They took Mary’s advice and did whatever he told them to do. They didn’t quibble on the meaning of “full” or complain about having to haul between 120 and 180 gallons of water from the nearest well to complete this task. Think about how much you like carrying two gallons of milk from the commissary to your car and multiply that 60 to 90 times. That’s up to three-quarters of a ton of water. This was not some trivial obedience of giving someone a cup of water. But they don’t shirk or skimp.

To the brim. Oh that we would so willingly and utterly obey our Lord.

Having completed this task in obedience, Jesus now tests the faith of the servants. “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” Faith is required to exercise this obedience—more faith than just refilling the jars with water. The servants aren’t going to get yelled at for filling water jars with water. But taking water to the master of the feast and trying to pass it off as wine, that’s a different story.

We need to understand the role of the master of the feast. In contemporary terms we might think of him as the wedding coordinator, or the manager of the banquet facility. It was his job to assure everything went well, that the food and drink was of sufficient quality and served at the right time. He was not a fellow partier, this was his job. His assessment of the wine is not one of a partially inebriated guest.

The master of the feast tastes their offering and says nothing to the servants. He calls the groom over. Why? Because, according to tradition at this point in history, it was the groom’s responsibility to supply wine for the wedding banquet. So, if there was any issue with the wine, ultimately it was the groom’s problem.

This is the moment of faith being tested for the servants. They gave the fluid previously known to be water to the master of the feast and his response is, “get the groom.” I can imagine their stomachs may have jumped into their throats. They don’t know how this is going to turn out yet. They just know that this woman Mary told them to do whatever her son said to do. They did, and now here they are wondering if they are going to be in trouble after hauling all that water from the well.

The groom comes to the master of the feast. The groom is possibly already a bit nervous himself, if he has also noticed that the wine supply is running dry and the party isn’t over. “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” You did it wrong. You got the cases in the wrong order.

This may have been a great relief to the groom—hey, at least we’re not out. It was a great relief—and source of wonder—to the servants. Jesus did it. They don’t know how, but this Jesus did something. They put water in those jars and now they are full of wine. Good wine. Good enough that there is no question that it is better than everything they have served at this reception up to this point.

It was Jesus’ first miracle to his disciples. As their dry glasses were now refilled, they probably looked in wonder at Jesus. How did he do that? He never got up from his seat. Hey, this is good wine….

This was the first of his signs, and manifested his glory. It may have taken a bit for the disciples to fully process the significance of what happened. As they would go on to see blind men healed, demons dramatically cast out, and the dead raised, they would also think back to this wedding and the miraculous wine. It at least made enough of an impression upon John that he recorded it in his Gospel.

Cool story. So what?

I think there are a few points we can draw from this episode that have relevance to us today. There is some significant symbolism going on here that we should be attuned to.

First, Jesus cares about the details of our life. They are running out of wine at a wedding reception. This isn’t world hunger. This is at most a social embarrassment. We do well to remember that our small things are big to God’s love, and our big things are small to his power. If it matters to us, God cares.

Second, Jesus is fulfilling the role of the bridegroom. Whoever this man was whose wedding they were attending, he had failed to supply enough wine. Jesus steps in and shows himself to be a better groom. Jesus, of course, we are told later in the New Testament, is the groom and we—the church—are his bride[3]. Our baptism is our ceremonial cleansing before the wedding (remember those 6 stone jars?) and the Eucharist is the foreshadowing of the wedding feast we will celebrate upon his return for us.[4]

Third, Jesus made wine. I know that this upsets some people. But if the language of scripture means anything at all, we can’t argue this point. He took stone jars for fulfilling the law given through Moses. Moses, whom God used to give the Israelites water in the desert during the Exodus. Water sustains life, it is important. Wine, on the other hand brings joy.[5] It is a symbol of moving from surviving to thriving.

God did not give the best first, but waited to send us his Son. God spent thousands of years watching and working through Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua and on and on. But he did not send his Son until it was time. God is patient that we might receive blessings in fullness. God works slowly that we—the slow ones—might understand what he is doing. Jesus comes to give us not just life, but life abundantly.[6]

Wine lasts, and the best wines get better with age. Water gets tepid and if not perfectly pure, can grow things. There were no Brita pitchers or reverse-osmosis systems back then. More theologically, Jesus takes the water—the sign of our baptism, our repentance, our beginning in obedience, and transforms it into wine—the symbol of his blood. His blood shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins. His blood, through which he entered into glory. His blood, through which we are promised new and everlasting life. His blood, symbolized in the wine of the Eucharist.[7] The wine we will share at the wedding supper of the Lamb.

Finally, Jesus manifests himself through servants. From the point of view of most everyone at that wedding, Jesus did nothing. He didn’t get up, he never touched the jars or the water. The servants, responded in obedience, and then faith. They saw the blessing that Jesus bestowed. Through the obedience of the servants, everyone was blessed.

God has always worked that way. Hey Noah, build me an Ark. Through faith, he obeys and is blessed. Hey Moses, go tell pharaoh to let my people go. Through faith, he obeys and blesses all of Israel. Hey Gideon, lead my army. Hey Isaiah, go prophesy to my people. Hey Peter, follow me. Hey Paul, stop persecuting Christians and preach to Gentiles.

