Third Sunday of Epiphany - Choral Eucharist

  • Preacher

    The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn

  • Readings

    Genesis 14.17-20; Revelation 19.6-10; John 2.1-11

We’ve learnt so many things over these last almost ten months of lockdown and restrictions. I’ve learnt more than how to organise a meeting on Zoom, you may have learnt how to make bread, or knit or work your way through Netflix


More fundamentally I’ve learnt just how important being with other people is, I’ve learnt that distance from others affects so much of who I am. But I’ve also come to realise more and more that the boundaries that we create, the borders behind which we live, the walls we construct are meaningless in so many ways.

It was deeply sad to see the former President of the United States – it feels so good to be able to say that – as one of his final acts, visiting the border wall with Mexico.  He presented it as a pinnacle of his achievements, he looked so proud of the divisions that he’d nurtured.  It was sad because of all that it represented but sad also because it just shows how deluded we can be when we think that walls can protect us.

The great English poet John Donne famously wrote a poem called ‘No man is an island’ and it begins with those words.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

It’s the perfect poem for us to reflect on in post-Brexit Britain but also in the midst of this global pandemic.  We might close down air corridors, might try to pull up the drawbridges, restrict contact and access but we’ve learnt by bitter experience that this is an experience in which the whole of humanity is sharing, none of us is escaping its devastating effects, no matter where we live, no matter what our situation, our status, no matter who we are.  We’re in this together – the virus is no respecter of Christmas nor of the barriers we construct.

This is the final day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, a week when in more normal times people from different denominations would get together and celebrate ‘one church, one faith, one Lord’, celebrate all that connects us rather than what divides us.  But after the week has ended we go back into our different places and continue to plough our furrows.

At Southwark Cathedral we’re blessed with brilliant and life-giving relationships with the congregations at the cathedrals in Rouen and Bergen, at St Georges Roman Catholic Cathedral here in Southwark and at the Norwegian Church in Rotherhithe and it’s so wonderful that, because of the restrictions we’re under at the moment and the need for us to stream our services, each of those congregations has been represented in this Eucharist and many are with us online at the moment. 

But where do we go from here?  Where does church go from here?  All of our institutions, sacred and secular, have been dealt huge blows by the impact of the Coronavirus.  We’ve been coping with things differently because of our different resources but none of us will emerge from this pandemic as we previously were, there will be no return to normal; normal has been a victim of the pandemic along with so much and so many.

And into this situation and into this Sunday the first of the signs, the first of the miracles that Jesus performs at the wedding feast in Cana, speaks to us.

What a place to begin a ministry, in a huge party in which everyone who’s gathered is having such a fantastic time that the wine runs out.  To the steward, looking after everything on behalf of the groom, it looks like a disaster.  ‘Do whatever he tells you’ says Mary to the servants and they do.  They take the stone water jars, they fill them with water and the wine flows, glorious wine, an incredible quantity, kingdom wine, joy unbounded, a sign of the king and the kingdom ‘and his disciples believed in him.’

Those final words ‘and his disciples believed in him’ are spoken to us today.  They saw the sign and they recognised in Jesus the God for whom all things are possible, they saw the one who could take the water of our lives and make of it the wine of the kingdom, who could speak into our disasters and bring new life and new hope, who could transform our poverty with the riches of his grace. And we should believe in him.

There were no boundaries, no barriers in this exuberant first miracle, nothing to hold back the joy and the hope and the new life that Jesus brings.  Instead, it speaks of an encounter with God for all the people of God, a pointer to what we see in John’s vision in our Second Reading ‘the great multitude’ with a sound like many waters.

We come from our rich and proud traditions, we’re inheritors of vital and powerful histories, we live out particular ways of being church, of being Christians, but what we share is so much more than what we don’t share and this experience that has known no bounds must change how we are as much as who we are.

Like the priest of God Most High in the First Reading we bring our bread and wine and whereas normally that is the very place where our divisions are heightened and recognised in a powerful and painful way, this morning we’re all in the same place, all in the same ecumenical boat – Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans – all making a spiritual communion, distanced from the table, distanced from the sacrament but united in the faith we share.  God is teaching us something – we will need courage to live out the lessons.