Last Saturday, I was privileged to be the preacher at the May Festival Mass held at St. Thomas Anglican Church in Toronto. I am grateful to Fr. Rob for his invitation and to Fr Mark and the people of St. Thomas’s for their kindness. Here is the text of my sermon.
She was present when the hour was not yet. Perhaps knowing that her Son could fix the problem, perhaps expressing an embarrassed desire that he and his little band of followers leave, the mother of Jesus came and told him, “They have no wine.” And to that ambiguous statement came the even more ambiguous answer, “What to you and to me, woman? My hour is not yet.” She was present, but The hour was not yet.
The first disciples too were present when the wine at the wedding banquet ran short, when the mother of Jesus boldly instructed the servants, “Whatever he says to you, do it!” perhaps they overheard and began to watch. Whatever prompted them to pay attention, the disciples saw when the water pots were filled to the brim, and tasted when those same pots produced the very best wine. In this way, ends the story of Jesus’s first miracle at Cana, he revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him. They were also present, but the hour was not yet.
What was the glory revealed at the wedding? The glory disclosed when the water changed to wine? Was it some sort of profane appropriation of a pagan miracle story of the God Dionysus? Some rather red-faced scholars have worried so. But no, their fears are misplaced. This is not some feeble syncretism. The glory disclosed at the Cana wedding was the glory of the end-time banquet when, out of God’s inexhaustible plenty, the new wine would be poured out. This is the language of the latter chapters of the book of the prophet Isaiah, not an appropriation of Greek mythology. The miracle heralded the hour when God would be joined to creation in a nuptial union to which every human marriage bears often-all-too-feeble witness, and all would be well. But the hour was not yet. The glory was glimpsed, but it was not yet there.
When our Gospel for this festival day opens, however, the hour has arrived. The hour of the glory. The hour of banquet. The hour of end-time joy. We know because she is present. The mother of Jesus again is there. We know because the disciples are there. Present in Mary of Clopas, Mary the Magdalene, and the disciple whom Jesus loved. And yet, this is no day of glory. All the disciples but these four scattered as blood, not wine, was spilled. This was no nuptial day, no day of union, no day of joy. This was a day of death. A day of rending. A day of grief.
But John bids us look more closely. At this very hour, the mother of Jesus is present. Her presence calls to mind the wedding and its promise, its glimpse of glory. Her presence calls us to see the full disclosure of the glory of God’s one and only son, who was with God, who was God from the beginning, through whom all things were made. Here at the cross, the glory which was the Son’s from all eternity is seen. This was the glory to which the writer testified when he wrote, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” The wedding pointed to it. But the cross, there on the cross, is the glory of the one and only Son. She was present when the hour was not yet. She was present when the hour came.
The disciples were present too, present in the three Marys and especially in the person of the disciple whom Jesus loved. They too, who with Mary glimpsed the glory in the beginning, were beholding the awful glory at the end. They were present when the hour was not yet. They were present when the hour came.
How do we know this horrific scene is at the very same time a day of glory? How do we know that this day of death brings life, this day of rending brings union? Listen.
“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing with her, he said to his mother, ‘Here is your son.’ Then he said to his disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’”
It is very tempting to sentimentalize those words. Here is Jesus, whether because the only Son of the Father was also the only Son of Mary, or because his brothers rejected him and his mother for following him (both readings are found in Christian history), here is Jesus doing what every good Jewish boy should. His dying act was to care for his mother. He effected an adoption of sorts by which the mother of Jesus would be cared for by his faithful beloved disciple. It is a tissues-and-Hallmark moment,
But is that all this is? As with every element of the fourth Gospel, there is much more going on. After all, are we not told, “And from that hour the disciple too her into his home?” The hour. The hour for which the Son of Man came (John 12) is accomplished in this dying act of entrustment. The hour of glory was not yet at the wedding. The hour of glory came when the Son of Man was lifted up upon the cross. And from that hour a new family was created.
This is no mere recording of history (though it is that). The evangelist is showing us in his story that the glory is not simply the death of Jesus, but that in his death a new family—a family made up of his mother and disciple—is created. The cross is the place where the church is born. And so in death we do have life, in the rending of body and soul, we have the union of God with creation and the reunion of the fellowship of humanity, in grief we have great joy. For the end-time banquet is indeed about to begin. The new wine is about to be drunk. Soon, all will be well.
And, to underscore the point, John tells us, “After this, when Jesus knew ALL WAS NOW FINISHED, he said, ‘I thirst.’” From that hour, all was now finished. At the adoption effected by the cross, the glory of the one and only Son was disclosed in the creation of a new community, the community in and through which the reunion of God and the cosmos would take place.
So it is, at this festival Mass, that we are wise to remember our Marian days are not really about Mary. For Mary always and ever directs our gaze away from her to her Son and reminds us that it is in his cross, and in the adoption it effects, we are gathered together. It is in the cross on which he died that we have life. It is from the cross that he bids us take his mother into our homes, so that in loving her we may come more fully to love him. It is to the cross that she directs our gaze and says, “See the glory of my one and only, your Saviour and mine.”