Faith that culminates in obedience leads to God’s blessing. Not just for the one responding in obedience, but for others. We’re blessed by Noah. If he hadn’t obeyed, we probably wouldn’t be here. If the disciples hadn’t obeyed, there would be no church and we would know nothing of Jesus. Even Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, was obedient in faith and brought blessing to us.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

(Philippians 2:5-11 ESV)

Jesus became obedient, therefore God blessed him by exalting him. What is God calling you to do? If you have no idea, just start reading through the Gospels. Jesus tells us all sorts of things to do. Love God. Love your neighbor. Be humble. The list goes on and on.

What is God calling you to do? Now listen to Mary. “Do whatever he tells you.” Follow the example of the servants. Carry the water. Step out in faith. Risk being blessed through faithful obedience.

Let us pray.

Grant us obedient hearts, O God.

Let the servant’s immediate and whole-hearted response be a source of encouragement and challenge to us.

Like them, may we listen to your call to venture into unknown and grace-filled experience.

May our trust grow to such a depth, that we respond in wholehearted fashion, knowing that your ways are beyond our understanding and your compassion broader than we can imagine.

With obedient hearts, may we play a role, however small, in the great plan of your salvation,  that same plan that through the obedience of the servants at the wedding, was revealed to the world.

In the name of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, Amen.[8]


May you be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.[9] Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly that all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations.[10] In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Collect for the Second Sunday of Epiphany, 1979 Book of Common Prayer

[2] Orson Wells did a series of popular commercials for this wine brand in the late 70’s and the tag line was always, “Paul Masson, we will sell no wine before its time.” Of course, you can find them on YouTube.

[3] Revelation 21:9

[4] Luke 22:18

[5] Zechariah 10:7, Psalm 104:15

[6] John 10:10

[7] See Matthew 26:26-29 and parallels. Make no mistake, they were celebrating the Passover, which involves several cups of wine.

[8] Adapted from

[9] 1 Corinthians 15:58

[10] Ephesians 3:20-21

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Filed under Mary, Miracles, Servanthood

Who’s Wedding?

This Sunday, in the Revised Common Lectionary, the Gospel reading is from the second chapter of John about Jesus’ first miracle; turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana. It is the third of three traditional Epiphany readings also including the visit of the Magi and the baptism of Jesus. Each of these events are early appearances of Jesus in the Gospels. They each are revelations or manifestations of the Christ, thus “epiphany.”

In studying the Gospel reading for this Sunday, I noted a few questions. First, what is the significance of the jars being for ceremonial cleansing? If you think about it, John gives us quite a bit of detail about these jars. Not only what they are for, but how many there were and how big they were. I don’t think we have that kind of detail on any items related to a miracle anywhere else in the New Testament. We know five loaves and two fish, but we don’t know what kind of bread or fish.

As I had anticipated, several commentators picked up on the jars and their significance and possible symbolism. My next question became, who was getting married?

We know Jesus, his mother and his newly-recruited disciples were in attendance, but we don’t know who was tying the knot. Mary seems pretty attune to the conduct of the reception; she is the one to notice the wine running dry. A few commentators noted that it was the groom’s responsibility to supply the wine for the reception. This explains why the master of ceremonies calls the groom when he tastes the new wine and chastises him for serving in a reverse order of the custom.

This got me to thinking. Is there a connection between Mary’s interest and the groom? Was there a family connection? Could this even have been a brother of Jesus? I know my Catholic friends hold Mary as a perpetual virgin, but if I recall correctly, they assent that Jesus had brothers. The Gospels tell us as much, though Catholics may disagree as to whether or not Mary bore them. (One theory is that Joseph had children from a previous marriage.)

Either way, it seems plausible that there was some family connection for Mary, Jesus, and the disciples to be there. Mary’s concern over the wine makes me wonder if it wasn’t a close connection. All of this is conjecture and speculation, of course. None of it really matters in the interpretation of the story, but I find it interesting to contemplate.

Of course, Mary and Jesus being there gives us a notable absence: Joseph. I have long wondered about Joseph. He plays a key role in the nativity. He is portrayed as present but not engaged when Jesus was in the temple at age 12. Then he disappears from the Gospel narratives.

I wonder what it must have been like for Joseph to be the husband of Mary and assumed father of Jesus. It certainly seems he got more than he bargained for when the betrothment was first agreed upon. Angels, a scandalous pregnancy, visits from eastern astrologers, death threats, more angels, fleeing to Egypt, a son who could hold his own with the learned teachers in the temple. A son who called God his Father.

Most people speculate that Joseph was older than Mary and that he died at some point between the incident in the temple and the wedding in Cana. We don’t know. The Gospels are provocatively silent on this detail. I find myself, usually in Epiphany, wondering about Joseph and what happened, what he thought, how his life played out.

Someday, perhaps I’ll have opportunity to listen to his story. At a wedding supper. With what promises to be some great wine if history is any clue.

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