The Wedding at Cana

Gender and Sexuality

The Wedding at Cana
Friday, October 25, 2019

Today, openly queer Episcopal priest Elizabeth Edman shares about the first time she preached on the Gospel passage about the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11). Her use of the word “queer” as a verb may be off-putting or confusing to some, but if you are familiar with Jesus’ first miracle, the context of the story will help you understand what she means.

As I started working with the text, I saw something amazing going on. . . . What I saw was Jesus taking these pots of water—water designed for ritual bathing, for spiritual cleansing—and turning that water into wine that everyone was supposed to drink. What I saw was Jesus taking this substance that was all caught up in ideas of cleanness and uncleanness, all caught up in notions about what separates us from each other, and turning it into something designed to be shared, something that eases our anxiety about all the harsh lines in our world. . . .

What I saw was Jesus queering those pots of water.

So that became my sermon: a queer reading of the wedding at Cana. I was so deliciously intoxicated by the queering in this story that I knew I had to be explicit about it. And I also knew that there would be lots of churches where a sermon like that would get me fired. . . .

One of the easiest ways that progressive denominations could ignite interest in the binary-busting aspects of Christian theology would be to free up queer clergy to proclaim the Gospel from an explicitly queer perspective, boldly and honestly. Let us be ourselves, and assure us that you will have our backs when our proclamation unsettles and afflicts those who are comfortable in a dualistic worldview.

Queering itself is risky business. To reject easy binaries is to enter into uncertain terrain. The discomfort of such liminal space is often at the heart of the fear that erupts in violence against queer people—violence that may be physical, or legal, or ecclesial, or economic. You really can get fired for it, even in denominations that pride themselves on being gay friendly. [1] Lots of priests and pastors have.

And that’s just so many shades of wrong, because in fact, busting those false dichotomies is part and parcel of [our] tradition. It is one of the bedrock reasons I am a Christian and love my tradition so much. Christianity pushes me right off that cliff of comfortable binaries all the time, and I need that. . . . “Love my enemy? Do good to those who persecute us? How could love and persecution possibly coexist?” [2]

She’s right, you know. The Gospel often puts us on the horns of a dilemma so we can wrestle with it. Jesus transgresses one boundary after another and we accept, celebrate, and even try to emulate him in many ways. Are we Christians today open to the possibility that God has called others (by the design of their very bodies) to wrestle with other questions and share their divinely-inspired insights and experiences without shame? I do not know the answer to that question, but it is one I am willing to struggle with. There is a cost that comes with denying the undeniable and we all pay it, but those we deny and marginalize pay a much higher price.

References:
[1] Rev. Edman notes: “I specify ‘gay friendly’ here rather than ‘queer friendly’ because, while a growing number of churches are developing comfort in recognizing gay and lesbian congregants and clergy, embracing others in the queer pantheon, including trans* individuals, lags behind, as does comfort with the word ‘queer’ itself.” Edman uses “the term ‘trans*,’ asterisked, to acknowledge the diversity of gender identities and expressions that exist within transgender experience.”

[2] Elizabeth M. Edman, Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity (Beacon Press: 2016), 60-61, 176, xiii-xiv.

Image credit: Gene Davis Paintings 1960-1972 Exhibition Poster (detail), Gene Davis, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of Florence Coulson Davis.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: It clearly seems that God is quite comfortable with immense diversity.  We have a much harder time with it, preferring uniformity and conformity instead. —Richard Rohr
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