An epiphany is a revelation, a light bulb going off. And revelations are transformative. By their very design, revelations refuse to leave you in the same place, doing the same stuff, thinking the same things. Otherwise, they would just be reminders. And revelations are not reminders. A revelation, an epiphany, has no precedent in what you had once accepted as normal. Indeed, they come to challenge and disrupt precisely what you accept as normal. Epiphanies make you rush back to your schedule, your agenda, your relationships, your life story itself because you must have missed something. Surely there has been some mistake. A revelation reconfigures the coordinates, redraws the map, scrambles the data. And you can only proceed according to the terms that it establishes for you. It transforms you into a witness, maybe not the most reliable one at times, but a witness nonetheless.
This need not be all spiritual and religious, so let’s bring it down to earth. There are any number of epiphanies like this that we can think of. September 11th. The assassination of JFK. Tragedies unfortunately can come to mind the quickest. But any event that no matter how many years have passed you can still remember exactly where you were and what you were doing counts as an epiphany. Because to remember exactly where you were and what you were doing is to be a witness. Those events transformed you.
The point of this season is that Christ is the Epiphany. He is the Revelation, the Son of God in all his glory. Because of that, Christ’s epiphany has made witnesses out of us all. And as witnesses, all we can do is respond to the event, and even if we respond with indifference, our indifference itself is still a response. As Jesus says elsewhere in John’s Gospel, “those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” And what is this condemnation that is already here? It is “that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” The light of Christ is what defines darkness as darkness. The darkness probably felt all well and good and normal and acceptable before that, but once the light came, darkness could only be chosen as darkness, as a willful rejection of the light. Even those who choose the darkness have been transformed by the revelation of Christ. There is no vacuum to escape to.
The transformative power of epiphany is seen in both our Old Testament reading from Isaiah and our Gospel reading from John. Listen again to this bit from Isaiah:
For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married.
When Israel’s vindication shines out like the dawn and her salvation like a burning torch, notice how her very name is transformed. She is no longer called Forsaken, her land no longer called Desolate. She is called My Delight is in Her, her land called Married. As Christians, we believe that the vindication of Israel is none other than the Messiah, Jesus Christ our Lord. He is Israel’s salvation burning like a torch. Think back on the baptism of Christ last week, the words of the Father descending upon him: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” These verses deeply resonate with each other. God’s delight is in Israel because his pleasure is with his Son. The revelation of Jesus vindicates the people of God and in so doing, it transforms its very relation to God, its name.
We can see something similar going on in today’s Gospel, where we find the first of Jesus’ signs at the Wedding in Cana. It is the inauguration of his public ministry. This first sign takes place at a wedding party that’s about to get really lame really fast. The wine’s running out. Major faux pas. Now, it’s difficult to know what to make of Mary and Jesus’ brief interaction -- was Mary suggesting anything by informing Jesus that the wine was all gone or just observing how it was all going down in flames? Hard to say. And even though Jesus initially disregards this as irrelevant to him and his hour, he does eventually do something. When he does, he not only saves the party but he also reveals his glory. It is the first revelation of who he is.
But what is the nature of the transformation that accompanies this epiphany? Well, most obviously, it is that the water has become wine. And not merely any wine, but the best wine. And tons of it. Each one of the six stone jars that Jesus had filled with water held between 20-30 gallons. There is such an profligate excess to Jesus’ first miracle. And it’s not insignificant that these jars were designed for purification rites, for ceremonial cleansing. What they were doing around a wedding is anyone’s guess. Some seriously ambitious pinterest wedding, probably. But they were not festive accessories. And so it’s not just that the water they contained was transformed into wine; it’s that they went from being solemn vessels of ritual cleansing to the vessels of ecstacy, feasting, and joy. The sacramental overtones are impossible to miss: we proceed from the washing of baptism to the blood of the lamb, from water to wine.
John’s Gospel says simply that upon this revelation of glory, the disciples believed in him. It says nothing about the guests of the wedding and what they made of this event. But for the disciples, it was an epiphany. It fundamentally altered their perception of their leader and it plunged them deeper into his revelation. No doubt that they could tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when they became witnesses of Jesus’ glory.
I think that there’s just one major problem with all of this for us contemporary Christians, which is that it can be very difficult to maintain the awe at the revelation of Christ. Rather than an event that makes us witnesses, people who have been irrevocably changed by what we received, Jesus becomes like a discreet little fact. And to read about him in Scripture or hear about him at church becomes like another reminder. Jesus comes to be arranged just so among any number of other little agreeable facts and preferences in our lives. We end up defining the terms for Jesus, instead of the other way around. And if anything, this makes us little more than witnesses to ourselves, since Jesus has been reduced to little more than an attractive projection of what we like the most. There is no transformation here; we’ve made sure of that.
But the season of Epiphany confronts us year after year with the stunning truth that there is no vacuum sealed off from the revelation of Christ. Jesus is not a fact for us to collect. And it is Jesus who defines the terms. There is only the light of Christ or the darkness of denial. At the very least, maybe you can see yourself as one of those wedding guests, wandering around an awkward party that’s gone a little south (what a metaphor for the church!) until you suddenly realize that your drinking the wine of heaven, graciously provided by the host who is none other than the Son of the living God. And that part’s no metaphor. It’s literally behind me being prepared for you. Every Eucharist is an Epiphany. And thus it is an opportunity for transformation.
The disciples witnessed Jesus reveal his glory and believed in him. Well, the revelation of Jesus continues right here. We are all guests at a little foretaste of the wedding supper of the lamb. His glory is here. Will you believe in him and be changed? Amen.