Jerusalem and Kafr Kanna, Northern District, Israel
October 4 and 6, 2019
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”John 2:1-5
The wedding went down as the most famous in history, but not for the couple who was never named. Jesus’ first recorded miracle at the banquet was its claim to fame. Biblical accounts implied that His mother had already known He was a miracle worker. In His rather curt reply, He called her “woman.” Was it simply cultural or was He speaking as the Son of God, not as her son? The momentous occasion prompted Mary to avert the mortifying embarrassment of having the store of wine reduced to driblets, which, in turn, prompted the first – perhaps even premature – miracle. She made a public statement of her personal faith: “Do whatever He tells you.”
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”John 2:6-10
Our Holy Land tour through modern-day Galilee led to Kafr Kanna, believed to be the biblical Cana, now an Arab village. A Franciscan church was established at the supposed site called the Sanctuary of our Lord’s First Miracle, or more popularly, the Wedding Church. Unsurprisingly, a wedding ceremony was underway. I supposed the modestly sized church was booked all day long. Couples in our group flexed their cheesy poses for obligatory photos at the front courtyard. I just peeked into the interior and looked up at the stone façade with twin bell towers and life-like sculptures.
The guide, then, led us down to the church’s basement storage of archaeological finds in Kafr Kanna and surrounding areas. Taking center stage was a special stone jar believed to be one of the original six wherein Jesus turned water into fine wine. It was unexpectedly massive; I had to stand on tiptoe to take a shot of its top view.
Two thousand years ago, these water jars were used for Jewish ceremonial washing of hands and utensils before meals. Jesus used them to perform, not only a demonstration of power, but an act of mercy. It could only take mercy for Jesus to reveal Himself even before His time. He ordered the servants to serve a sample from the jars for a taste test. Unaware of the miracle, the banquet steward perked up at the superior quality of the wine. It was uncharacteristic for wedding hosts to save the best for last.
Excavations in the 1900s beneath the present church uncovered a first-century synagogue and houses. Broken vessels from the time of the Christ were dug up; however, experts could never ascertain if they were the ones used in Jesus’ miracle. Certified authenticity was beside the point, which was all about Jesus transforming water into wine. In Jewish tradition, water represented purification and wine signified sanctification. In a symbolic gesture, Jesus raised the bar from washing away of sin to separating from sin, much like how marriage set aside the bride to her groom.
To and from the Wedding Church, we passed by St. Bartholomew the Apostle Church built in honor of Jesus’ disciple whose hometown this was. He was also known as Nathanael of Cana. At the time of the first miracle, Nathanael Bartholomew was Jesus’ most recent disciple recruit.
Cana wine had become a cottage industry of the town. The street of the Wedding Church was flanked by small wine shops. What drew us, though, were the enterprising young residents peddling fresh pomegranate juice in front of their houses. The fruit had been cultivated in the Holy Land since time immemorial such that it was believed to be the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, not the apple in Western renderings. Our fresh pomegranate juice, blended right at the roadside, actually tasted like sweet wine and it had the color of blood. A piece of unleavened bread would have turned the refreshing break into the Holy Communion right there.
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Two days earlier, we visited the Cenacle, Latin for “upper room,” in Jerusalem where two Christian events were commemorated: The Last Supper and the Pentecost. The present site was located near the Church of the Dormition. The lower room was a Jewish shrine, the traditional burial site of King David.
Over the centuries, the building was, at various times, occupied by all three major Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam like the Holy Land itself. The room was previously a mosque. Islamic inscriptions still adorned the walls and stained glass. In the middle of the hollow space was a Gothic pillar forming a focal point where the dome ceiling arches converged. The former dining hall lacked the grandness of the Last Supper depiction in Western art, most notably the painting by Leonardo da Vinci.
A bronze olive tree, a gift from Pope John Paul II, stood by a niched wall. The tree symbolized peace among the three Abrahamic religions sharing this room and country. The only representations of the Last Supper here were the replicas of a grape vine and wheat shaft around the tree, respectively signifying the wine and bread partaken by Jesus and His disciples.
Our visit was a quick stop; it allowed no time to take the Holy Communion in the Cenacle itself. It did not matter. The bread and the wine, also two elements of the Jewish Passover Feast, were not holy in themselves. What set the believers apart was the remembrance of the body of the Christ that was broken and His blood that was shed for the forgiveness of sin and redemption of His people.
Three years after the first miracle, Jesus’ hour finally came – the miracle of His death and subsequent resurrection. It was the fulfillment of that curt reply. These two miracles bookended Jesus’ earthly ministry. He had turned water into wine and wine into blood.
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