“Keep the Party Going”
On Friday afternoon, the Presbytery of Northern Saskatchewan gathered for a celebration at Mistawasis Memorial Presbyterian Church on the Mistawasis First Nation. Well, first we had a meeting to do our usual work of overseeing the ministers and congregations within the bounds of our presbytery. But then members of the Mistawasis congregation joined us for a celebratory service led by the Rev. Beverley Shepansky, followed by a potluck supper and a time of fellowship.
The reason for the party was to celebrate Bev’s ministry together with the elders and congregation at Mistawasis on the occasion of her retirement. And Bev preached about the Wedding at Cana, about Jesus turning water into wine, and about God saving the best for last… bringing out the best wine at the end of the party, and finally sending Jesus to be God’s loving, incarnate presence in the world.
It was a good party, with abundant food, good conversation, gifts shared, thanksgiving expressed, and stories of the ministry recounted with joy. Those of us from Saskatoon didn’t stay too late since we had to drive home on the snowy roads… but it made me think that we Presbyterians ought to get together just for fun a little more often.
As a denomination with a reputation for being serious and stern, we need to work a little harder at just having fun together, enjoying God’s blessings, and celebrating the goodness of God, and faith, and community. And the story of the Wedding at Cana can serve as a good reminder to us that it’s okay to have a party.
Of course, the first of Jesus’ miracles recorded in John’s Gospel holds a deep symbolic significance. The biblical commentaries point out that the six stone water jars were those used for the Jewish rites of purification, so that when Jesus turns the water into wine he is showing that his ministry will be the fulfillment of Old Testament eschatological hopes.
In Jesus’ life and ministry, God will fulfill God’s promises to redeem and save the people. The abundant good wine is a sign of God’s abundant goodness and faithfulness, and the party that continues is a celebration of God’s amazing grace.
Although Jesus doubts, at first, that it is time yet to reveal his identity and purpose, he listens to his mother and goes ahead with the miracle. And his disciples, who were already following him and listening to him as a leader, now begin the recognize the magnitude of his significance. His glory is revealed, the Gospel says, and they believe in him.
Pastor Robert Brearley reflects that “Sometimes the church has forgotten that our Lord once attended a wedding feast and said yes to gladness and joy. Prompted by his earthly mother, Jesus turned water into wine to point us to his heavenly Father, a God who loves to hear the laughter of people celebrating people. Sometimes the church has forgotten to live the joy of such revelation… The sign at Cana tells us that Jesus served a God who puts joy into life, who thinks it is worth a miracle to keep the party going as we celebrate people.”
Brearley points out that the Wedding at Cana was not the only time that Jesus enjoyed a good party: “Throughout his life and his ministry, Jesus of Nazareth celebrated people – people getting married, people being healed of disease and deformity, people enjoying meals together. He carried a spirit of celebration with him wherever he went as he proclaimed a God of mercy and peace and joy. This joyous feast at Cana is still a sign to the church that we are to rejoice in the people of God and to toast the world with the amazing good news of grace.”
Isn’t that a lovely line? We are to “toast the world with the amazing good news of grace!”
The assumption here, of course, is that our Christian faith is all about good news. It is not a religion of rules and regulations, adhered to strictly and monitored closely. It is not a religion of enduring hardships on earth so that we can earn salvation and get to heaven. It is not a religion of trying to appease a harsh God with offerings and sacrifices so that we can live a reasonably peaceful and comfortable life.
Jesus came to show the world that God loves us truly, deeply, fully, and faithfully. God wants us to experience the joy of abundant life in loving relationship with each other and with God-self. And God wants us to join in the mission of Jesus to declare, and show, and enact that love and joy for all people.
Remember those parables about wedding banquets in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke? The Master is hosting a great feast and inviting us all to come and celebrate. Some of us claim we are too busy to come, and some of us don’t really want to celebrate when we get to the table, but those who do respond to the invitation and join in the party are blessed with all the grace and goodness that God has to offer.
Theologian Robert Hotchkins remarks that “Christians ought to be celebrating constantly. We ought to be preoccupied with parties, banquets, feasts, and merriment. We ought to give ourselves over to veritable orgies of joy because we have been liberated from the fear of life and the fear of death. We ought to attract people to the church quite literally by the fun there is in being a Christian.”
And you know what comes to mind when I read those words? I am remembering the joyful sounds emanating from our church kitchen on the morning of the pancake breakfast that we shared on our Anniversary Weekend back in October. Peals of laughter and joy, as a team of Christians worked together to prepare a celebratory feast!
And it’s not that different from the atmosphere that often permeates our lower hall after worship on Sundays… people sharing and laughing, children playing, others serving up hot coffee, tea, and cookies… simple food, shared in friendship, not because it is required, but just because we are together as a church family.
As you know, today is the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which sounds like a fairly serious and somber week. We think of prayer as quiet, serious, thoughtful, and many of us might feel overwhelmed by the idea of spending a whole week focussed on praying all week. Those who first conceived the idea of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity likely did think of it as a discipline to spend time in prayer for eight days for the unity of the church… but here in Saskatoon, I tend to think of this week as a week of celebration.
The wonderful reality is that the Christians and Churches of our community have good and growing relationships. Certainly, we still have differences and divisions, but mostly we are friends, and we are working and praying together not only during this one week, but throughout the year.
Just one recent example is that while we are partnering with two United Churches for a refugee sponsorship with the Catholic Diocese as our Sponsorship Agreement Holder, all kinds of other groupings of Christian Churches, as well as different faith groups around the city are getting together to do sponsorships as well.
And so during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we will pray together with our Christian neighbours, but we will also celebrate together. We will share food, and fellowship, music, and even dance. This is the first time that we are going to have an obvious party – A Ceilidh with Scottish, Irish, and First Nations dancing, music, food, and laughter, I’m sure. We will celebrate the goodness of God in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit making us truly One Church, and blessing us together with all the spiritual gifts we need to do God’s work in the world.
This week St. Andrew’s also has the opportunity to host a bit of a party because we’ll be having an evening of ecumenical song here on Tuesday evening called, “Singing into Unity.” We’ll sing songs from different parts of the world, Taizé songs for prayer, and some traditional hymns as well. And we’ll do it just because it’s great fun to sing together, to sing melodies, and add harmonies, and move to the music because God is good and we belong to God.
Robert Brearley’s reflection on the Wedding at Cana invites us to “give thanks for everyone in our church and in our life who has the knack for throwing a party.” He says, “The church needs to remember how the mother of Jesus swung into action to keep a party going in Cana and how her son determined that it was time after all for the water to be turned into wine, all so a wedding feast could continue.
“What a way for Jesus to begin his public ministry in John’s Gospel! It is called Cana Grace, and it is worth a miracle because it manifests the glory of God – the very God who wants even now for the community of faith to be a celebration of people. Brothers and sisters in Christ eating barbecue on the back porch and laughing until the sun goes down; Christian women turning the church gymnasium into a festive tea party as they share gospel and good food together; a new members’ dinner at someone’s home that ends with folks hugging one another and giving thanks to God for the welcome they have received at church – it is called Cana Grace.”
Let us give thanks for the times and ways that we have experienced such grace in our church and in the Churches of Saskatoon, and let us keep on serving up the good wine – the good news of Jesus our Lord and Saviour – so that everyone may join the party.