What happens when the wine runs out?

Jesus chose a wedding feast to demonstrate his miraculous power for the first time. This was no co-incidence.  Such a feast points to the perfect culmination of this age when all creation will be gathered to celebrate the wedding of Jesus to his bride, the church.  But on this imperfect occasion, the wine runs out until Jesus, at Mary’s request, steps in and turns water into wine.     

For many years the standard quip of preachers when telling the Cana wedding feast story has been along the lines of “Jesus turned water into wine and theologians have been trying to turn it back ever since”.  And doubtless there is truth there.  But what struck me as I read the passage again is how often we run out of wine but carry on anyway.

I’m sure that at the Cana wedding feast, the lack of wine was quickly noticed – and commented on!  There would have been embarrassment all round. When Mary turns to Jesus and tells him that the wine has run out, she is asking him to do something about it, not bringing it to his attention.  I can’t imagine for a moment that everyone would have agreed to just carry on, pretending that there was plenty left.  They knew the difference between an empty cup and one full of wine.  

“But what struck me as I read the passage again is how often we run out of wine but carry on anyway.”

We can find ourselves doing what we have always done, but without the joy and freshness of the new wine.  The immediacy, the closeness of our walk with Jesus somehow fades but we just carry on. Probably, like the Ephesian church in Revelation chapter 2, the things we carry on doing are good.  Far from backsliding, they were working hard.  But their intoxicating first love had gone, and Jesus commanded them to repent.

At times like this we need Mary’s honesty.  To say it like it is, whatever the consequences.  In Exodus, a whole nation looked to Moses to lead them.  They expected him to guide them all the way to the Promised Land. The pressure of those expectations could have been overwhelming.  But Moses knew that without God’s living presence, there was no point in going even one step further.  And God, angry at the speed at which the people had slipped back into idol worship, was saying that he would not go with them.  So Moses prays, “If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here”.  He was prepared to call a halt to this massive migration unless the God who had reawakened his calling at the burning bush was going to be at the heart of it. Imagine if some of the Israelite leaders had overheard his prayer.  “Couldn’t we just carry on?” they might have said, “I mean, what would we do with all these people if we stop here? What would we tell them?”.  Leaders, in particular, can easily feel under pressure to not rock the boat, especially if things seem to be going smoothly.  Sadly it often takes a crisis to bring us to a place where, like Moses, we are not prepared to just carry on without a fresh sense of God’s presence, without new wine.  God answers Moses’ honest prayer with a new revelation of his glory. 

“The immediacy, the closeness of our walk with Jesus somehow fades but we just carry on.” 

Jesus does not immediately agree to remedy the wine shortage.  But Mary will not be put off.  She knows her son.  So she tells the servants at the feast to do whatever Jesus tells them.  Her persistence and her willingness to take practical action turn disaster into triumph.  And have you noticed the part played by the least important people present? It was the servants who filled the massive stone jars with water and then took some of the water to the master of the banquet.  They didn’t ask questions, they did as Jesus asked them.  I doubt they were the most skilled or gifted people at the feast, but they were available and they were obedient.   We can only guess at the taste of wine made by Jesus.  It must have been wonderful.  The master of the banquet was amazed.  The new wine was better than the old!  And there was so much of it; around120 gallons.  From drought to abundance, from empty to overflowing. But it took honesty and willingness to serve.  

This seems to be a hard lesson for us to learn.  As individuals we can fall into ruts we find comfortable, and only later feel trapped in them.  Churches and institutions can have a powerful momentum of their own which resists any change of direction.  Habits and structures can persist long after the life they once served has gone.  Hard work and perseverance, careful planning and skilled management are all good things, but when the wine that celebrates the presence of the bride and groom has run out, they are an empty cup.  

Only Jesus can bring the fresh wine.  We can’t manufacture it.  Our part is to acknowledge our need and be obedient as God speaks.  Like Moses, we must determine not to go any further until we know that God’s presence will be with us.