(Based on the story of the Wedding at Cana found at John 2:1 – 12)
Sepphora stood adorned in her bridal garb. Her bridesmaids made the final adjustments to her finery. Once they were satisfied with their work, one lit a torch and then the others followed, one by one, carefully and silently. The occasion was joyous but in this moment the quiet also marked its solemnity. All the anxiousness Sepphora had felt about the many uncertainties of what she was about to enter into and sadness for missing loved ones who had passed on and could not be present on this day subsided. She felt a strong sense of peace.
She felt like she was standing at the edge of a bridge and touching the beginning of it with her toes tentatively, checking its solidity. She was surprised to find how strong it was. She felt held by some spiritual force quite outside her own. Perhaps, she thought, it was the spirit of those who had been a part of her life and had cared for her that could not be physically present today, her uncle Joseph among them, and her ancestors with whom she never had shared time on this earth but with whom she did share a special lineage – one which she was continuing by entering into and completing this ritual. A ritual which would begin this sundown and end the following evening.
This strong peace about the vocation of marriage had not been as strong as she felt it at this point in time. There had been a lot of ups and downs and uncertainties in her journey towards this marriage and Sepphora now thought back on what it had been like to get to this point, standing on the precipice of her new position in life.
Recalling her journey to this place
Sepphora recalled the day her father first mentioned that he had received a proposal for her hand in marriage. She had been so taken aback. Although sixteen years old she had not thought the time for marriage would come so soon.
Sepphora had been around men all her life, her father and brothers, but the intricacies of marriage were still a mystery. She found men intriguing and had spent a lot of time wondering about them and what being closer to them meant and had indulged her fantastical mind in daydreams.
Sometimes she had imagined herself as the heroine in an ancient land being called upon to marry a mysterious man who was dark and attractive but needed to be tamed. She had been intrigued by the story Esther living in the palace of King Aphasuerus who used her feminine charms and intelligence to save her Jewish people. At other times her imaginings were a little closer to home. Sepphora had imagined the personalities of various men she would encounter in her everyday world and what her interactions with them could be. She was very well aware of the men she found alluring by their stature, mannerisms and smile. There were a few men in her local village she had admired from afar for some time.
She would often be tasked by her mother with going to the centre of town for supplies and she would much enjoy this short journey by herself and the freedom it afforded. She loved to take in and be a part of the busyness of the town square – the noises of salespersons and purchasers bartering, of children playing while their parents went about their business, the clapping and clinking of woodwork and metal work. She would find a place to stand or sit or watch for a while and make up backstories about the men she could see there.
One of those men was a metal worker. She liked his gestures, so much less refined than her own, the way he greeted and said little to those who surveyed his work and wares and remained focused on the task at hand. One day she had broken an earring and used this as an excuse to move closer and even interact with him. She felt her cheeks flush as she held out her hand and showed him the broken earring. Her heart beat faster after he had taken it and skillfully restored it the metal piece of it so it could be worn again.
However, when her father had made the announcement now several months ago her imaginings were about to make way for the reality of what it would be like to have a male as a close companion in life. Her father had returned from a trip to purchase some timber for building and repair of the fishing boats. He said he’d received an offer of marriage for her and it would seem only practical to accept. The man was the second eldest son of the house from where he had purchased his wood, his name was Ananias, and he had seen Sepphora from a distance recently at the marketplace doing errands. However, Sepphora’s father noted that although he had received the offer from Ananias himself, it seemed possible that the man’s family could object as his family was of much greater means than their own. It was time for Sepphora to be settled and it was time his wife and he started to seriously explore other options if this particular one did not work out. He had every reason to believe this man was a man of honour, but he would make inquiries to make sure this was correct.
Sepphora shuddered a little at this last statement. A man of honour as her father asserted was one who would treat her fairly and kindly. She had heard stories from her friends at temple of another sort of man – one that could become violent in private and cause pain both physically and sometimes verbally and emotionally. Friends of friends had have to either stay with these abusive partners or leave with no security, risking being shamed by their family and others for leaving their husbands. She was glad her father would make inquiries, but how was he to know for sure what this man was like when no one else was around?
Feeling anxious and being comforted
All these questions and unknowns began to build within her and a cloud of anxiety formed and engulfed her. Sepphora felt she needed to get away for a little while. She thought of where she could go and she was drawn to think of visiting her aunt. Her parents would surely support her in going to visit Mary. She had been a bit lonely after Joseph had passed away. Jesus was there for her, but the comfort of a son was always different to that of a partner, and she was sure Mary would be glad of the comfort for a little while.
