The Gospel of John has also been regarded, when compared to the synoptic Gospels, as a highly peculiar writing. For example, John does not start with a birth narrative like Luke or Matthew and does not jump right into the ministry of Jesus like Mark. The writer of John takes it WAY BACK… they start with the beginning of time. “In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word is God (John 1:1).” The Gospel of John uses more metaphors to help readers understand who Jesus is, and how Jesus relates to us than any other gospel. In other words John, in my mind, is the queerest of the Gospels.
The word queer much like the Bible has certainly been used in ways that have harmed many in the LGBT community. But in the past ten years there has been a reclaiming of this word, because we recognize that the LBGTQQIAA etc, community can easily be summed up in one word…. Queer. Queer can mean outside the norm, standing against the mainstream. The queerness of the Gospel of John and of the story I am choosing to focus on in this blog, help me to understand not only my own faith better but how Church should be done differently. So as we dive into it I wonder how we might be able to articulate and identify our own queerness in relationship to our own individual commitment in following in the way of Jesus.
There is a lot going on in this story. Mary the mother of Jesus is showing off her son, like any proud mother would. Jesus, is taking people to the back room to carry on the party and show them a cool trick, turning water to Napa wine… (no two buck chuck for those followers of his). And all the while we have no idea who the heck is getting married.
Gerald Loughlin a Roman Catholic theologian and professor at The University of Durham, England says in his Introduction to the book Queer Theology:
“In the wedding at Cana, Jesus gives a sign of what will come to pass- is coming to pass- and has come to pass, in the church’s recollection of the story, which thus turns out to be as much about its narrators as about Jesus: they are the guests at the feast where now wine, not water, is turned into something much more potent than the best wine that so amazed the steward. They are the guests at the wedding and the bridegroom is Christ. In the scriptures, God is the husband of Israel, and, in the gospels, Christ is husband to his church, he is the bridegroom of new Israel. The motif is common to all the gospels. Jesus identifies himself as the bridegroom whose presence dispels mourning and invites feasting rather than fasting. And so similarly John the Baptist, who declares that he who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegrooms voice John 3:29. John is the friend who rejoices, whose joy has been fulfilled. John is bride to Jesus, and the same is true of all who believe in Jesus. At the end of the story of the wedding at Cana, after Jesus has worked the first of his signs, we are told that his disciples believed him. They become the brides of Christ, and this is why the story does not tell us who was getting married at Cana, at the wedding the wine was wondrously replenished. Or rather it does: Christ was marrying his disciples, and all who come to believe on the third day, who come to share in the new wine of the resurrection. The entire story rests on the ancient idea that God is to Israel as one spouse is to another, bridegroom to bride, and that now, in Jesus, that relationship is perfected: the bridegroom arrives in person, and all are called to become Christ bride. But it is, as we cannot help but notice, a queer kind of marriage.”
Now this might sound a little crazy, but this is the unification of the beloved community Jesus formed around himself. In fact there are ancient paintings such as the two you see up on the screen that show this wedding. The lore around this story can be found in this German painting from the 1400’s. It shows the beloved disciple with blond curly hair looking lovingly into the eyes of his beloved Jesus, with full beard and all. Sitting at Johns right hand is Marry Jesus mother. The two betrotheds are surrounded by friends, the six jars of water turned to wine, and angels celebrating from the Heavens. This wedding banquet is not only a celebration of the wedding of the beloved disciples, but is the wedding feast that we each are invited into as we celebrate communion. It is in the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the cup that we are reminded that we too are beloved. It is in the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine that we remember, we are not just wed to Christ but to one another.
Queerness has a lot to teach the hetero normative culture and the church. Up until the last ten years, it was impossible for Queer people to get married, in fact gay marriage was not one of the top issues that the Queer community hoped to accomplish in terms of our desire for basic human rights. There were many other issues such as healthcare, the freedom to be out and not lose our jobs, to not have your children taken away from you, to not live in fear walking down the street of being beaten or worse murdered. Gay marriage was in a lot of ways at the bottom of the list of issues. Harvey Milk when asked about Gay marriage actually laughed at the idea. But after the rise of the AIDS EPIDEMIC, and the conservative messaging around gay people being labeled perverts and pedophiles, the movement felt that if queer bodies and queer relationships could be normalized through marriage; maybe there would be a hope for our movement to be sustained.
However, one of the best things about being Queer is that we don’t have to fit into the normative boxes created by hetero normativity. We can have the option to navigate our relationships any way we want to. We are not confined to many of the same boxes that have been forced upon our straight siblings. We are not forced into child rearing, or gender specific house hold chores, or having our fathers give us away at the altar, or monogamy for that matter. For many of us we didn’t grow up with adults in our lives who could show us to show us what queer relationships had to look like. Rather, we were left to our own hearts, minds, and the desire to love and be loved, with nobody to define for us what that had to look like. we were left to imagine for ourselves. And so we have had the privilege to navigate for ourselves what it means to be with another… what does it mean for us individually and in relationship with others to experience belovedness and to offer it to others.
I have seen this in my own life as my siblings and their partners see the mutuality in Jose and I’s relationship and express how they want that for their own relationships. There is something liberating in being able tobe clear about your own needs and desires, to take another’s needs and desires and attempt to find ways to meet each of those needs in ways that are only specific to you and your beloved. And also to be clear about the things you can’t do. Saying no is just as important as yes.
In the same way, how might we begin to see our relationship to the church in a new and queer way? If the definition we are working with means to be outside the norm and standing against the mainstream. Then where is Christ calling us to stand outside of the norm? How are we freed to be as different as possible so that we might welcome those who also have experienced the pain and heat of normativity?
The truth is there probably isn’t any specific way to follow in the way of Christ. And to be honest the church and its people have been damaged by the demand for some sort conformity. Many of us can point pretty clearly to the emotional, and spiritual scars of those we love, or even ourselves, who stood too far outside the norm of Christianity. But if there is anything this story has to teach us it is that there is a uniqueness to each of our individual relationships with Christ. How we come to our beloved is in many ways nobody’s business but between us and them. Notice that even among the gospels there is a sense of queerness. Each of the Gospel writers come to the experience of Jesus and tells it from a different perspective. Some of what they have to say is similar, but because of the audience in whom they are writing for, the stories change. It is whatmakes the message of Jesus so compelling. I don’t have to subscribe to one way of being to experience the wholeness of Christ.
Is that not the joy of writing your own vows? When I meet with people who are preparing to get married I always encourage them to write their own vows… what promises are you willing to make? How are you willing to enter into this relationship? What are you willing to consent to, and what do you bring to make this covenant sustainable?
SO what are your own personal vows to Christ? If you could make a pledge of commitment to our Teacher and Healer what would your vows say?
Further more, what does it mean for each of as partners of Christ to share in the work expanding Gods reign of love on earth? How we each serve and care for the world, how we each offer of ourselves will be different. We will not all fit into the same mold in following Jesus and serving. But the truth is that you are all needed to do the work. You are all beloved and we share in this abundant life and ministry together. So what if you had to write vows what would they say?
Beloved friends, as I prepare to end I want to close with this: much of what we have done in the past in the name of ministry and Jesus can not be used into the future. With Queer eyes and new vows, we need to push forward in all of our diversity. The truth is, much like any relationship, things change and we must ride the wave of that transition. It is both the joy and pain of being in relationship. But much like being in the midst of the growing pains of a changing relationship there is one thing that always remains… and that is that you are indeed beloved.