You can only apprehend the Infinite by a faculty that is superior
to reason, by entering into a state in which the Divine Essence
is communicated unto you."
Illumination and enlightenment are the themes of Epiphany tide. Επιϕανια is the Greek word for Epiphany, and it means manifestation or revelation, showing forth or shining forth. For Christians it refers to the disclosure of God’s love, wisdom, and power in the life of Jesus Christ---the Divine Life calling and summoning all men to the centrifugal center of reconciliation and communion with God. It is like the sun that opens the eyes not only to sight but understanding, whose rays inspire the human mind to discover and elicit the meaning and definition of existence. The illumination or enlightenment which comes from God through Christ to all men relates not only to our vision but also to the power that can change us. Through it men are invited to participate in the life of God beginning here and now.
Yet the light through which Christ manifests and illuminates God’s life is not easily apprehended. If it could be, reason would acquiesce and adapt to its nature quickly, perhaps as swiftly as it assents to the proposition that two plus two makes four. But, as Plotinus reminds us, a faculty greater than reason is needed to pursue this truth, discover its meaning, and enjoy its power. That faculty is called faith, for faith alone admits what it does not have, but desires to obtain and enjoy. Think about it. When you first fell in love, you did not yet have or possess the one you pursued. You had faith and confidence that there was something mysterious, deeper, and concealed that you wanted to embrace and cherish. Your faith pursued the object of your love in order to seek out and find a hidden reality, a deeper meaning attached to the one you trusted was meant for you! God works in the same way. He intrigues us by calling us forward to search out His meaning and desire with confidence that the truth is there to be discovered, as He progressively reveals Himself from the heart of His inner being. We can find Him only if we believe that something most beautiful and meaningful is waiting to be disclosed and explained. If all that there is to know about Him were revealed externally, visibly, and instantaneously to the human mind, there would be no place for a faith that follows and a love that grows.
So in Epiphany tide our faith seeks to find and know God’s love. Yet what confronts us on the first three Sundays in Epiphany is confusion. In our Epiphany readings we find ignorance and uncertainty as a necessary forerunner to enlightenment and knowledge. In them, unarticulated belief and faith seem to hover over not-knowing and spiritual darkness. Where is He that is born king of the Jews? We have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him, (St. Matthew 2. 2) the Wise Men ask. We believe but where is He, that we may know Him? Their faithful conviction or belief tells them that a star is leading them to see God. And so they carry sacred gifts with mystic meaning fit only for the One they believe is calling them forth out of darkness and into His own marvelous light.
Confusion and uncertainty compel those who love God to search more diligently for His truth. Last Sunday we found an example of the same kind of confusion. Joseph and Mary were alarmed and frightened at the prospect of losing their son Jesus. So they sought Him out of confusion and bewilderment. Their faith drives them to find Jesus, but their love threatens it with fear and terror. They hurry back to Jerusalem because they believe they have lost Jesus. Their faith moves on but they are astonished and amazed with where they find Him and with what He is doing. With exasperation they exclaim to Him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us, behold thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing. (St. Luke 2. 48) They are perplexed further by His answer: Why is it that ye sought Me? Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business? (Ibid, 49) Mary and Joseph understood not the saying which He spake unto them. (Ibid, 50) But Mary believes that there is a truth she must learn. And so, she kept all these sayings in her heart. (Ibid, 51). In Mary’s heart there is a desire to learn the deepest truth from her more than enigmatic Son.
