The very first post that I wrote for Life At 25 came last January when Father Christian Mathis asked me to writer a piece on the Triple Meaning of the Epiphany. I explained in no small detail that the Epiphany does not, in itself, traditionally commemorate the Coming of the Magi to Bethlehem, though the Magi represent an important part of the theology behind the feast (that the Light of Christ had come into the world and was being revealed to all of humanity), and the Gospel reading for the Epiphany tells the story of the journey of the Magi. Traditionally the Epiphany celebrated the three great events in the Life of Christ which revealed his status as Son of God, Son of Man, and King of the Universe: The Incarnation itself, the Baptism of the Lord (which is now its own feast in the West, at which Jesus was revealed as the Divine Son), and the Wedding at Cana, the feast for which was one at which Jesus was present, and at which he manifested his glory with the performance of his first miracle.
The Church celebrates the Epiphany in many Western dioceses on the Sunday closest to January 6th, though in the Diocese of Rome, the feast is celebrated on the traditional day, which happens to be today. Often, people reflect on the Wise Men on the Epiphany, sometimes people reflect on the Incarnation, rarely is the Baptism of the Lord discussed, largely due to the reality that the Lord’s Baptism has its own feast day. The Wedding at Cana is almost never discussed, though the antiphons at the Liturgy of the Hours for the Epiphany remind us of all three of these great events. However, let us reflect for a moment on why the Wedding at Cana is so important in the life of Christ and the story of Salvation.
Most people know that it was at Cana where Christ turned water into wine, and that this was Jesus’ first miracle. (John 2:1-11) More than this, however, Jesus sanctified Matrimony by his presence. In performing his first miracle at a wedding feast, Jesus showed marriage to be a sacrament. It is Church teaching that a sacrament is an outward sign, instituted by Christ himself, to confer Grace on those who receive it. In attending the Wedding at Cana and performing a miracle there, Jesus reiterated the Divine Plan that was put in place from the beginning of the world that the perpetuation of humanity is to take place within the institution of marriage between a man and a woman and within the construct of the family.
When we think of the Wedding at Cana in which Jesus turned water into wine, we tend to think of a modern wedding reception, where the bride and groom and their families are there, perhaps there might be dinner and drinks and dancing. In our mind’s eye, we tend to imagine that the family of the Bride didn’t have enough wine to go around at this wedding reception. However, a wedding feast in the Near East in the ancient world didn’t last for a few hours, they lasted for days, and people sometimes came from very far to attend them, usually on foot. In the Eastern Mediterranean and Near Eastern world in which Jesus lived, wine was not a “luxury” in the way that many see it today, except that the wealthy could afford the very best wine. In those days and in that part of the world, everyone drank wine. To invite someone to dinner at your home and not serve them wine would be rather like inviting someone to your home in East Tennessee on a hot summer day and meeting on the deck or the porch and not offering them some sweet tea or another cold drink, or not offering a friend or family member a cup of coffee.
Because wedding feasts in those days did last for days, the family were running out of wine. Some biblical scholars believe that when John’s Gospel tells us Jesus and his disciples came, he didn’t just bring the Twelve, but many people who were following Jesus around Galilee, and if that is true, there were a lot of extra people at the party, as it were. By changing water into wine at a wedding at the insistence of his mother Mary, Christ forever underscored the importance of marriage in Christian life, but he also manifested his glory and his Divine Nature in performing the first of many miracles.
The Epiphany is about the reality that God became man in Jesus Christ and manifested himself. In the Incarnation, Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. In the Baptism of the Lord, Jesus was revealed as the Son of God who fulfilled all righteousness, and in the Wedding at Cana, the Son of God manifested his glory and sanctified the principle institution of human existence.