I always tell brides and grooms that the Church bit of their wedding is the one part of the day when they don’t have to think about anything or anyone but each other and the promises they are making. This is the stress-free bit. They don’t even have to look at the congregation very much (which is quite a relief if you’re a bit shy). You don’t have to chat to people and make sure they’re all ok. You don’t have to worry about whether everything’s happening right or not (because that’s the Vicar’s job). You don’t even need to remember what to say or when to stand up and sit down, because I will whisper to you bossily throughout the whole thing.
That’s what I tell them. And it’s true. But I know that they’ll probably worry anyway.
We all know the principle – it’s who you marry that’s the important thing, not how the day goes – but in practice? Everyone (almost everyone) worries about the clothes and the cars and the flowers and the rings and the lunch and the holiday and who to sit next to who and whether the best man is actually going to lose the rings and whether someone will do a four weddings and a funeral bit and object when the vicar leaves the tiniest of pauses, and whether a small child will scream so no-one hears the vows, and whether everyone will enjoy themselves, and whether they should be really spending this much money. Occasionally (you know who you are), I meet a bride who doesn’t buy into this (yay!) but I have great sympathy for those who find it all consuming. There is a lot of pressure – internal and external – to make the day perfect, just as, increasingly in this complex and competitive world, we feel under pressure to be perfect people.
Last Sunday in Church we heard the reading of the Wedding at Cana. It was a wedding that Jesus and his followers and his mother were at – and the unthinkable happened – something went wrong. Quite badly wrong if you like a drink (and most people do at a wedding!) They ran out of wine.
And I have been thinking this week…what do we do when the wine runs out? I don’t mean literal wine (although that’s quite bad enough). I mean, what do we do when despite all our planning and hard work and determination and commitment, things don’t turn out the way they should? Someone lets us down. Or circumstances change. Or we realise we made one foolish and irreversible mistake. Or our health changes. Or we just run out of energy. And everything feels just bleurgh (to use the technical term).
In a world that demands perfection, especially in January, when we are all supposed to be on diets, and have shiny new (possibly unrealistic) life goals, wine-running-out doesn’t feel like an acceptable option. And yet it happens to all of us, all the time. We take on more than we can comfortably handle. We all get sick sometimes. We all disappoint ourselves (never mind other people). And that’s why I love that the water into wine at the wedding story is the first miracle recorded in the stories about Jesus. It’s not a life and death situation, but it is most definitely a “bleurgh” moment – it’s all gone wrong and everyone is stressed and it’s hard to see what can be done to make it any better.
And I can see what the story is asking me. It’s asking, “What do you do when the wine runs out?” and it’s pointing me towards Mary, who, we’re told, turns to Jesus and asks for help.
I find it strange how hard it is to ask for help – even from God! And yet I don’t believe we were meant for independence really. We’re meant for community and relationship. Of course, asking for help does mean acknowledging our vulnerability – but (provided we are vulnerable to the right people) I think that is good for our mental health. This drive that we see and experience all around us for constant improvement – even perfection – is unattainable and ultimately damaging.
When the wine runs out, I think we need to ask for help – from God and for one another. Perhaps prayer need not be the last resort when all other options have fallen by the wayside, but an intrinsic part of our life and relationships.
Bottom line is, I still believe in hope. There are some things that speak deeper than the lack of wine for today’s party – things that are more fundamental than disappointment, frustration, wounded pride, sickness or even, perhaps, grief. The Bible often talks of heaven as being like a wedding banquet – not the sort where we get bored and drunk, or stressed and inadequate, or full of existential angst about the meaning and the fleeting nature of our lives – but one where the celebrations will never end – one where we will finally understand who we are and who we were meant for.
When the wine runs out, what will I do? I will do my best to hold on to that eternal hope, and in this unpredictable world I will try to celebrate when I may, and grieve when I must, and avoid the temptation to think that life could be perfect if only I could work out how. When the wine runs out, I will turn to him.