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.
And yet the light through which Christ manifests and illuminates God’s life and presence is not easily apprehended and accepted. 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, call us to follow and 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 and trust that something most beautiful and meaningful is waiting to be disclosed and loved. 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 our love. But the curious feature of our lections for the first three Sundays in this season is that of confusion. Have you noticed that in our recent Scriptural readings ignorance and uncertainty seem necessarily to precede enlightenment and knowledge? In them, we should have found that belief and opinion desire to overcome 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. Something stirs these men to seek and quest after what they do not yet possess or know. Their faithful conviction or trust tells them that a star points to some deeper meaning and truth hidden in the birth of a poor child. And so they learn that their treasures exist for the sake of something higher, that God wants their riches to be surrendered for the sake of some deeper knowledge and some greater love. This was wholly unexpected and unanticipated.
Confusion and the unexpected compel those who love God to become more determined and diligent in their search 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. Their faith took them on journeys after knowledge and understanding, but here their love drives them through fear and terror. They hurry back to Jerusalem because they believe they have lost Jesus. Their faith has not completely prepared them for the unexpected, and so they become disheveled and confused. They find the child and 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 befuddled and 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) And yet, what do we read? His mother kept all these sayings in her heart. (Ibid, 51). In Mary’s heart there is a stirring towards knowledge and understanding because she trusts that there is more to be revealed and known in the life of Her Son.
Jesus is the wisdom of God that confounds human expectations. 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, once again, believes that she understands Her Son. She has pondered much and thinks now that finally she has a greater hold or grasp on who and what He is. He and she are 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; now she seeks to enlist His Divine power to overcome an earthly necessity. She knows Him, so she thinks, and points out the obvious: [Darling,] they have no wine. (St. John, ii. 3) The Mother believes, evidently, that Her Son’s mission and ministry is custom-made for the present predicament. Jesus thinks otherwise, and so proffers another firm rebuke. Woman what have I to do with thee? – or as a modern translation puts it – Woman, why involve Me in this? –or another – What does this have to do with Me? (Ibid, 3) It is followed by a harsh reminder: Mine hour has not yet come. (Ibid, 4) No doubt Mary felt, once more, the overwhelmingly powerful sense of her own ignorance and confusion. She does not entirely know Her son, yet Jesus does follow through with a miracle. But Mary knew that Faith must follow, love must grow, and so she commands the hired servants, Whatsoever he says, do it. (Ibid, 5) Jesus speaks: Fills the waterpots with water, (Ibid, 7) and they obey. Jesus then concludes: 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)
But notice this. Jesus does not merely produce new earthly wine at an earthly wedding for earthly men who had well drunk. Had he done so, the men who had well drunk would not have been able to taste the new wine. When men get to drinking, their palates and taste buds become numb to the quality of a vintage. 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 a wedding party of well plied drinkers to taste the difference! What has transpired is not only the transformation of water into wine, but the extreme conversion of drunken men whose senses are miraculously revived and rejuvenated to know that a miracle has been performed on them 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 needs and desires, we shall remain too drunk to perceive and know the intention and purpose of Christ’s coming to us. 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 gladly receive the drink of His love. Faith follows, and love grows. This is where faith begins to take possession of the knowledge of Christ’s meaning and mission for us. Woman, what has this to do with me and thee? Mine hour is not yet come. (Ibid) Jesus will indeed perform this miracle, but only as a preparation and rehearsal for the best wine that will be saved until last. The best wine is yet to come. And that wine will be drunk once the Son of Mary pours forth from his hands, his feet, and his side that blood of new life that becomes the drink of salvation.
So the circumstances that define the dialogue between the Blessed Virgin and Her Son in today’s miracle are a cautious reminder of what we not only already believe but know. For we read of today’s miracle in order to remind us of that wine that Jesus saved until last. For us, the hour has [already] come. The new wine of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross is poured out for us today. By some miracle of heaven’s infiltration of the earth, 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. The questions we must answer are these: Will we, in our receiving of the new wine of Christ’s blood, be transformed by it? Will we remember that He always saves the best wine till last? And for every time that we receive it, it ought to be much, much better than it was before. It should always be moving us through better to best! Why? Because in it is found nothing short of Christ’s incessant and eternal desire to make us new, better, even best in our receiving of it. And it isn’t that it ceases to be wine. It is and will be wine. But let it be for us that new spiritual wine that is discovered to be the eternal vintage of Christ’s love for us. And with the poet let us pray:
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,/
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.
(Agony: George Herbert)
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St. Michael and All Angels Sermons