I smiled when I saw that today’s gospel reading was the wedding at Cana.
Sheenagh and I find ourselves roughly mid-way between two weddings: Our daughter Alice’s, in October 2019, and Katy’s in April 2022. I am learning a lot about weddings.
Alice and Alex were aware early on that quite a few of their guests were on the thirsty side. So they planned accordingly. After the ceremony, there was Prosecco all round, a generous allowance. Then at the meal table they provided red and white wine on each table – half a bottle per adult, plus more fizz for the toasts. And for the evening, Sheenagh’s special project was a whisky bar, a table laid out with bottles of all her favourite whiskeys – of which there are quite a few.
So they thought that should be enough for most of the guests. And then the groom’s parents stepped up and kindly offered to pay for a free bar in the evening, to cover any additional drinks which might be needed.
In the morning, after breakfast, we were there when they went up to receive the bar bill. In fact they gave it to the couple as a memento and I have it here [unfold the bill]. I’ll just pick out a few items: 26 Whiskys – that was after the Whisky bar ran out; 46 Jaegermeister – I think that’s for Jaeger bombs – is that what they are called? 84 gin and tonics; 127 pints of beer of various kinds, and then the big one, 150 glasses of prosecco.
Maybe some of you are thinking, what a debauched lot!
Well, you could argue they are in good company, based not only on today’s reading but also Matthew chapter 11 comes to mind, where Jesus talks about how his critics describe him as “a glutton and a drunkard.”
So here is an interesting comparison: This list of drinks from the free bar at our daughter’s wedding, I calculated adds up to around 900 units of alcohol – not bad. Using the same scale, the extra jars of wine Jesus provided at the wedding in Cana totalled 6,500 units.
To return to the quote from Matthew in full:
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard…”
So in this story of the wedding at Cana we have an illustration of what is highlighted in Matthew, that Jesus engages with the style of life of the people around him in a very different way to John the Baptist.
Now John the gospel writer uses the story of the wedding feast to weave in symbolic ideas from the Jewish tradition, going back to the idea in Hosea about Israel being the bride and their God the husband, and in Isaiah, the feast on the mountain top. But for today I want to reflect on the simple fact, which we assume underlies this story, of Jesus attending this wedding, not sitting glumly in the corner but at the heart of the festivities, as he did on other occasions, eating and drinking while others fasted.
Through the history of the church there have also been contrasting traditions of the ascetic, in the spirit of John the Baptist, and the convivial, Friar Tuck like figures. In medieval times, the church swung between these poles, with weeks of fasting interspersed with exuberant feasts.
Today we are in the lean time of isolation. We may not be eating locusts and honey – at least not those of us who rely on Supermarket deliveries – but we are being deprived of social contact.
Thomas Merton talked about his monastic isolation as not a withdrawal from the world but his way, through prayer, of being at one with its concerns. For many of us that may feel challenging, as we pray fitfully in our own homes.
But I hope we can look forward to the day when we will celebrate together – when once again our church kitchen will disgorge delicious Iranian food, when family celebrations will resume.
I recall an article last year by Hadley Freeman in the Guardian, when she described her struggle in her late teens with anorexia, when each mouthful of food became a huge act of determination, to make herself eat. And 15 years’ later, every now and then she experiences a sudden joy at the simple ability to have a meal with friends and find pleasure in it.
Today we are reminded, of how Christ in his incarnation embraced the physical, social pleasures of human life, showed their sacredness. Just as at Christmas, with Christina Rosetti, we marvelled at the touch of Mary’s kiss on the baby’s head, and also with the meal of the Eucharist, so we keep alive the hope that soon God will be with us in parties and meals and laughter, life in all its fullness.
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Richard Young (Rector)