On Frivolity

Sunday 7th January 2024
Year B, The Epiphany
Holy Trinity, Cuckfield
Service of the Word
Baruch 4.36-5.9
John 2.1-12

The end of the Book of Baruch which we have just heard is a song of unconditional joy, the promise of earthly solace and heavenly glory after an arduous journey, a passage that reminds us that the message of Old Testament Prophets was not one of unremitting gloom. That theme is taken up much more strongly in our New Testament Reading from John where, for his first miracle, Jesus turns water into a huge supply of wine for a wedding.

This account of the Marriage at Cana has traditionally been read in conjunction with the arrival of the wise men, come to worship Jesus, as a reinforcement of the theme of Epiphany: that just as the wise men represent the acknowledgment of Jesus by the Gentiles, so in this miracle Jesus manifests himself to the world at large; for although there is evidence that at this wedding Jesus was among his wider circle, he wasn't consulted on the guest list nor the table plan. In this remarkable manifestation, Jesus is making a statement which will never be forgotten; for all his discretion during the banquet, we know that word of what he did will get out. This people had known much of doom-laden prophets, something of men who promised violence in defence of Judaism against Rome and there was a long tradition of holy men who taught and sometimes healed the sick.

But this remarkable young man has done something totally unheard of, not in the least religious, to some even frivolous. If this story was the first thing you heard about Jesus, what would you think he stood for or say the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury celebrated his installation by miraculously producing a massive puff of candy floss for every member of What would we think of him?

I think the answer would be that we would not take such a figure seriously and that he would probably be slated by the atheist press as trivial.

Our trouble is that we have narrowed religion and separated it from life: religion is about a set of books and rules and gestures, largely word-based, generally solemn, with a tendency to look down on the supposedly trivial, frightened of being joyful in case the Resurrection is not, after all, all that it promises to be. Ours is a religion of the literate and the cultured.

Here, then is a good opportunity for making adjustments not, I should emphasise, as the material for a New Year's Resolution, as they too often fizzle out but an opportunity to take a look at how we view religion.

Here are three major inter-linked clues: First, after forty days of long-faced Lent we give ourselves one day of Easter before we sink into "Low Sunday"; secondly, the Holy Spirit gets one day to herself and is usually invoked to support something we advocate; and, thirdly, we are all bound up in a contractual tangle about the relationship between human behaviour and salvation.

So I want to propose qqq things that we might think about:

The first six points are supportive material for the seventh. Christianity is all about spreading good news; and good news is about celebration; and celebration is about letting go.

the marriage at Cana to the See of Canterbury we have seen religion not as a celebratory activity but as a means of behavioural control, not only serious moral control but also cultural control.

Now, in our good old tradition of decency, don't immediately go mad; but just think about what I have said so that we leave ourselves open to the Spirit, even if this means doing something unaccountably frivolous.