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, revelation, showing, or shining forth. For Christians, Epiphany reveals God’s love, wisdom, and power in the life of Jesus Christ – the Divine Life alive in the humanity of Jesus and calling us Home to our Heavenly Father. It is like the sun that opens the eyes not only to sight but understanding. Its rays carry the eyes of our minds into understanding God in Man. This illumination or enlightenment gives us not only knowledge but also the power to change and convert. Through it, men sense and perceive the Divine Essence through which we all can be changed in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye. (1 Cor. Xv. 52)
Yet the light through which Christ reveals God’s life to us is not easily apprehended. If it could be, reason would understand it 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 apprehend God, discover His presence in Jesus the Man, and embrace His will. That faculty is called faith. Faith alone believes what it cannot prove and does not yet know. Take the example of the first moments of attraction to another. When a man is first drawn to a woman who arrests his attention, he is drawn to her both externally and visibly. He is intrigued with wonder. We might say that he has faith in something mysterious waiting to be discovered and known in his further pursuit of the woman. His faith believes that there is something worth finding out, knowing, and loving. His faith seeks to know in order to love.
God works in the same way. He intrigues us by calling us forward to search Him out with faith. Our faith believes there is someone to know. What is waiting to be discovered is the inward and spiritual nature of God. We can find Him only if our faith believes that someone beautiful and meaningful intends to be known. 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.
In Epiphany tide, our faith believes that God is at work in Jesus Christ. We seek to know Him more intimately. Yet on the first three Sundays in Epiphany we feel a degree of confusion. In our Epiphany readings, we are confused and hopefully intrigued. We have not reached understanding, but our faith must continue in hot pursuit of God in Jesus. The Wise Men ask 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) We believe but where is He, that our faith may know Him? They believe that an extraordinary Star calls them forth to find and know an unusual king. They carry sacred gifts with mystic meaning because they believe that this king will bring them out of darkness into His own marvelous light.
Confusion and intrigue are the hallmarks of a faith that seeks understanding and knowledge. Last Sunday we found that Joseph and Mary were alarmed and frightened at the prospect of having left their son Jesus behind in the Temple. They sought Him not only out of confusion but also out of fear. Their faith was weak, but still they followed it. They hurried back to Jerusalem because they believedand hoped that their son was safe. They sought Him out with trembling faith and then were sore amazed with where they found Him and with what He was doing. Their faith was rewarded fwith relief. Still, they were upset. Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us, behold thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing. (St. Luke 2. 48) His answer: Why is it that ye sought Me? Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business? (Ibid, 49) confused them even more. Mary and Joseph understood not the saying which He spake unto them. (Ibid, 50) But Mary’s weak faith still sought to know and to love her son more fully.She kept all these sayings in her heart. (Ibid, 51).
Jesus is the Wisdom of God that is not self-evidently known or understood immediately. Jesus is also the Power of God who comes to transform the world. In today’s Gospel, some years later, Mary, having kept Jesus’ sayings in her heart, believes that, finally, she knows Her Son. Today she is with Him at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. The wedding party has run out of wine. She knows and remembers the Divine love that her Infant King revealed to the Three Wise Men. She knows and remembers the Divine wisdom in her twelve-year-old son when he rebuked her for her unbelief and ignorance. Now she believes that she knows Him. She will enlist His Divine power to furnish a Sacramental event with added bliss. Being a good Jewish mother, she believes that she must verbalize what Her Son surely knows! Son, they have no wine. (St. John, ii. 3) The Mother knows that Her Son can overcome every earthly need. Here, she believes He should do so. Mary has deep faith in what her son can do. Her faith has pondered much in her heart. Surely, He can use His Divine Power to forestall looming embarrassment for the bridegroom and his family, whose poverty, no doubt, accounts for the depletion of the wine. This, she thinks, is not too much to ask from the Son of the Most High God.
But Jesus rebukes Mary. Woman what have I to do with thee? Woman, what does this have to do with Me and thee? (Ibid, 3) The rebuke is needed because her faith is, as George MacDonald writes, unripe and unfeatured. This faith, working with her ignorance and her fancy, led her to expect the great things of the world from him. (George MacDonald, The Miracles of our Lord.) We tend to think that Jesus was being condescending towards his mother when he calls her woman. But Jesus is drawing Mary’s faith into deeper knowledge of Himself. Mine hour has not yet come. (Ibid, 4) Jesus is calling Mary to consider a faculty far greater than reason. (Idem) He wants her to believe and know that He has not come into the world to turn water into wine in order to save men from earthly shame. Rather, He will turn water into wine as a sign that He alone can make what is common into something divine, something earthly into something heavenly, and something human into something Godly. He will turn water into wine as He turns sin into righteousness and death into new life.
Mary believes and knows that her Son’s rebuke is just and good. She commands the servants, Whatsoever He says, do it, (Ibid, 5) Mary believes and knows that her Son possesses all truth. She has been humbled. Jesus responds. Fill the waterpots with water, (Ibid, 7) and the servants obey. Mary’s premature and ill-placed faith, knowledge, and love will be redeemed and rewarded. Jesus continues:
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 has not come down from Heaven to perform earthly miracles on earthly men for earthly joy and happiness. Here, He does not merely produce new earthly wine at an earthly wedding for earthly men who had already drunk too much in an earthly manner. Were this all that He had done, drunk men wouldn’t have known the difference. Mary wasn’t drunk. Neither was the governor of the feast. The governor tasted the difference. Mary believed and came to know her son more truly.
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 longs to bring new spiritual wine into our fallen lives in this holy season of Epiphany. 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) The Blessed Virgin Mary had to rebuked for her earthly love. With her, we must believe and know that they have no wine then, and we have no wine now. We must believe and know that we need new wine. We must believe and know that Christ alone can make this new wine from the blood that He sheds for you and me on the Tree of Calvary.
Jesus insists Mine hour is not yet come (Ibid) for He is on the way to His Cross. For now, He might provide earthly wine or not. Whatsoever He says, we must do it. We must believe in order to know. His Hour does not yet come until we go up to the Cross of His Love and beyond. Then, a new kind of wine will pour forth from His hands, His feet, and His side in the Blood that He has received from His mother and offers back to His Father. The Sacred Gift of Mystic Meaning will be found in the Blood that alone is the new wine that gives new life to a fallen world that can taste the difference.
We believe that Jesus saves the best wine until last. We believe that His Blood is a Sacred Gift with Mystic Meaning, the new wine poured out for us in the death we could not die. Christ pours out His Blood as He dies to the world, the flesh, and the devil for us. His Blood is the new wine that brings us into His death. His Blood is the new wine that brings us into the New Life of His Resurrection. We believe and know that His Blood is the new wine of His love, that gives us all joy. As the poet reminds us,
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: