This morning’s reading comes from the Thirteenth Chapter of the Gospel of John, verses 34 and 35: “Jesus said, ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’”
I spent part of Spring Break this past week with a handful of close friends away in rural Vermont, relaxing with food, games, and jigsaw puzzles. One of these puzzles was that of a 16th century painting by Paolo Veronese, depicting The Wedding Feast at Cana. None of my friends were familiar with the Biblical story that this painting illustrates so I felt obliged to share the tale with them. In his Gospel, John writes about a wedding banquet where the guests finish all the wine as the party is nearing an end. Jesus is a guest at this wedding and he takes matters into his own hands. He takes some hundred gallons of water and miraculously transforms the water into wine. And not just any wine, but exceptionally good wine. According to John, this was the first miracle Jesus performed.
My friends enjoyed the story and deemed it fitting for a Spring Break where we never did run out of wine. And I enjoyed sharing the tale, but it is not a Biblical passage I had ever really reflected upon. Though I remember it from my childhood book of illustrated Bible stories and had brought it up in at least one friendly argument about Christianity and alcohol consumption, it is not a story I had thought twice about before and couldn’t recall a sermon preached on the miracle. When I did think about it, I realized that an important element of the story and what really makes it fitting for a Renaissance painting or a child’s illustrated Bible is that the miracle takes place in an atmosphere of celebration, full of many people, reveling in each other’s company.
For this first miracle, Jesus chooses a setting of community and friendship. This detail reminds me of the holiness of such social gatherings of friends and families. Today’s reading came from another congregation of friends, John’s telling of “The Last Supper” which we will remember tomorrow on Maundy Thursday. When Jesus brings together his friends for this last Passover meal, he has a simple commandment for his disciples: to “love one another” as he has loved them.
As people of faith, we cannot survive without gathering in groups. We need communities in which we love one another. This is why – though our religious journeys are unique and personal – we come together in congregations like this one to pray, reflect, and listen. We need friends and communities with whom we can share our joys and sorrows.
My last year here at Harvard has been full of many joys: memorable formals, exciting classes, parties in Eliot House. But it has also been full of a great deal of stress and anxiety as Commencement looms closer and closer and a new, unknown stage of life awaits me. Fortunately, in all these days of joy and anxiety, I have never felt alone. I have shared these days with my loved ones and my communities at Harvard: These include my religious communities, here at Memorial Church and Morning Prayers as a member of the Choral Fellows, and the Episcopal Chaplaincy, where I worship on Sunday evenings; and also the other wonderful people that I have in my life, friends from extracurricular clubs, those I work with at the radio station, the roommates that I live with.
With these friends, I have shared many laughs and many tears over the last four years. Now, I’m guessing the guests at the wedding in Cana also shared laughs and tears with one another when they gathered. Such is the case at any wedding. And I’m guessing the disciples partaking in Passover dinner with Jesus thousands of years ago also laughed and cried at that table. For these wedding guests and these disciples loved each other and were in community with one another. Only with such relationships can we hope to make it through the highs and lows of life.
As my post-graduation plans currently stand, I intend on leaving the United States this summer to live abroad as a Peace Corps volunteer, where I will remain for over two years’ time. The scariest part about this plan is leaving my loved ones here in the States and dealing with the inevitable changes in how I relate to the important communities in my life. How will I handle days of happiness and sorrow without these friends in my life?
I find peace in knowing that I will not lose these relationships or these communities. I will think of them and know that they will consider me. With the marvels of modern technology, I will be able to stay in very close touch with these friends and groups. But also, I find peace in knowing that I will make new friends and find new communities abroad. For wherever God’s children live, God’s presence will bring them together in love and compassion.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank you for the blessing of family, friends, and significant others, and for the care which surrounds us on every side. We thank you for the communities to which we belong, our churches, our towns, our universities, and the increasingly connected global community to which we all belong. Help us to love one another as you love us, so that we may grow closer to one another and closer to you. Amen.