Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – January 18, 2004 – Blessed Sacrament
There’s a dimension of our existence as Christians, as the Church, that is set out in today’s readings and is worth a thought or two. The passage from Isaiah prepares for the Gospel account of the wedding feast of Cana, and it makes it clear that we are not to read the latter simply on the literal level. We should know this even from the last words in this Gospel, which tell us: “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs, and so revealed his glory and his disciples began to believe in him.” Cana, in Galilee, saw the first of the “signs” which the evangelist has included in his Gospel, as he tells us “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
The sign is only intelligible against the backdrop that is illustrated by the reading from Isaiah: that the relationship between God and Israel is a spousal one, a marriage. During the exile, the prophet says, people looked at Israel and called her names like those used of a widow or an abandoned woman: “Forsaken,” “Desolate.” But there will come a time, he goes on, when the exile will be ended, and a new name must be used for her: “No more shall people call you ‘Forsaken,’ or your land ‘Desolate,’ but you will be called “My Delight,’ and your land ‘Espoused’ (Married). For the Lord takes delight in you and makes your land his spouse. As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you, and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.” We must imagine the exuberant joy of a wedding reception and the passionate joy of a honeymoon. “So shall your God rejoice in you.” (What a lovely thought: that God rejoices in us!)
As later, in his preaching, Jesus will draw upon this symbolism when he speaks of the Kingdom of God as a great wedding-feast, so the first of his signs takes place at a wedding. At the reception, which in ancient Israel could go on for days, when the wine runs out, Jesus turns six large jars of water into wine (180 gallons of it!), and the point of it all–the sign-value–is indicated when the headwaiter says to the bridegroom: “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” The water is a symbol of the old Law; the wine of the new Covenant, superior in quality, available now in abundance. The wedding feast of joy and happiness may continue with an even better wine.
The Bible abounds in symbolism, and the joy of a wedding and a marriage is only one of them. Perhaps there are so many symbols because there are so many dimensions to God and to the relationship with him into which he brings us; because there are so many different moments we experience and live before God in the course of our lives; and because there are so many differences, in character, temperament, situation, among us. And, it seems, there is a biblical symbol appropriate at every moment, in every condition.
Well, today, the symbolism offered is that of an occasion of joy, delight, happiness, like that of a bridegroom and bride, like that of the guests at their wedding. But I wonder how often we permit ourselves to rejoice in that fashion. Do we ever think of our Christianity in terms of joy? But never mind thinking of it that way: Do we ever experience it as joy? The other day I came across a comment of St. Augustine who was preaching about a verse in one of the Psalms: Iubilemus Deo salvatori nostro,” the verse said. Augustine poised over that word: Iubilemus. What does it mean to “jubilate,” Augustine asks. Well, he says, we jubilate “when we can’t express our joy in words and yet express with our voices what we’ve got in our hearts but can’t express in words.” I stopped then and wondered, All right, what do we call that in English? And I came up with the translation: “Whoop!” (The dictionary defines it as “a sound expressive of exuberance or jubilation.” It’s like the “oo pah” of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”) “Let us whoop to God our Savior,” the Psalmist was saying. And it fits! “Watch,” Augustine goes on, “how people whoop when singing popular songs, how they sort of compete with one another in their worldly joy; and between songs with words you see them overflowing with a joy that the tongue can’t adequately express, you see how they whoop, expressing by their whoops the feeling of minds that can’t express what’s in their hearts. Well, if they whoop over earthly joy, should we not whoop over a heavenly joy which we truly can’t express in words?” And doesn’t a lot of whooping go on during wedding receptions, not to mention during honeymoons?
Family and friends would find it amusing that I should be making a plea for whooping, whooping probably not being the first thing that would come to their minds when thinking about me. But whether you’re the whooping sort or not, surely you can allow yourself the question: Is joy part of your Christian experience, of your Christian life? Is joy in your relationship with God and with others something people recognize in you? Or are you like that older son who wouldn’t join the party his father threw for his recovered son? Or are you like those people at wedding receptions, the wall-flowers, the ones who never enter into the joy, never dance, never whoop? It would be sad, it is sad, to be sad when God himself is joyful and, who knows, may even be whooping himself.