After two weeks in the hospital, attempting to treat is his advanced, end stage cancer and failing heart, they sent Tommy home on hospice, as there was nothing more they could do. Just keep him comfortable until . . . the end. Throughout his hospital stay, either Bud or Sharon was at his side throughout the day and night, monitoring his care, ensuring his comfort, keeping him company.
It’s been nearly three weeks now that Tommy’s been at home. Bud and Sharon keep the 24/7 vigil, reinforced by Tom’s sisters who have flown in from New York state, and will remain for the duration. They provide all his care, keep him company, pray over him, absorb his crankiness – he wants to go home to heaven in the worst way – and they support one another.
Just hold this story in your mind and heart, and I’ll come back to it. Let’s turn to our readings.
Our first reading comes from the book of the prophet Isaiah. It’s helpful to know that Isaiah has roughly three parts, each of which was likely written by different persons. The scholars creatively call them Isaiah 1, Isaiah 2, and Isaiah 3.
Our passage today comes from Isaiah 3, after the people of Israel had been released from Babylonian captivity. They were returning home to rebuild their community but faced a land empty of life and promise.
While other nations call Israel “forsaken” and “desolate,” God is so in love with Israel, that God sees only “delight” and seeks only to be “espoused” to them. And cannot remain silent. Through the prophet Isaiah, God proclaims true covenant love to Israel, and by extension to all of God’s people.
And there is an implied promise that, in time, God will greatly enrich them and their land if they can only remain true to the covenant.
Okay, so now let’s turn to today’s Gospel story. The wedding feast at Cana. You know the story. They’re running out of wine. Mary turns to Jesus. While resistant at first, he changes water into wine. An extraordinary miracle! Wow!
This story is a bit odd though, right? Think about it. Turning six 20-gallon jars of water into choice wine provides 120 gallons for a wedding feast that surely must be nearly over if the guests have drunk up the available wine, right? And as seemingly ordinary guests, why did Mary get involved, and get Jesus involved?
But of course, we’re not meant to take the story at face value. We are meant to see something deeper. It’s not about the wow factor of turning water into wine! In a similar way that the story of Jonah and the big fish is not really about the wow factor of Jonah getting swallowed by a fish and surviving, this story is not really about the amazing feat of turning water into wine.
So, what is it about? Here’s a clue. The poignant phrase of this story, comes not from Jesus, not from Mary, not from the bride or bridegroom, but rather from the headwaiter, “. . . you have kept the good wine until now.” The subtext message: NOW is the time. Now is the time for Jesus’ public ministry to begin. Now is the time for a new covenant between God and the people. That’s what the story is about. That’s what the abundance of choice wine signifies.
The story, the choice wine, the words of the headwaiter, all point toward a “marriage” other than the one the guests are attending. Like Isaiah, John is proclaiming a new covenant of love for a new community—those who choose to follow Jesus.
The story is also not about the wedding, but it’s no accident that marriage is the foundational backdrop. For our theology of marriage holds that the love of spouses and family life is one of the best human expressions of God’s love for all of creation, Christ’s love for the community. Like our passage from Isaiah, the story is about covenantal love. It’s about God’s unconditional, everlasting, all-abiding, life-giving love for God’s people.
It’s no small thing to be in covenant love with someone, whether in marriage or bound by another foundational relationship. Marriage is not the only concrete expression of covenant love. Tom’s sisters, stepson, and partner are engaged in extraordinary covenant love as they assist his journey into heaven.
That’s covenant love. It’s truly extraordinary to see, because each one of them has set their own life aside, on hold for more than a month now to do nothing but be with and care for their beloved stepdad, brother, partner on his final journey.
That’s covenant love. It’s extraordinary, but it’s not so unusual. You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. My wife, Rene, did as much for her mom in her final days in November and December. My son and his fiancée did as much for their infant child overcoming a serious infection last month.
[As an aside, I am convinced there is something about getting into this world and getting out of this world, that, for most of us, requires a herculean effort on the part of at least someone.]
Covenant love. We’ve all seen it. We’ve all been recipients of it. Many of us have already been called upon to demonstrate it, and if not yet, no doubt that your time will come. And when that time comes, even though it may be very difficult, it may tap all your energy and focus, you can rejoice that you are doing just what God does day-in and day-out for each and every one of us.
[And, I believe, you can trust in the gifts, gifts of the spirit, that God has given you. Certainly, what we heard in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians today.]
When have you been a clear recipient of covenant love?
When have you been called upon to demonstrate covenant love?