The feast of the Epiphany has traditionally been a celebration of three significant moments in the life of Christ.
First, the Church remembers the coming of the Magi from among the Gentiles, revealing to the world that the babbling babe is the great king of all the nations. Second, the Church meditates on the baptism of the Lord, the moment in which the now-adult Christ manifests his identity as the Son. Lastly, we remember that first sign of Christ in the Gospel of John — the wedding at Cana.
The wedding at Cana, in some sense, is the culmination of the entire Christmas season. For we learn that the God who espoused himself to humanity through taking flesh is also the God who will love us unto the end (cf. Jn 13:1).
In the Book of Isaiah, we hear about God, the Bridegroom. Israel is forsaken, despoiled by the Babylonians. In this sorrow, God’s voice thunders forth, promising a moment of vindication.
Israel will once more be called “espoused.” God, as a bridegroom, will rejoice in Israel, his bride.
The wedding at Cana points toward this final espousal. Jesus, along with his mother and his disciples, attend a wedding feast. The wedding feast was to last roughly seven days, an image of the couple’s own participation in the renewal of creation.
Importantly, the Bridegroom was responsible for wine that would last the length of the feast. But the couple has already run out of wine.
Jesus’ mother, Mary, calls out to her son, letting him know that there is no more wine. Jesus cryptically replies, “‘My hour has not yet come’” (Jn 2:4).
In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ hour refers to his death on the cross. This is the moment in which the darkness of sin and death is conquered through the depthless love of God.
The cross is the moment in which the hour has come, in which the wedding feast of the Lamb is to begin.
But, Jesus’ mother is persistent. She tells the servants to do whatever he says. Jesus, taking six water jars, transforms (unbeknownst to the assembled crowd) water into wine.
This “sign” in the Gospel of John points to the moment of the cross, revealing the identity of the Word made flesh. Jesus is the ultimate Bridegroom, who in the last of days has provided the best of all wine.
At this moment, God’s glory is revealed. Jesus is no ordinary wedding guest. He has come to inaugurate the divine wedding feast, where all humanity will be called to rejoice in this espousal.
The wedding of Cana within the Church has been closely linked to the Eucharist.
At Mass, we’re not celebrating our own private feast. Instead, we enter into the great wedding banquet of the Book of Revelation: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory. For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready” (Rev 19:7).
All humanity is called to this supper of the Lamb, where men and women will feast on the best of all wines — God’s very Body and Blood poured out for the redemption of the world.
We should no more feel obliged to attend Mass than we feel obligated to attend a wedding feast. Instead, we should come rejoicing, aware that the God who is love still dwells among us. And when we eat his Body and drink his Blood, we become brides of so wondrous a bridegroom.
Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is managing director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life.