for your first step into the divine sea you could have
turned water into either blood or wine.
since it was a party you chose wine.
the blood would come later.
This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was Jesus’ first display of his
glory. And his disciples believed in him.
—the apostle John, remembering the day Jesus kicked off his preaching
ministry by turning a truckload of water into vintage wine (John 2:11)
He stood waiting, expectant, his hand outstretched. But I hesitated. After all, I’d never danced with a rabbi before. Alon, my husband of twelve hours, gave me a little nudge. “Go on, Rachel,” he said.
“Yes,” I said finally. “Okay.”
“Thanks,” said Jesus. He took my hand and led me onto the dance floor. Everyone nodded and stepped to the side to let the young rabbi dance with the bride.
“I love weddings,” he whispered to me.
And we began to dance.
The night before, I thought I was going to go crazy. I peered out the window again and again and again, waiting, wondering. What could be taking so long?
I scanned the dark street again. Nothing. No torches. No lanterns. Nothing. Crickets jabbered at me from somewhere in the shadows outside my window. Other than that, the night was quiet.
My dad walked up behind me and put his hand on my shoulder. “He’ll get here when he gets here. Stop worrying. Have something to eat.”
“But what if I miss him? What if he’s not coming?”
I heard my father sigh. And beneath his sigh I heard something else. Music? Or maybe it was the wind—
“Shh, Dad! Listen!”
There it was again!
I scanned the street. Yes! Yes! There! A torch! And also a sound, a song rising in the night!
“They’re coming!” I cried.
“’Bout time,” grumbled my dad. “I was beginning to wonder.”
I could barely contain myself. The music and laughter echoed through the town now. People were stepping outside their homes along the narrow street and clapping along to the rhythm of the drums, holding oil lamps to light the way for the wedding procession.
Dust rose into the air, curling around the laughing torches. The whole town was dancing to my door.
Then I saw my groom.
“Rachel!” he shouted, and stretched out his arms. I burst from the house, into the music and the warm swirl of his embrace. I caught the smell of myrrh on his cheek and leaned against the strong depth of his chest.
Around us everyone, everyone, was dancing.
My mother had spent all afternoon weaving golden thread into my hair. Now, as I took Alon’s hand and danced with him toward our wedding, my hair fluttered behind me as if it were alive. As soon as we arrived at his house, my aunts and cousins would braid it with pearls handed down from a dozen generations. We weren’t rich, but my father spent all he could to help me look like a princess. It was my night. My wedding. Everything was perfect.
When we finally arrived at his house, Alon paused at the door. “Rachel,” he whispered. “Your father has said yes to our marriage, but I would rather have your approval than his. You know the tradition—once you step across the threshold of my home, we’re married—”
“Yes. I know.”
“I don’t want you to come in unless that yes comes from your heart and not just your father’s.”
In our country only a man of men would offer his bride such a choice.
Without hesitation I stepped forward.
And that’s when the real party began.
Everything was a whirlwind of sounds and lights and laughter. The giggle of little girls twirling around in their prettiest dresses. The shouts of young men trying to outdo each other on the dance floor and at the wine cup. The quiet smiles of grandparents as they watched the wedding and the reception unfold.
And my husband, that dark curl of hair falling over his left eye, the feel of his beard against my cheek when we kissed, the strength of his hands around my waist.
Every moment was a girl’s dream come true.
A young rabbi had come; my parents had invited him. At one point he stood and offered a blessing to our union and a prayer for our happiness. He was dancing a lot too. He seemed to really be enjoying himself.
But a few minutes after the blessing and the toast I noticed it. Something wasn’t right. Just an undercurrent of confusion at first, whispered conversations between my mother and the mother of the rabbi. More whispers. Then nods.
There’s a problem, I thought. There’s a problem at my wedding.
Weddings are a big deal where I live. The party can go on for a week or more. Usually, it’s at the groom’s house. So Alon’s family was hosting the party. Sometimes more people show up than you expect and you don’t have enough food on hand. Or enough wine. And believe me, if there’s one place you don’t want to run out of wine, it’s at a Jewish wedding.
Jesus’s mother was whispering to him, then he was whispering to the stewards.
I watched from a distance. The waiters were acting strange. Stealthy.
They went over to the water vats, and the next thing I knew they were handing out wine all around, laughing. I edged over to the vats and looked inside.
They were filled with wine. Hundreds of gallons of wine.
