If you expect me to tell you to get out and climb a mountain this week in order that you’re face shine enough to suggest to those around you that you have been face to face with God, as Moses and Jesus have in the Bible story of the Transfiguration then you’ll be disappointed. You just need to find and sit in a patch of Late winter Sun, as I did this year when we experienced a rather warmer than usual end to February. Sadly no divine presence – but a strange warming sensation I’ve not experienced for a while, probably since last Autumn! We hear in the story of the transfiguration Moses and Jesus climbing to a high place before a confrontation. The times folk do this in the bible, climb a mountain, go out into a desert, go out into a boat, cross a lake, take a moment out, find some clarity, be prepared for the next happening. As we embark upon Lent on Ash Wednesday, leading ultimately to Holy Week and Easter, perhaps we too need to take that step back and see the whole picture. And we are offered it here in Luke, looking towards Jerusalem. Before we begin Lent with the whole journey before us it feels (to me at least) as if I am wholly unprepared for what is to come. Life can turn on a pin head sometimes. It happens so often when news comes fast and it matters not really what the news is, whether it be the death of a loved one, a crisis of some sort, even a birth or other unexpected arrival. What changes our course is the perspective, the focus upon the person, the happening the event brings. In the film The Way, Martin Sheen’s character Tom finds out that his Son Daniel has died suddenly in an accident. So begins his journey, The Way of St. James, the Camino Sant Iago de Compostella. For those outside his experience it seems not to make any sense at all. His sudden change of focus is unwavering as everything looks different from the inside. As Tom looks over his Son Daniel’s ruck sac and possessions he decides rashly perhaps to walk the Way his Son had set out on. His companions along the way may not have been the ones he would have chosen. Indeed, he wanted to walk alone. He wanted no-one to interfere with his grief, with his personal journey, or know the reasons for it. Yet there is one path, so realistically they will continue to bump into each other at least sometimes. So why not walk together. A journey like this might even appear irrational. Why set out on the road? Which metaphorical road do we take? The high road, the low road, the long and winding road, the lonesome road, the royal road, the open road, private road, road to hell, the tobacco road, crooked road the straight and narrow road, the road stretching into infinity? The right road and of course the road we all fear we have taken from time to time, the wrong road. Which begs the question, what am I doing here? What am I doing now? Where are we? Time to stop and rewind, get some perspective. Everyone has a starting point for their journey, it might not be the Camino, it might even be making it through this next week, day even, or perhaps the journey through Lent that begins on Ash Wednesday. The first task is to recognise where you are and to begin where you are. We ought to begin from where we are on the journey towards Holy Week and Easter. If you’ve never made that journey through Holy Week, followed the way of the cross, then perhaps this year can be a first opportunity. On the Sunday before Lent we have the opportunity to look out over the weeks to come in order to prepare for what is ahead of us. Which road will we take? Some of us will take the Pilgrimage road that leads from Penmachno to Dolwyddelan on Good Friday, and on Holy Saturday, on from Dolwyddelan to Llanrhychwyn where we will welcome the first light of Easter. The journey does not end at Easter. We’ll walk on towards Llangelynnin to join the way to Enlli, the North Wales Pilgrim Way. Our very own Camino de William Morgan begins here. Though the way is not yet well trodden nor the path well known, it is there ready for us to embark. So to is our journey into Lent and Holy Week, it is only for us to accept the invitation, and perhaps we too will come as Jesus and Moses face to face with God. All this helps us to see ourselves more clearly and to recognise the imprint of God on each one of us. No need for a mountain, just a mirror and the wisdom to see clearly in the glass darkly.
It’s easier to hate than to love, so they say. Love takes hard work. Though I’m not so sure about this for some people put a lot of effort into their hate and some are lazy in Love. It takes great courage to love. For as we hear from St. Paul, Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Well that’s nice. Good for love. Where does it leave us? For often we’re given a vision of Love which is more like the following:
Cruel, intolerant, indignant, restless, hasty, demanding, impetuous, merciless, fearful, and Love, we hear keeps a long and very detailed record of wrong-doing. Not quite the image of Love in St. Paul’s letter, more likely to be found on some TV show or other – sadly too numerous to mention.
