Thursday 17 January 2019

Your Table Is Ready

Back in 2017, there was an obscure and not well received movie called Table 19. Few people saw it, still more than critics thought it deserved, but it had an interesting premise. It’s about a group of people who all end up seated together at a wedding at Table 19. It’s the table furthest from the head table, an odd assortment of people that don’t know each other, with distant associations with the wedding couple and they didn’t know where else to put them. One of them quotes the bride’s aunt describing it as “the guests who should have known to send regrets, but not before sending something nice off the registry.”

That sounds mean. Even at a wedding, it’s likely there’ll be people who don’t know others or aren’t as social as others. I’ve never had to do that “where do you seat people” thing. I imagine it can be difficult. If you’re seating people in small groups, do you put people who know each other together or mix them up a bit? Do you put people together you think will have things in common and hope for the best? Do you try and put the real “partiers” all together and the more reserved at their own table? Maybe you don’t worry about it and let them seat themselves.

Things were a lot simpler in Jesus’ day. A wedding was a whole community event that everyone attended and it could last for a week. Everyone came together to celebrate with ritual, feasting and dancing and a lot of drinking. That’s a pretty critical piece of the first miracle story in the gospel of John. Attending a wedding in Cana, Jesus famously turns water into wine and saves the hosts the embarrassment of running out.

That’s not the only reason he does it, of course. This story is the first of seven “signs” in John’s gospel, miracle stories that point to something important about Jesus. In this one, Jesus attends a wedding with his disciples, His mother comes to tell him that they’re out of wine. He tells the servants to fill six huge stone jars, normally used for purification rites, with water, then serve it to the chief steward. Not only has the water become wine (and a lot of it in those six jars), but the steward congratulates the groom for saving the best wine until now. Only the servants knew what Jesus had done. And apparently the disciples did, too, because “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11).

Traditionally, the sign simply points to Jesus and the faith of the disciples. We might also want to consider that when it feels as though the wine has run out in our lives, metaphorically speaking, it is replenished by the abundant grace of God brought by Jesus, which is not only freely given, but given abundantly and is “the best.”

While you’re pondering that, though, here’s something else worth wondering about. Earlier, in chapter 1, John says “he was in the world … yet the world did not know him.” Do we hold Jesus at a distance, here but set apart, or do we seek ways to relate to him?

Right out of the gate, after calling some disciples, the first story John tells of Jesus is about going to a party and bringing the wine. This is the gospel of the incarnation, that the Word became flesh, that love become a human being, divine engaging humanity. We often wonder about Jesus’ appearance, but what was he really like? Where would you seat him at the wedding?

Was he the quiet, solemn type who sat at a table in the corner and didn’t say much? (But when he did, it was awesome.) Or was he engrossed in animated conversation with his friends? Was he the one with that broad belly laugh who told the best jokes or awkwardly sat at the “wallflower” table? Was he playing with the children? Did he like to dance? Or have a drink or two? Did he hang out with the band or work the room? Did he like to get out there and engage people or wait for them to come to him?

I don’t know, but I’d like to sit at his table and find out.