Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, 1/15/2023. The bulletin is available as a PDF: Epiphany2 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, click here.
One of Michelangelo’s greatest and most recognizable paintings is entitled: “The Creation of Man.” In it, Michelangelo depicts the dramatic moment when God gives life to Adam. Adam’s body reclines lifeless on the ground as God condescends from His throne, extends His right hand, and is about to touch man’s flesh with His life-giving finger.
However, while the viewer’s attention is drawn to the action of God’s right hand, there is another aspect of this painting that often escapes first notice. Hidden there in the crook of God’s left arm is the woman, already alive, already waiting for her husband.
Michaelangelo confronts us with a marvelous ambiguity. Is this the moment when Adam is formed from the dust, or is it the moment he is awakened from sleep?
Is this the moment of his initial creation, or is it the moment of his re-creation, his resurrection, after that blessed surgery, wherein God pulled the rib from his side?
By placing Eve there in the painting, Michaelangelo gives form to a remarkable insight. Man’s creation in the image of God does not begin with a birthday, but with a wedding day.
“It is not good for the man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) The image of God has a plural character. The image of God, who is Three-in-One, is echoed and imitated here on earth when two become one.
When God forms Adam, He already has Eve in mind. When He brings forth Eve, she’s given as the embodiment of God’s own love for Adam.
The creation of man is not the creation of individuals – autonomous, sovereign, and independent. Rather, the creation of man consists in a nuptial fellowship that, by means of God’s outstretched arms (as Michaelangelo portrays it), binds the two into one.
The creation of man begins not with a birthday, but a wedding day. Man’s life in the image of God commences with a divinely arranged marriage. Thus, it is meet and right for John to begin his account of our Lord’s public ministry with a marriage feast.
This, the beginning of signs, Jesus did at Cana of Galilee and manifested His glory. verse 11
For John, a wedding belongs to the beginning of things; which might be strange to some of us. In our culture weddings have become big business. Even in those cases when the wedding is thought of as more than a party, marriage is sold as the end, the goal, the fulfillment, and the ideal.
That’s why they made it the dramatic conclusion to every season of The Bachelor, and at least a decade of Rom-Coms. The wedding is the goal of romance, the ideal vision of true love, and the perfect vision of human relationship.
But even then, where it would seem that marriage is exalted and celebrated, that’s only because it’s been redefined by human desire, human choice, and human passion.
This is why we tend to date the same way we test drive a car. We examine the strengths and weaknesses of our partners so that in the marriage we are getting exactly what we want. But things always change the moment you drive off the lot.
But marriage is not an end in itself. It is the beginning. This is something often better understood by those who practice arranged marriages.
Now, when I was young and single, the very idea of such a thing seemed to me primitive, barbaric, unenlightened, and worse: boring. But as a father of four, it’s seeming more legitimate, and even worthy of revival. Arranged marriages, like the one in Eden, turn our autonomous world upside-down. Arranged marriages testify that it is not human choice, human desire, or human passion that makes the nuptial bond, but the desire and passion of God Himself.
It is God who laments that Adam is alone; it is God who puts Adam to sleep, builds the woman from His side, and brings her to the man; it is God’s own passion that binds them into one.
For Adam and Eve, marriage is not the end, but the beginning. Marriage is the source of their love; not its end, its goal, or even its ideal. Marriage grounds their love in the passion of God Himself; in marriage, it is God’s passion that becomes the living fountain from which they are to “increase, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.”
Thus, the very same One whose passion and love authored the first marriage in Eden now comes to Cana in Galilee with a singular intention: to perform “the beginning of signs and manifest His glory.”
But, what is the glory that He comes to manifest? At the heart of the Gospel this morning is the petition of Jesus’ mother: “They have no wine.”
These words reveal a certain desperation. She speaks in absolute, even extreme terms. She does not say, “The wine is running out,” or “They have no more wine.” Rather, she says “They have no wine.”
Her desperation is matched by her Son’s indignation. Jesus’ reply surprises us with its seemingly resentful tone. “O Woman, what is there between you and me? My hour has not yet come.” (slightly more literal translation)
But Jesus’ answer reveals just how seriously He has received her plea. For Jesus, the woman is not merely calling for more wine; she is calling for Him to take up the duty of the bridegroom.
And the duty of the bridegroom, Israel’s Bridegroom, the Church’s Bridegroom, is to surrender His life. “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his beloved.” John 15:13
This is the true, blessed, and free submission. Adam submits to the piercing of his side for the sake of his beloved; Jacob endures years of servitude for his bride; Hosea bears public shame; and Jesus must be lifted up on the cross.
To fulfill the woman’s plea and provide true nuptial wine, Jesus knows His blood must be shed. Thus, the glory He manifests in this beginning of signs is not a gaudy, materialistic show of power, but the glory of His passion.
Today is Jesus’ wedding day, the beginning of signs. Today He manifests Himself as the Bridegroom who pours out His blood for the feast. He is the Lover of mankind who lays down His life for His beloved.
The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) begin with Jesus’ birth and move toward His death. But John begins with His wedding day. Indeed, John begins with a marriage and ends with a kind of birth. For the very woman who pleads for a bridegroom at Cana of Galilee, is the same woman who receives a son at Golgotha. “Woman, behold your son!” John 19:26
On the cross, the fullness of Jesus’ hour finally comes; the beginning of signs gives way to the truth. Christ’s own blood is the good wine kept for the end; for true life is in His blood; and it is through His blood, poured from His side, that the Church, His Bride, begins to be fruitful, to multiply, and fill the earth.
Dear friends, we are children of this nuptial union. We gather as those born from above through the passion of Christ; we gather as those rejoicing in the presence of the Bridegroom, who offers His own flesh and blood for the feast.
Here we are called to take part in the marriage feast that has been arranged from before the foundation of the world. This wedding banquet is not the end, but the beginning; for here all things are made new. Here we rejoice with Eve as she rests in the crook of God’s arm and looks upon her pierced bridegroom, who has wakened from his sleep. Here we share the joy of Rachel whose long betrothal is finally at an end. At this altar, the angelic words are surely true:
Blessed are those invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Revelation 19:9