Sermon for Sunday 16 January 2022
“Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”
If you ever visit the Louvre in Paris, you must visit Room 711.
As you enter Room 711, one of the most fascinating and exciting pictures you will ever see in your whole life is on the wall to the left. Ahead of you, though, there is a rather ugly, second-rate picture that captures a lot of attention, but isn’t really worth dwelling on. I believe it’s called the Mona Lisa. No the far more important, and far more interesting picture is on the other wall, to the left as you go in.
There, you will find Veronese’s Wedding in Cana. It is an enormous canvas, the size of a 10 metre swimming pool.
The whole scene is a riot of activity, as a huge wedding feast takes place with over 130 figures depicted. It captures the very moment when the steward takes a glass of the newly transformed wine to the groom, who reaches out and is about to taste it.
But there’s something strange about this picture. In the background, the kitchen staff are getting the next course ready, with huge pieces of roast lamb being brought in and carved.
But if you look as what people are eating at their places, you discover they’re tucking into the pudding. There’s fruit, sweets and delicacies laid out on the table.
In other words, Veronese depicts the wedding feast being served backwards, starting with pudding, and only reaching the main course, the principal dish, by the end. It is only late in the celebration that the lamb appears.
That curious detail is surely a visual meditation on those words of the steward to the bridegroom: “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”
It teaches us that salvation history is a bit like a meal taking place back to front: the main dish, Jesus Christ, has come late in time, but brings with him the best wine.
One of the characteristics of living in this late age of the best wine is what one might call its sacramental character. It is a time in which God delights to be present among us, through the power of his Holy Spirit in sacramental signs. Our gospel reading today is a presentation of what it looks like when God takes that which is ordinary, fallible, and physical, and transforms it so that it becomes a sign of his presence.
Of course the most important embodiment of this is the Seven Sacraments of the Church: ordinary things like bread, wine, water, oil, used so that ordinary people might be transformed to be extraordinary bearers of God’s grace and presence.
But more broadly, our gospel calls us to see the whole of the created order as in some sense a sacramental of God’s presence.
To assert that the world is created is to claim that it comes from the God who still rejoices to be present in it: through the relationships we have one with another; through the beauty of the natural world; in the miracles of science and technology; through the presence of beauty in poetry, art and music.
Our whole created existence is a sacrament of God’s presence in which we, the earthen jars full of water, pour forth wine in abundance when we follow Christ’s command.
And if our created order is in some sense infused with God’s sacramental presence, then place itself also has this quality. It becomes possible to recognise certain locations and buildings as places where God somehow delights to dwell, and where his presence feels more assured.
Holy places such as Walsingham and Lourdes; religious houses, locations of retreat and silence; churches such as All Saints’ – they all becomes places where God feels so much closer than when we are caught in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives.
The wedding in Cana shows us how God delights in using the particularity of certain things and certain places and certain occasions, and certain people to reveal himself.
Our gospel reading today teaches us the importance of being present week by week in this building for the sacramental meal we celebrate here. For it is, in fact a nuptial banquet in which Christ is wedded to us his church. We come to that wedding feast week by week like those empty earthen jars in Cana. Christ fills us in such a way that we are transformed to become bearers of his good wine too, kept until now as a sign of his love and favour towards the whole of creation.
Fr Peter Anthony