Turning wine into beer

Unlike my mother, I’m not a superstitious person. I do find myself out of habits she passed on to me knocking on wood and throwing spilled salt over my shoulder. But I don’t believe that stuff. On our wedding day just over 35 years ago, it rained and rained like I had never seen in South Dakota. It just poured. We gave up on the idea of being wed in the little chapel that sits atop the Oahe Dam overlooking the Missouri River and just gathered the immediate family around the fireplace in the basement of our new house and got the job done there by our friend the Jewish magistrate. Someone in our midst comforted me by saying, “You know. A wet knot never unties,” referring to rain on the wedding day and the longevity of a marriage. Maybe it’s true. Ours hasn’t untied.

[Jessica VanFossen photo]

The rain stopped just in time. Here’s the whole wedding party for Cassy VanFossen and Jeremy Landes on Saturday, August 20, 2016. [Jessica VanFossen photo]

I kept saying that repeatedly last Saturday in spite of myself as 2 p.m. approached and a wedding scheduled for outdoors under huge weeping willows was put on hold for a bit while the radar was studied (we didn’t have that 35 years ago). At 2:10 I got the word that the wedding was a go and the guests headed out to be seated as the owners of the property scurried out with cloths to dry off the wet chairs.

[Kelly Hicks Landes photo]

Cassy and Jeremy Landes after they have taken their vows and exchanged rings. That’s me in the robe in the background. [Kelly Hicks Landes photo]

As I was officiating, I got to lead the processional of grandparents and parents, groom and attendants, and the bride to those willow trees. I turned around and looked up at the sky. It was still threatening and I could feel a few drops of water on my face, but I couldn’t tell if those were from the clouds or just dropping from the tree. As the wedding progressed, I remained aware of threatening skies. I cut out only a Psalm but I kept the rest of the service intact despite admonitions from some of the guests (and some of those repeatedly) to cut the rite short. One man repetitively told me to keep the sermon abbreviated. He had started on that campaign under sunny skies at the rehearsal. If he had said it one more time, I was going to retort, “Oh, I’m sorry. Is this your wedding? Or are you officiating? I’ve just been confused because you seem to know so much about how to do this.”

That’s the problem with weddings from my perspective as a pastor. If it’s not one thing, it’s another and everyone is an authority on how to get the job done. Thousands of dollars are spent on these special days of celebration yet the pastor is seen as only a necessary evil. Time and time again I have suggested that couples get a judge to marry them but I’ve gotten no takers. I even require pre-marital counseling not to frustrate the couples but to help them start their new lives together on as straight a path as possible. Most of them take part in that begrudgingly. Then there are the brides and the finicky mothers. There are the extended families created from divorces. Funerals, to me, are much preferable to a wedding any day.

That’s why I announced some time back that this would be my last wedding. I’m going to just say no if anyone ever asks me to do this again.

And I got the most pleasant gift I could have been given on this rainy wedding day: a young couple who not only wanted to participate in pre-marital counseling, but took every homework assignment I gave them and worked their way through it together. I got a couple who really do love one another and wanted to make certain God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit were right there with them and their guests as they took their vows. I got a couple who really made me feel like I was integral to their service. And I got God to stop the rain, cool the temperatures, and provide a little breeze so that everything could go as planned. No wedding is perfect, but this wedding came as close to perfect as one could get.

It was a wonderful way for me to bid adieu to weddings as an officiant.

Cassy & Jeremy 2

Jeremy and Cassy Landes. [Photo by Gretchen Lord Anderson]

I spoke that day about the New or Second Testament’s story of the wedding in Cana. That’s the one where Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water into wine. I love that story because I always conjure up this picture of Jesus leaning against the wall of the house smiling and enjoying the festivities. It was his mother who pointed out that the wine had almost run out. And in Jesus’ timing, he eyed those six water jars each holding about 20 to 30 gallons. The next time we hear of them, they’re holding a total of almost 200 gallons of really fine wine! I shared with the couple and the congregation that his wasn’t cheap wine either. No Boone’s Farm for this wedding reception! This was really fine wine. The guests in Cana were amazed and one of them even commented to the host, “Most people would serve the really good wine first and then serve the cheap stuff after everyone is already drunk.” The taste buds get a little numb after a lot of alcohol is imbibed, you see. But it appeared to everyone that this host held the good stuff for later, and it must have been really good or no one would have noticed.

The point I made with the couple was that if it hadn’t been that the jars were set out to fill with water, it’s questionable whether this miracle would have taken place. So I told them what it means for them in their life together: they are to make certain they set out their jars; that is, they should always be open and waiting for miracles that God will work in them and through them.

The vows were taken, the rings exchanged, and everyone processed back to the huge reclaimed barn for the party.

I was just quietly pleased.

There is an irony to all of this. By the time I muscled my way up to the bar, the wine had run out.

It did occur to me to look around for jars of water, but I just smiled and ordered a Spotted Cow, a highly regarded Wisconsin beer. I even had two.

I’ve been thinking that perhaps God had me set out my own jars through the years so that God could fill them with whatever I needed to provide ministry to brides and grooms, even to those renewing their vows after many years.

Cassy & Jeremy

The groom and the bride take the first dance at their wedding reception. I’ve known Cassy since she was coming up to the front of the sanctuary for children’s sermons. At that point, she may have been just accompanying her younger sisters, but there she was. She has grown into a beautiful young woman, inside and out, and she married a wonderful young man. [Gretchen Lord Anderson photo]

Yes, the beer tasted just fine to me. And I continued to smile as the bride and groom took their first spin on the dance floor and I quietly left the party which I’m sure went on into the night.

I pray God’s blessings will rain on them so that their knot will remain strong through the years to come.


On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” – John 2:1-11

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