Thursday, January 14, 2010

Time for Jesus’ Best Wine for Haiti

I have been meditating on the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday: the Marriage in Cana (John 2:1-11). Then came the earthquake in Haiti, and I was transported in my mind (and maybe my heart) to Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Port-au-Prince (which I gather from the news was destroyed in the earthquake). In 1983 or 1984 (I think, the precision of my memory is deteriorating with age), I was part of a group from First Presbyterian Church in Mt. Holly, New Jersey who went to Haiti. We visited Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral with its magnificent murals of biblical stories portrayed in Haitian folk art. (The picture here is Haitian art of the Marriage in Cana, but not the mural from the Cathedral.)

The one that I had remembered quite vividly was also based on the Marriage in Cana. As I recall, the bride and groom are standing in front of an Episcopal priest. Jesus and Mary are talking to the servants who are dipping wine out of the water jugs. Down in the corner is a voodoo wedding ritual of killing a rooster. Of course, this mural conveyed much more about Haitian culture than it did about the historical setting of the Biblical text. Nevertheless, focusing on this passage this week when the earthquake hit Haiti about knocked me over.

My prayers for the people of Haiti at this time have a personal power as I remembered those I met on my two trips there. The incongruities of the grinding poverty and beautiful art tore at my soul. My wife, Candy’s cousin’s husband is from Haiti and has family there. He is the pastor of a Haitian church in New Jersey, and those people have friends and family there. As I have watched the images on the news, I have tried to see if I recognized any of the places I had been. Only the Presidential Palace was recognizable. But I kept wondering, had I been there? Had I seen any of these people?

In the Gospel story of the Marriage at Cana, Jesus turns the water in to the best wine late in the festivities, after the cheap wine is gone. Haiti has been drunk on cheap wine for centuries: French colonialism, slavery, voodoo, violence, ecological abuse, ignorance, oppression by wealthy business interests, neglect by the international community, corruption in government.

The great outpouring of assistance now is appropriate and necessary. In a couple of months when other places and other crises dominate the news, Haiti will be just barely beginning a recovery. They have no real resources to even get back where they were, much less make any improvements in their situations. But with so much destroyed, this could be an opportunity for a fresh start. They seem to have the best government they’ve had in a long time. Disaster could be a motive for establishing some better policies (e.g. building codes), but they will need lots of outside support for a long time. The possibility of opportunity in no way detracts from the tragic loss of life and hope that has just begun (I suspect disease may yet wipe out at many people as the falling buildings did).

But as Jesus provided the best wine at the end of the wedding, the Gospel story prompts me to pray for that opportunity, for the best wine to displace centuries of bad wine. I have no illusions that this comes from international generosity or ingenuity. I am not talking about a pious revival of religion and morality. But I do believe that somehow, in some mysterious way, Jesus can turn even the polluted water of Haiti’s open sewers into the best of wine. So I pray against the hurricanes and earthquakes that have brought such destruction. I pray for Jesus' best wine of hope and joy.

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