‘Love is a verb’ say messers Mooney and Wroe in ‘Lifelines’ and as every grammar teacher is wont to say that’s a ‘doing word’.
‘The most excellent way’ begins with the one writing. Reminding readers that if one doesn’t act out of love then one is but a clanging cymbal or a sounding brass (if you read the authorised version) which immediately reminds me of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Gareth crying out ‘Good Point’. Then there is the description of the Love Agape, the love of god, where ours might fail god’s does not.
So here is an exercise in doing Agape Love with the most excellent way.
Remove the word love and insert the name of the person with whom you’ve just argued or whoever has just been on the other end of the telephone when complaining to the government, bank, or whichever institution it might be this time. Chances are that the person, yes, we often forget, the voices on the other end of the line are not synonymous with the company and its poorly constructed telephone system, policies or government department seemingly intent on mystifying us as to the correct way to go about whatever it is we are desperately trying to do, but a person, just like us and most probably having as awful a day as well. So before firing off the email repeat the passage with the recipients name. Inserted instead of ‘Love’. There is one more step though. Before doing all that, and this is the hardest of all, believe me I’ve tried it, insert your own name instead of the word love, for unless we are able to first love ourselves we will not be able to love others as God has intended…
Before indulging in the Johannine wedding feast we ought to set this story in its January context, why it is told during epiphany. We begin to celebrate the Epiphany on 6th January, a festival which arose in the second century, largely in response to Greek and Hellenic festivals noting the position of the star Sirius, the many purification rites and rituals around washing; and the birth of Dionysus, the Wine God. Against that background in Christianity the stories were brought together celebrating the star leading the magi to the child Jesus with their gifts. – the baptism of Jesus and the wedding at Cana. Birth, Baptism, Marriage. Hatches, Matches and of course you know the third in the rhyming triplet – Despatches – look forward then if you will to next week – not quite, but as they say – our death is in our life. Epiphany does begin to tell the whole story the revelation of who Jesus was in these few short weeks culminating at the Presentation of Christ – Candlemass the celebration of the light. So back to the wedding – what does it tell us about this Jesus we are supposed to be discovering. There is something almost unique about this story and something quite ordinary – yet extraordinary too. The unique first – More wine? Is there really a pressing need for this.. ah yes, more wine, sorry – my mistake! Beyond saving the bride and groom of the humiliation that they had not provided enough wine for the party, no one is dying, no one is ill or paralysed or blind. There was no pain or suffering. No one is in need of emancipation. No one is told to go and sin no more. It seems that it was an act simply for the joy of the party. Perhaps why Jesus suggests to his mother – …”what concern is that to you and to me?” But perhaps saving the Bride and Groom from the humiliation of appearing inhospitable was enough which leads us on to the ordinary. For you might not notice, but despite what John tells us at the end of the passage we have just read, there is no great reveal of what Jesus has done, our text tells us plainly that only the servants knew where the good wine had come from. There is no great prayer of transformation by Jesus, no ceremony, nothing which anyone might suspect was out of the ordinary until the steward tastes the wine and takes it to the groom to ask why he saved the best till last. The extraordinary ordinary act, quietly with no fuss and pretence Jesus transforms what might have been a humiliating end to the wedding feast. The small miracle of joy, the little things unannounced and unexpected which transform the situation. That’s miracle enough for me. We could do with a few of those. In fact there’s no reason why each of us couldn’t be part of one, quietly providing an unexpected gift where it is needed. Offering words of encouragement, comfort and support. Sending a message to those having a hard time. The transformation our small actions have may not be seen immediately, nor will everyone know who has been responsible, but that’s the point. Jesus doesn’t want or expect recognition and actively avoids it. Yet for the bride and groom instead of what could have been seen as a lack of hospitality they receive the credit. Instead perhaps of a celebration remembered for the lack of drinks it is remembered for the ordinary yet extraordinary. What might that look like for us? A tin for the food bank collection. A welcome to the stranger. A kind word on the street. Even a gift as simple as a smile. Don’t pass those moments when we have the opportunity to do the smallest ordinary things which for others become the extraordinary.