Bible Readings: Genesis 49:10-12 & Mark 2:18-22

The Time is Now

This summer in our series of evening services here at St Catherine’s we are going to be looking at some of the parables of Jesus. Now, they are not necessarily ones that are well known, but they are ones which illustrate overarching themes in the message of Jesus – the day of salvation is here, God offers mercy to sinners, there is an assurance of salvation for those who accept that mercy, but there is catastrophe on the horizon for those who don’t. For those who accept that mercy, there is a life of discipleship to live out, in service of our new Lord, and the promise of the new Kingdom, in all its fulness to come. That is the journey through the parables that we will be taking over the coming weeks.

So, this evening we start at the beginning with Jesus’ announcement of himself, and of the break through of the Kingdom of God. In chapter four of Luke’s gospel, in his first piece of public teaching, in his local synagogue, Jesus lays out the agenda for his ministry, his manifesto. He reads from the book of the prophet Isaiah,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

then he sits down and says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus is here, and is inaugurating a new world order, that of the Kingdom of God. It is the acceptable year of the Lord, it is the day of salvation, it is the time of breakthrough. In Mark’s gospel, this time in chapter three, again towards the beginning of his ministry, Jesus uses three images to make the same point. The images he uses – of the bridegroom that is here now at his wedding feast, of the new cloth, of the new wine, all show that there is a step change in the relationship between God and humanity in the person of Jesus

Yesterday I had the great privilege of conducting a marriage service at All Saints. It was a lovely occasion, with all the joy, love, smiles, celebration that you would expect at such an event. If there were tears, they were tears of joy. Emily and Chris have been together as a couple for some time, but yesterday was a step change in their relationship with each other and with the wider community. They have now declared their commitment to each other. They have made promises to stick with each other through thick and thin.

In the Christian understanding of marriage they have become one. Something new has begun. Exactly what that means will be something that they work out together over the years. Its practical expression will at times be challenging and will require hard work and sacrifice. But that wasn’t for yesterday. Yesterday was for celebrating and enjoying.

The idea of the wedding feast as an image of the day of salvation has a rich history in the Bible. In the Song of Songs, that great celebratory poem that works on so many different levels, we read, “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.” In some of Jesus’ other parables we read of wedding banquets that the original guests gave excuses for not attending and so other folk from the byways and highways were invited in. We hear of wise and foolish virgins awaiting the coming of the bridegroom to the feast, some with enough oil for their lamps and others not. In the book of Revelation we read of the marriage supper of the Lamb, which will be feast of great rejoicing and blessing for those who are invited.

Again and again we get this idea of the wedding feast being an image of a celebration of the day of God’s salvation – something new has begun, and we will celebrate it.

In one of the parables of the wedding feast that Jesus told, there was a twist towards the end. One of the guests who was there was not dressed correctly, was not wearing the wedding garments they had been given. That guest was thrown out again.

Which brings us nicely to thinking about garments. Jesus doesn’t actually talk about new garments, he just talks about the folly of sewing new patches onto old ones, but it seems to me that his implication is that you can’t just repair the old one, you do actually need a new one. This is supported by what Paul writes to the church in Colossae. In chapter three we read this, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”

This is one picture of what happens when we come to faith, when we experience our own day of salvation. We take off the old nature and are given a new one to put on. We are not to try and patch up the old one, but we take off that nature and put on the new one that we are given, we become clothed in Christ.

There is also a wider application of this image of the garment. At the beginning of the letter to the Hebrews the write quotes from Psalm 102,

“Thou, Lord, didst found the earth in the beginning,
and the heavens are the work of thy hands;
they will perish, but thou remainest;
they will all grow old like a garment,
like a mantle thou wilt roll them up,
and they will be changed.”

Here we find the idea of the garment being an image of the whole of creation, it is the world-garment, the very fabric of the cosmos that is being talked about. At the end of time, when Christ returns to bring in the full reality of the Kingdom, the whole of creation will be rolled up like an old piece of cloth, and a new one will be rolled out. On the day of salvation this is announced, the time of patching is coming to an end, and any that is done will just further ruin the cloth. The time of a new garment is coming. The new Kingdom is here.

At the beginning of the wedding service yesterday I read this:
“Marriage is a way of life made holy by God, and blessed by the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ with those celebrating a wedding at Cana in Galilee.”

We’ve already talked about how in both Luke’s gospel and Mark’s gospel Jesus laid out his manifesto – proclaiming the day of salvation. That wedding in Cana is right at the beginning of John’s gospel, and is famous for the first of Jesus miraculous signs that John tells us about. As the introduction to the wedding service puts it,

“A wedding is one of life’s great moments, a time of solemn commitment as well as good wishes, feasting and joy. St John tells us how Jesus shared in such an occasion at Cana, and gave there a sign of new beginnings as he turned water into wine.”

“A sign of new beginnings as he turned water into wine.” Sound familiar? Again, wine and the vines it comes from are a repeated motif throughout Scripture of something new happening, of restoration and salvation. What is one of the first things that Noah does after coming out of the Ark following the rescue of his family from the flood? He plants a vine. In reading from Genesis this evening what did the deliverer do? He binds his foal to the vine, he washes his garments in wine, his eyes are bright with wine.” When the spies go to look around the promised land, when God rescues the people from Egypt, what do they bring back as proof of its fruitfulness? Great big bunches of grapes. In a little while we will celebrate communion with bread and wine, the great reality of Christ’s blood shed for us, ushering in the day of salvation.

Does anybody know what this is? It’s a demijohn and airlock. What’s it used for? I do have a one of these gently bubbling with some blackcurrent wine in our utility room. I did think of bringing it with me as an illustration, but I wasn’t sure I’d get it here without spilling it all over the car! Anyway. Why the airlock? What would happen if I put my fermenting wine in the bottle and just rammed the bung in? Redecorate kitchen! Now, in Jesus’ day they didn’t have the technology to create this stuff so they put new wine into fresh, stretchy wine skins. As the wine fermented and matured the skins would have enough give in them to expand and not burst. As the wine aged, so would the skin and it would harden and stiffen. Anybody stupid enough to refill it with fresh, still fermenting wine would lose both wine and skin.

The day of salvation is here, the Kingdom is breaking through. It is a new thing that God is doing, the old ways of being and of doing are not fit for purpose, and are on the way out. Jesus has come to announce it and to deliver it. The wedding party is happening, there is fresh wine, put on your new togs, it’s a new day.

That’s all very well, but that was two thousand years ago. That was then, this is now. That was fresh then – the Kingdom is here. We’ve been waiting 2,000 years for the fulfilment of this – so much so that I wonder if sometimes we don’t lose sight to the reality of its presence. We talk sometimes about the “now and not yet of the Kingdom”, especially when we’re trying to understand why things are still bad, why there is suffering in the world, why there isn’t peace. When we’re looking at these things we end up focussing a lot on the “not yet” of the kingdom. I wonder whether tonight we’re being invited to remember the now. We have been given new garments to wear, we are drinking new wine, the wedding feast continues, and day by day more people are being invited to it and coming in. The Day of Salvation is here, the Kingdom of our God is here. The time is now.


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