Love, marriage, and our empty wine skins

I was privileged this weekend to attend a beautiful multi cultural wedding in Wellington. I did not know the bride and groom myself (but through my husband) but it is always heartening to see a young couple in love and to be inspired by the ceremony and the speeches of those who know them well.

Of course I am used to weddings – at St Matthew-in-the-City we have at least 60 a year (we share the work load around so I don’t take them all myself!), and I have led many such ceremonies over the years.

One of the speakers at the wedding offered a reflection on marriage as an institution and how it was changing and how this couple, being indigenous, were part of the change. It was like a sermon that the couple might have wanted to hear preached in the earlier church ceremony, but it was offered at the reception instead. There were references to differing indigenous perspectives of marriage and, of course, for the desire for same sex couples to be included in our vision of marriage.

At St Matthew’s we are straining under the restrictions our Anglican Church puts on us, still not allowing us even to bless same sex couples, let alone marry them. The more time passes the more we are left seeming so out of step – not just with society as a whole but with the couples who seek to be married with us. For how much longer are we too going to offer a ceremony, which then afterwards needs to be critiqued or compensated for, in the way marriage is spoken about?

Last Sunday the reading set down for the day was Jesus attending a wedding where they ran out of wine (John 2:1-11). At the urging of his mother Jesus is said to have changed the vast water jars into wine. Our 21st century minds question the story – did it really happen this way; do we really believe in miracles like this?

For the gospel writer John that is the wrong kind of question. This is instead a story with layers to peel off like all of John’s writing. The water jars are for “the Jewish rites of purification.” The old ways of the old tradition are about to be replaced with new wine, new beginnings. The amount is ridiculous – 120 gallons – that is 605 bottles of wine! This is about the generosity and abundance, with wine overflowing. And last but not least, it is the best wine.

John says this was a “sign” which revealed Jesus to the disciples and they believed in him. What were they supposed to see, and what did they believe? They saw God’s generosity, God’s abundance, the crazy overflowing nature of God.

This is the nature of God that we want to celebrate in church and at weddings. God’s abundant love popping up everywhere in people’s lives – couples, families, singles – everyone. Many couples seek to be married at St Matthew’s because it is a beautiful building. They usually are quite comfortable with the Anglican marriage service, even when they are not church-goers themselves. This “God language”, as I call it, seems to frame the wedding for them within a wider view of life and love. It is a sign for them that their love is not just about them but part of something beyond them. This is what the church calls a sacrament.

Marriages are joyous moments to celebrate, as wonderful and miraculous as Jesus turning water into wine. In the church we restrict the abundance of God’s love when we deny the sacraments to those who would seek them. To my mind it is a scandal to restrict God’s grace in this way. Can we really object if the rest of society soon leaves us behind, holding our old empty wineskins. Or they may have done so already.




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