It should have been water. I glanced at Jesus. He smiled at me, raising his cup.
Wine? But how?
I hurried over to tell Alon what was going on, but the caterer in charge of the banquet stepped between us, smiling broadly, swaying slightly. Apparently he’d been making sure the wine was suitable for human consumption.
“You!” he said, winking. “You sly dog, you!”
“What is it?” asked Alon.
“Everyone serves the best wine first—hiccup—and then when the guests have had a little—hiccup—too much to drink they pull out the cheap stuff. But not you! Oh no—hiccup—” He raised his cup high. “You saved the best for last!”
My husband looked curiously at the caterer and then at me. “I did?”
I nodded toward Jesus, who was finishing a dance with one of the bridesmaids. “Yes,” I said. “You did.”
“Ah yes, I did . . .” said Alon slowly. Still clueless.
The master of the banquet raised his cup again, took a long swig, and mumbled to himself, “I could use a refill, I think. Yup, saved the best for last.”
He wandered off and Alon turned to me. “What’s going on?”
“You’re not gonna believe it—”
But before I could say another word, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned. Jesus.
“Congratulations, Rachel,” he said, his eyes twinkling. He was a bit out of breath from the last dance.
“Thank you,” I said, blushing.
“I love weddings.”
“I can see.”
Then he shook Alon’s hand. “Now, you take good care of this bride of yours.”
Alon nodded reverently. “I will, Rabbi.”
Jesus leaned close. He spoke to Alon in an urgent whisper, but I heard every word. “Treat her like a queen, my friend. Love her as Yahweh loves Israel. Love her as Yahweh loves you.”
Alon paused for a moment before answering. Now it was his chance to say yes. “I will, Rabbi. Yes. A queen.”
Ah, Alon. My Alon! A man of men! I held his arm with both my hands. I never wanted to let him go.
Then Jesus smiled. “Good. Now, I’m sure you won’t mind if I steal a dance from your bride, your queen?”
“Of course not.”
Then the rabbi bowed to me and held out his hand.
Alon nudged me. “Go on, Rachel.”
“Yes,” I said finally. “Okay.”
So I danced with Jesus as everyone else stood around singing and laughing and raising a toast to my marriage with glasses of this young rabbi’s bubbly, sparkling, intoxicating miracle.
“Oh, I love weddings,” he said.
“I can see,” I said as he twirled me faster through the night.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence that Jesus chose to kick off his public ministry by attending a wedding, but I doubt it. The more I learn about him, the fewer coincidences I see.
Here’s the context: Jesus is thirty. He has spent the last decade or so working as a carpenter and has just recently shifted careers to become a rabbi. He was baptized, went on a retreat, prayed, fasted, withstood temptations from the devil, and recruited a handful of followers. You’d expect that kind of stuff from a religious leader. No surprise there. But then . . .
Does he found a church? Nope.
Apply for nonprofit status? Nope.
Go door-to-door peddling his worldview? Nope.
Instead he takes a bunch of his wine-guzzling drinking buddies to a weeklong wedding celebration, and when it looks like things are winding down, he turns 150 gallons of water into the best wine money can buy, just to keep the party going.
That’s my kind of rabbi.
Jesus loved to party and was often disparaged by the religious fundamentalists because of it. One time he told them, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins. The new wine would burst the old skins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine must be put into new wineskins” (Luke 5:37-38). When God became man, he offered new wine to thirsty souls.
I’m thankful Jesus didn’t come to start another religion. We have too many of those already. And I’m thankful Jesus didn’t come to give us more laws, rules, regulations, or advice. Our world has enough of those too.
Instead he came to give us a fresh spiritual connection with God. As he told his followers, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:28-29 Message). Jesus came to pour new wine into our hearts and new hope into our lives.
Some people picture God as a doddering grandpappy in heaven. But in truth, he’s more like an impassioned young lover swinging his bride across the dance floor. Jesus didn’t arrive on earth to debate theology but to propose marriage. In a very real spiritual sense, God is courting us. Christianity is wild. It’s intimate. It’s heartbreaking and soul-mending. It’s the wings to rise above the everyday and the hope of a honeymoon with the God who has loved you forever.
The party has just begun, and the best is yet to come.
touching the unseen
dancing groom of the ages,
frolicking God awaiting his bride,
the wedding has just ended,
the party has just begun.
as your hopeful, blushing bride
i accept your hand and step with you
into the heart of the music.