“On the Third Day”
Our Gospel reading from John is a beautifully symbolic story, perfect for this season of Epiphany. The symbolism already begins in its first few words, which speak of a wedding “on the third day.” In our Old Testament reading from Isaiah—and this is not the only Old Testament passage in which this happens – a wedding becomes a symbol for the hoped-for reunion of Israel with its God. The wedding spoken of here symbolizes the end of exile, the return of the Jews from Babylon, their triumph over all the nations that have oppressed them—in short, the beginning of the redemption of the world.
So the wedding is the controlling symbol here, but there’s also symbolism in the fact that it takes place “on the third day.” John doesn’t usually tell you what day events occur on; he’s usually content with vague expressions like “after that.” So when he does tell you about a particular day, it’s worthwhile to pay attention. And probably John’s first audience couldn’t have heard this expression, “on the third day,” without thinking of Jesus’ resurrection “on the third day” after his crucifixion. A little later in this chapter, Jesus will refer to his resurrection elliptically by saying, “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”And the other miracle that Jesus performs “on the third day” is his resurrection of Lazarus. So the third day is especially associated with resurrection. So when, at the end of the story about the wedding at Cana, we are told that Jesus “revealed his glory” by the actions he performed at this wedding, it seems clear that this is meant to foreshadow the glory that will dawn on the world when he is raised from the dead, and thus begin the restoration of the world that Isaiah prophesied.
But this manifestation of God’s glory takes place, in our story, against a background of dearth, insufficiency, and anxiety. The third verse of the story begins, “And when the wine had run out,”and the significance of this depletion is highlighted by Jesus’ mother saying, “They have no wine.” The lack of wine is what Alfred Hitchcock called the “MacGuffin” in the story—the problem, or absence, or question, which sets the plot in motion. The whole narrative is based on the contrast between the promise hinted at by “after three days” and the problem hinted at by “when the wine had run out.”
This phrase, “when the wine had run out,” points to a familiar feature of our world—the pervasiveness of dearth. Your gas tank approaches empty. Your refrigerator runs out of food. Your town runs out of clean water. Or you yourself run out of energy–you just don’t feel like you have the resources to face the world anymore. Continue reading