The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Monday, January 15, 2007

If you don't believe it, you won't understand it

The Very Rev. Carl Reid's sermon for EPIPHANY II - 2007

I don’t know if anyone else experienced the sudden shift in emotions that I did this past Wednesday morning, if you also saw the front page of the Ottawa Citizen. Smack in the middle of the page was an array of nine different images of Jesus Christ, under the heading “Not Just a Question of Faith.” My immediate reaction, based on many favourable-to-traditional-Christianity articles that have recently graced the pages of that paper, was keen.

Alas, the other heading, under the images, “Scholars to debate if Jesus existed” dashed my hopes. For those who may not have seen it, the article goes on to inform us that there will now be a successor group to the infamous Jesus Seminar of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. In case any of you missed that, it was a group of scholars of truly varied disciplines, but frankly few if any of them, people of genuine faith, who, by the process of voting using coloured beads, concluded that 82 percent of Jesus sayings and 84 percent of his deeds were unreliable to improbable. Now they are picking up where they left off with something called The Jesus Project, which will now, presumably by some equally asinine procedure, decide whether Jesus even existed - a question that no historian of any worth whatever would doubt.

Lest we look with complete scorn on these people, their approach is really quite symptomatic of a thoroughly pervasive modern way of looking at things, which has become so very subjective. Said approach of course, is to make up one’s mind in advance, and then search for supporting evidence or writings to “prove” that position. In truth, I suspect that we are all guilty of that from time to time.
How very topical on any Sunday in the Church year; but even moreso today when our Gospel reading that of the wedding of Cana in Galilee - the first of His signs, or miracles as recorded in the Gospel according to St. John. I have no idea what the Jesus Seminar concluded about His turning of the water into wine; but I tend to think that it may have been very near the top of the list of deeds of Jesus that they rejected.

Mattins on Thursday morning also made me wonder how the participants in the Jesus Seminar, and its successor, are going to fare on judgement day. Part of the Second Lesson was the passage from Matthew that reads, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 10.32, 33). Then, on Friday morning, as if to underline topically, also from Matthew, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight” (Matt. 11.25b, 26).

I’m certain that we shan’t be swayed by the musings of people who are simply looking for ways to complete the deconstruction of God that began a few hundred years ago. I will grant that these people are highly educated - perhaps even the “wise and prudent” to whom our Lord referred; but they are victims of the post-Enlightenment mindset that has held sway in the west for the better part of a century now, with roots that go back to the likes of Immanuel Kant another hundred years before. I say victims, in that the west has been consumed now for a very long time with a belief basis that demands empirical data and proof. If I can’t see it or touch it; if I can’t dissect it to a molecular level; then it falls into the realm of childish myth. The corollary extension is that anything that falls outside of the capacity for empirical study is unreasonable, and thus of doubtful worth or even existence. For example, grossly oversimplified, I cannot see or dissect God, therefore it is unreasonable to believe in Him. With that being an underlying, if not always so clearly and boldly articulated, baseline for post-secondary study in very many topic areas, it is not surprising that very bright minds are swayed into a rut that precludes a balanced study of metaphysics, if they will even allow their minds truly to go there at all. Equally therefore, it is not surprising that these very bright minds will spend some time attempting to help us poor, uneducated Christians throw away our crutches of belief that are not based on reproducible exercises of physics and chemistry.

This is just a warning that titles such as The Jesus Seminar and The Jesus Project have very little to do with the Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour in Whom we believe, even though we have no empirical proof.

But let us come back to today’s Gospel, which for believers is one of those passages that has depths of meaning, though often we don’t go beyond the obvious, face value reading which reveals so much: the Epiphany theme of our Lord’s manifestation - the very words with which the passage ends; His miracle of turning bath water into a robust Australian Shiraz; His characteristic care for common folk in ensuring that the bridegroom did not suffer profound embarrassment. Often preachers spend some time dealing with the apparently difficult phrase, “O woman, what is that to thee and to me?” which becomes far less difficult when we recognize that the Greek word used for “woman” might be better rendered into English as “M’lady.” Some suggest that His use of the word “Woman” here and in His words from the Cross in John 19.26, “Woman, behold thy son,” look right back to the use of the word in Gen. 3.15.
The Jesus Seminar notwithstanding, who quite likely discounted this episode altogether, let us consider some deeper symbolism in this passage. For those who attended the Advent quiet day in December, this is such a wonderful passage in providing many layers for mental prayer.

“And the third day.” The third day of what? Well, if we read backwards in John, we discover that this “third day” is the seventh day from the coming of Jesus to John the Baptist in River Jordan. Keeping in mind that the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New, and the Old Testament points towards Jesus in many more ways than most who read it ever realize, what might we think of when seven days are mentioned? Creation.

“And the mother of Jesus was there.” Curious don’t you think that Mary is mentioned before Jesus, even though both were present? Again, keeping in mind the Creation story, whom might Mary represent? We certainly know that by the middle of the second century, Irenaeus and Justin Martyr, in contrasting Mary’s obedience with Eve’s disobedience, referred to her as the second Eve. St. Paul in his first letter to the Church in Corinth calls Jesus the last Adam; He is also referred to as the Second Adam in hymns and other writings.

God Incarnate, the Second Adam; and the Second Eve - the promised new creation?
Her response to our Lord’s “What is that to thee and to me? Mine hour is not yet come” was a further example of her obedience. She didn’t send the servants to the LCBO; she simply told them, “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.” Which is to say, God says, I obey. Pass the message. I will not eat from the tree in the middle of the garden. Ever the handmaid of the Lord.

“There was a wedding.” How many times does Jesus use the analogy of the Kingdom of Heaven being like a wedding feast? Note is this episode that the bridegroom, the one who would suffer the embarrassment, is not even mentioned until near the end - and then, not by name. Whom is the heavenly bridegroom?

Changing water into wine, then to be drunk from a cup. Dare we see in that a prefigurement of the Eucharistic mystery of wine and water becoming the precious Blood by which we are saved? Here at a supper where wine was served, He turned water into wine; at the end of His earthly ministry, once again at a supper where His disciples were present, He turned wine into His precious Blood when His hour was indeed fully come.

Poorer wine first, a brief hiatus, and then the best wine imaginable. Old Covenant being superseded by a new and infinitely better Covenant?

“And His disciples believed on Him.” But as we know, that belief was to be fickle and transient until His Resurrection and the ensuing sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, neither of which can be empirically proven - except for the undeniable and profound change in those very disciples whose belief was no longer to be fickle and transient.

As I was pondering all of this, I was reminded of a phrase that is often attributed to St. Augustine, but is actually from St. Anselm of Canterbury: “Credo ut intelligam” - “I believe, in order that I may understand.”

Perhaps those who have attributed it to Augustine were working backwards from an English translation of one of his phrases, the Latin of which is a bit of a tongue twister, quite unlike credo ut intelligam: “Nisi credideritis, non intelligitis.” And the translation for the post-enlightened mindset whose base premise is unbelief?

“If you don’t believe it, you won’t understand it.”