Jesus is the wisdom of God that is not self-evidently or clearly comprehended at first glance. Jesus is also the power of God, who will transform the world. In today’s Gospel, now some years later, it would appear that Mary, having kept Jesus’ sayings in her heart, believes that she understands Her Son. Today we find her with Him at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. The wedding party has run out of wine. She has sensed the Divine love that His infant kingship has manifested; she has discovered Divine wisdom through His child-like rebuke of her worldly oversensitivity.; now she seeks to enlist His Divine power to furnish a Sacramental event with added bliss. She cannot help but verbalize what she knows He perceives. Son, they have no wine. (St. John, ii. 3) The Mother believes, evidently, that Her Son’s mission and ministry is to overcome earthly deficiency with Heavenly provision. If He is to be about His Father’s business, then He ought to jump to it by making new wine! Jesus knows better, and thus rebukes her: Woman what have I to do with thee? – or – Woman, why are you involving Me in this? –or another – What does this have to do with Me and thee? (Ibid, 3) The time to perfect what He receives from and shares with His mother is not yet. Mine hour has not yet come. (Ibid, 4) No doubt Mary felt, once more, the overwhelmingly powerful sense of her own ignorance and incomprehension. She does not yet understand Her Son in relation to herself.
Yet, Mary knows that faith and love must accept His rebuke in order to learn. Whatsoever He says, do it, (Ibid, 5) she commands. Jesus says, Fills the waterpots with water, (Ibid, 7) and the servants obey. Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, and saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. (Ibid, 8-10)
Jesus does not merely produce new earthly wine at an earthly wedding for earthly men who had well drunk in an earthly manner. Were this all that he had done, drunk men wouldn’t have known the difference. With an increase of quantity, taste buds become numb to the quality of the draught. But we read that the governor of the feast realized that the additional wine was of a vastly superior quality than all that they had hitherto drunk! So not only has Jesus made new wine through the power of his Heavenly Nature, but He has enabled at least one of the well-plied drinkers to taste the difference! What has transpired is not only the transformation of water into wine, but the extreme conversion of one drunken man whose senses are miraculously revived and rejuvenated to know that a miracle has been performed on him also!
Of course, today’s miracle is a sign and symbol of what Christ always intends to do with us. If we are in search of miraculous earthly solutions to earthly deficiencies, we are far too drunk on earthly things to see how Christ the Light brings spiritual power into our lives. Christ Jesus is the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. i. 24) He comes to put new wine into new bottles (St. Mark ii. 22) that the wine may change and transform those who believe into those who know and receive what the drink of His love can bring into their lives. Faith obeys, and love grows. Faith surrenders to what Christ can do and then seeks to grasp His meaning as His Love carries a believer into understanding. Woman, what has this to do with me and thee? Mine hour is not yet come. (Ibid) Jesus performs a miracle, but only as a preparation for the best wine that will be saved until last. The best wine is reserved for His Mother Mary and for those whose faith leads them to the Cross of His Love. That wine will pour forth from His hands, His feet, and His side as what is received from His Mother and shared with all others –the Sacred Gift of Mystic Meaning found in the Blood that alone can give new life to the world.
We believe that Jesus saves the best wine until last. For us, the new wine of Christ’s miraculous sacrifice on the Cross is poured out for whenever we come to into Holy Communion. By a Divine operation we believe that heaven miraculously infiltrates and transforms the earth as God transforms us from sinners into saints. We believe that the wine that we shall drink in the Holy Eucharist can become for us the all-healing, curing, redeeming, and sanctifying Blood of Christ’s Love for us. We believe that its movement to us and within us can open our eyes more and more to the love and passion that promises our salvation. Thus, when we drink of it we discover a Love that never ceases to be poured out on our behalf. Because Christ always saves the best wine until last, we believe then that what He is accomplishing can only get better and better. It should always be that Sacred Gift of Mystic Meaning whose power draws us ever more deeply under the rule and sway of His unstoppable Love. This wine is fortified for us the more we feel the effects of its strength pumping lovingly through the eternal heart of Christ Himself and into our own. This is the fortified wine made blood that infuses Love in the heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who now knows and understands her Son. May this fortified wine made blood infuse our hearts with the same Love so that we too may know and understand our Saviour’s plan for us, that with the poet, we may heartily exclaim,
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,/
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.
(Agony: George Herbert)
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: