Sending out the invitation – 20 January 2019
John 2:1-12, Psalm 36:5-10
This week I have been doing some preparation for the church’s 90th anniversary. You’re all invited by the way! Keep the 23 and 24th February clear!
There are a few key things you need if you’re organising an event. You need a venue, a place. You need a time. And you need a group of people to come along.
In the first verses of this morning’s gospel reading, we have all these components; On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.
Today we are also thinking about another event; the first Day of Mourning, 26th January 1938, held in the Australian Hall on Elizabeth Street, Sydney, on the 150th anniversary of British settlement celebrations in Sydney.
At first glance, both events have followed the formula. They have a location. They have a time and they have people.
According John chapter 2, this wedding which Mary and Jesus and their plus 12 attended took place ‘in Cana of Galilee’. The location is mentioned twice – which seems to give it some significance and yet the actual location of Cana is now unknown. Lebanese Christians say it’s the modern-day village of Qana in Lebanon or others say Kafr Kanna in Israel, or Khirbet Kana, also in Israel, or Karm er-Rasm according to one archaeologist or Ain Quana, according to others. And other scholars even suggest that Cana may be a symbolic location rather than an actual one.
The Day of Mourning also had venue issues. The initial request of the organisers to use the Sydney Town Hall was denied, and so, they marched from the Sydney Town Hall in George Street to the Australian Hall in Elizabeth Street, where they were told they could not use the front entrance but had to enter through the rear door.
In the late 90’s a conservation battle was fought over the Australian Hall. Despite a listing on the National Estate register and an enquiry that stated that “the Day of Mourning conference may properly be regarded as the foundation of contemporary Aboriginal political and civil rights movements….of great social, structural and cultural significance to the Aboriginal community and to the history of Australia”, the owners were given an exemption to build a high rise tower on the site. On the 26th January 1998 the National Aboriginal Heritage Committee organised a 60th anniversary march, again from the Town Hall to the Australian Hall, and three years later the building was bought by the Metropolitan Aboriginal Association Incorporated and is now on the National Heritage List. In a symbolic act, the Lord Mayor of Sydney hosted a victory party following the purchase in the Sydney Town Hall.
There are questions raised about timing for both events.
In John, it is not the wedding, but the timing of this first of seven signs that reveal Jesus’ glory in John’s gospel that seems to be in question. Verses 3 and 4: ‘When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”’
What is going on here in this conversation? Is this just a normal mother-son interaction? (Mary: Fix it! Jesus: Mum, leave it!) Or does Mary overstep? Or having watched Jesus grow from infancy to adulthood, does Mary know that this is the time for Jesus to reveal something of God’s abundant love? What we do know is that the writer of John uses this expression ‘the hour’ repeatedly to speak of Jesus’ approaching suffering and death.
- In John 7:30 and 8:20, Jesus is not arrested by the authorities because ‘his hour had not yet come’.
- In John 12, Jesus speaks of being delivered from ‘this hour’ but knows that ‘this hour’ is his purpose and mission.
- In John 13 we’re told Jesus knew, before the festival of the Passover that ‘his hour had come’.
But we also know that ‘the hour’, that Jesus’ suffering and death, also reveals his glory, the glory of his life and death and resurrected life that reveals God’s glorious love for us. And so, the writer of John, also speaks of other dimensions of ‘the hour’.
- To the woman at the well, Jesus says, ‘the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshippers will worship God in spirit and truth.”
- In John 5, “the hour is coming and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God.”
- And in John 16, Jesus likens the hour to woman’s labour, which is painful for a time, but results in a joy that no one can take away.
For all these are aspects of Jesus’ coming ‘hour’ as well. It is not so much a chronological time, but the fulfillment of the right time. Joy that comes through pain, life that cannot be extinguished in death, communion with God so rich and smooth and bold – so fulfilling that it is signified in Cana by every glass being filled, by over catering spectacularly, by wine that poet Peter Steele describes as “The kind of thing it was a privilege, to drink, or even think about…”
Because what day of the wedding celebrations is this? It is the third day! And we know what happens on the third day. Resurrection. Restoration. Joy being made complete.
On what day do we celebrate Australia Day? It’s an old old debate. Since 1938 and beyond. And it is useful to remember that the 26th January was, for many years, very much a New South Wales Affair called Foundation Day, sometimes Regatta Day. Other states had their own celebrations; Regatta Day in December in Tasmania, Proclamation Day on the 28th December in South Australia, Foundation Day on the 1 June in WA. And that Australia Day, when it was conceived in 1915, was held on the last Friday in July. It wasn’t until 1946 that the various government bodies agreed to unify the celebrations on the 26th of January.
But what I am really asking is, what day are we celebrating with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, our Christian brothers and sisters? Are we celebrating the hour that is coming, that is now come? Are we prepared to walk through suffering with them to celebrate on the third day, the day of resurrection and restoration and wholeness?
We hear echoes of ‘this hour’ and ‘this day’ in the speeches on that first Day of Mourning in 1938. William Cooper was there, the founder of the Australian Aborigines League, and Doug Nicholls, later Sir Doug Nicholls, who became governor of South Australia, and Jack Patten and William Ferguson, the founders of the Aborigines Progressive Association. “Surely the time has come at last,” Fergusson said, “for us to do something for ourselves and make ourselves heard.” And together they called on, “the Australian nation of today to make new laws for the education and care of Aborigines…[to have] a new policy which will raise our people to full citizen status and equality within the community.”
And those of us who were at the ACCC on Thursday night again heard a young Aboriginal leader, Brooke Prentis, call for equality, for some progress to be made in the key indicators of Aboriginal health and welfare, which have stalled almost entirely in the last calendar year. The wine has run out again it seems, and yet Brooke reminded us that we serve, that we believe, in a God who turns water to wine, and tears of suffering into tears of joy, whose promise is life, who desires restoration.
But for any event you also need people, and so, the Common Grace, the organisation Brooke works for, have issued an invitation to us, to people in churches around Australia, to take off their shoes and to stand with them as a symbolic act on this Aboriginal Sunday. And so, during the next hymn, you are invited to take off your shoes and to come and stand at the front of the church. Please don’t feel uncomfortable, so please know that if removing your shoes or coming to the front is not something you want to do, you can still sing and pray from your seat. But if you would like to do this, you are invited to, and John is going to take a picture of the group standing here at Canberra Baptist to send to Common Grace.
But this invitation is only a small part of a much greater invitation that God issues to all of us. Who was invited to that first wedding? Mary and Jesus and all of his disciples, and all of his disciples continue to be invited. To see the signs. For what are signs but invitations? Invitations telling us where to be – wherever that location may be – where God is working. Invitations telling us when to attend to the suffering of God’s people and the glory of God’s resurrected life whether the hour is now, or is coming, or is not yet.
Invitations that are sent to each one of us inviting us to be part of God’s great wedding feast of life and joy and restoration.