Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (John 2) transports me to Kentucky’s Bernheim Forest, 1985, where I was officiating my first wedding. I was working my way through seminary cooking at Pizza Hut, and one of our waitresses decided to tie the knot with her live-in boyfriend, the father of her two-year old daughter. We were to all meet at the lakeside wedding site at 1:30, do a quick run-through with the attendants, and have the ceremony at 2. At 1:30, there was no sign of bride or groom or attendants. Two o’clock came with no wedding party. At around 10 after, the bride and her entourage came, explaining they had been stopped by a trooper for speeding. Then, when she realized her man wasn’t there, she burst into tears, believing she had been jilted. A few minutes later, we heard a ruckus through the woods, and I went to find a park ranger preparing to evict the groom and his entourage from the park for disorderly conduct. They had arrived late due to a pit stop at the liquor store for something to relax the nerves, and had gotten a bit lost in the park due to their relaxed state, trampling through azaleas in the process. I talked the park ranger into releasing them into my custody, and after a few minutes of the bride venting her rage, we proceeded with the wedding, minus any run-through. They walked in to Journey’s Open Arms, had a noisy photographer showing off the Polaroids as they dried, recited their own vows (which the groom forgot, so he reverted to the basics, with an Ah hell, I love ya honey), and for the ring ceremony handed me a Helen Steiner Rice greeting card with a circular poem, which I had to read by turning the card around and around. Perhaps the most embarrassing moment came in the reception afterward, when they opened gifts, most of which were well across the line of risque, and they opened my gift, which was a family Bible.
My introductory comments for the wedding included the oft-repeated lines about the blessing of marriage, which Christ affirmed by his presence and first miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. What I had not thought about until reading the Passage today, was how jolting it is to juxtapose the wedding wine festivities right up against the anger-laden cleansing of the temple, which John puts early in Jesus’ ministry instead of in the last week, as the other gospel writers do. It’s as if John is riffing on the double meaning of rage – at the wedding, Jesus’ miracle wine is all the rage, and at the temple, Jesus is the raging bull. It occurs to me that this is John’s way of singing the Magnificat, where God is pictured filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich empty away. Jesus is filling and emptying in this chapter, filling empty wine glasses with a vintage miracle, and emptying the temple system of its exploitive and oppressive economic practices. He joins the hora dance circle in one setting for a round of Hava Nagila, let’s rejoice and be happy, then shouts an oy ve before driving the circle of scam artists from the temple square.
When I think about this juxtaposition of celebration and protest, of all the rage and raging action, I am reminded of many stories I’ve heard from folks who have traveled to Latin America to do work for peace and social justice among people devastated by oppressive power. The testimonies of the North Americans who come back always includes some episode where the downtrodden people have a party, a celebration with song and dance and laughter. And when the gringo asks how they can celebrate in such circumstances, the answer is always that this is the only way they can sustain their work, to have times of festive joy. Dancing is indeed the rage among the poor and oppressed who protest the evils of their land. Sometimes the dance might lead them to trample through some azaleas as they journey into the open arms of God’s grace. Sometimes it might lead to outrageous Bible stories lying side by side with risque gifts. Whether it leads to protest or to a party or to both, it’s worth raising a glass of vintage grape and toasting the journey: l’chaim!
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.