A sermon preached online by Nikolaj Christensen on 24 January 2021.
Can anyone recall a month as full of changes as March 2020? It’s surreal to think that on the first Sunday in March, dozens of us were having a Fairtrade Breakfast together in the church hall. And then two weeks later many of us heard a lecture in the church hall by Nicholas Orme on what worship would have been like at Iffley in the Middle Ages and how it changed completely 500 years ago at the Reformation.
That Sunday with the lecture in the middle of March turned out to be the last Sunday we were all gathered together in church on a Sunday morning. In the space of one week we went through a change no less dramatic than the Reformation.
There was a lot of adrenaline during that time. But many of us have felt fed up for a while now. Like Abram in our Old Testament reading, we may feel we are in the middle of unending struggle to keep ourselves and our families safe; we would like someone to come out of nowhere to put on a feast for us, as Melchizedek did to Abram. Or in the words of today’s psalm, you may be longing to literally ‘see your children’s children’ – and not just on video!
Our Gospel today takes place at a wedding – it may have got you thinking about a wedding that has been postponed.
The abundance that all our readings today speak of is one that might leave us a little melancholic. And all this talk about bread and wine may also make us melancholic about our worship. It’s great that we can still worship together online, and some of you may even like it better this way — but many of you I know are longing to get back to gathering around the Lord’s table week by week.
Jesus still stands at our doors and knocks and still meets with us. And yet what we call ‘spiritual communion’ can feel like only a shadow of what we are longing for.
But let me suggest that all these kinds of lament and longing can also nourish a hope for even greater things, and that this hope can nourish trust in what’s coming.
Sadness and sorrow can either make us cynical or hopeful. They can make us disillusioned and bitter and hopeless. But loss and lament can also lead us to long for things to be different, to hope that things can be different, even to believe that things can be different, and to trust in the one who can make things different.
So let’s briefly look at the first person mentioned first in our Gospel story, Mary the mother of Jesus. Let’s look at her example of prayer.
She points out that the wine has run out. But initially the answer to her simple prayer seems to be ‘no’. We get the sense of what Jesus is saying: ‘Not now, mother’. And ‘not now’ is sometimes the answer we get when we pray as well.
But Mary perseveres with confidence. She says to the waiting staff: ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ And as so often with the Lord, the rejection is not permanent. In the end Mary’s simple prayer becomes the occasion for the first glimpse of Christ’s glory, ‘the first of his signs’, as the Evangelist calls it.
And notice that worldly-wise comment of the chief steward: ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ What John wants us to hear is not a comment to an anonymous bridegroom, but an unwitting proclamation of what the Son of God is like: he saves the best for last. In the depths of pandemic winter, this is what we need to hear! And it’s ‘the first of his signs’ – just the beginning.
Friends, we’ve got even greater things to come than just being back in church. And in the meantime, like old Abram, receive God’s blessing, his unshakable promises for the future, today as we pray, as we receive his peace, as we commune with him.