Sepphora was welcomed with loving hospitality by Mary. Mary was extremely grateful to have someone to spend time with and chat to and someone to take her mind off her own troubles. Sepphora spent a few weeks visiting and easily fit herself into Mary’s daily routine, helping her as she went with her chores. Conversation was easy and Sepphora found relief in telling Mary about her anxieties about marriage. Mary listened intently and did not dismiss her concerns. She instead validated them by reassuring her that being married is a big change, that her life would change dramatically and that is normal to be anxious about such life transitions.
Mary suggested spending time in prayer. She explained that marriage was a vocation, a way of life that in which a couple seeks to love one another and any children that may be born as a result of that love as a physical manifestation of God’s love for us. She talked about the many ways that Joseph had supported and loved her during their marriage and how that love had helped her in being the best version of herself that including being a good mother. Mary suggested that Sepphora ask God if she was called to this way of life and that she would be partnered with the right husband for her. She told Sepphora to remember that she could always say no to a suitor that was suggested for her if she did not feel the match was right for her.
Just as Sepphora and Mary were talking over these things a door opened and in walked Jesus. He was still carrying a hammer in one hand and at first seemed deep in thought about something he had just been working on. But once he looked at Sepphora and Mary’s faces these thoughts appeared to dissolve. He must have been able to read their faces and intuit the conversation that has just passed between the two ladies.
He smiled and let out a laugh.
‘Oh so quiet just as soon as I enter! Sorry to interrupt. I’m just here to get a bite to eat’, he said as he casually reached for a bunch of grapes sitting on the countertop behind Mary and some flat bread left over from breakfast.
He raised an eyebrow and looked earnestly at his cousin Sepphora.
‘He’s a great fellow Sepphora. You have nothing to fear. God will be with you in your marriage and guide you through the unknown.
‘I actually see him fairly regularly with my work. His family are one of my suppliers and I actually do need to go today to get some more supplies. Would you like to come with me? I know you may not want to meet Ananias in person but you can wait for me while I go about my business. You can keep me company on the walk there and you can get an idea about the place he comes from.’
Sepphora felt excited and nervous but could not refuse this offer of perhaps finding out a little more detail about her potential husband.
Jesus was one man in Sepphora’s life that had always been easy to be with. She felt completely safe and at ease in his company and he seemed to be able to often read her mind before she spoke. Because of this in some ways she felt closer to Jesus, her cousin, than she did to her brothers James and John and even to her father. As they walked along Jesus chatted about other things – he asked about her parents and their health – Salome and Zebedee were Jesus’s aunt and uncle. He asked how James and John were and how the fishing business was working out.
Sepphora said she didn’t know all the details of the business but she did know that recently they had increased their numbers of boats and hired men so that the plan was for James and John to take a more administrative role in the near future – more of the duties of her father so he could retire.
Jesus talked about how he missed his father Joseph terribly even though now it had been over two years since his passing, how he’d been so incredibly busy with his business lately but had managed to keep quite a bit of money in savings – he was working to make sure Mary would be secure even if something were to happen to him unexpectedly. Sepphora liked how Jesus was so open with his feelings about his father and talked about his death. Others so often in her circle avoided such topics. He was good at making jokes and Sepphora was in stitches about some of the fictional stories he told her to lighten her mood. It didn’t seem long until they reached the row of houses and estate at the edge of the village of Cana.
When they arrived there were a few people tending to some crops and also cattle. One end of the estate was filled with the largest Atlantic Pistachio trees Sepphora had ever seen and then she noticed alongside the large ones there were the same type of trees in various stages of growth.
‘Wait here’ Jesus said and gestured to the entrance of the main residential building. Sepphora stayed with the wagon and watched from a distance as a man came out from inside the building to greet Jesus. Jesus gestured over towards the pistachio trees and the man who had greeted him nodded before they both began walking towards the trees purposefully. Once they reached this destination the new man made certain gestures towards various trees and seemed to be advising Jesus on which one to cut.
The new man seemed quite serious and officious at first but then Sepphora noticed Jesus was working to soften him and before long the two men were laughing and sharing a joke. Sepphora saw the new man’s smile and she could just make out small crinkles around his eyes. He continued to laugh and as he did so he threw his head back and softened his shoulders. Sepphora’s heart warmed. Anyone who could share a joke with Jesus a was someone with whom surely life would surely be good. Sepphora then found a seat on the wagon and lay back. It would be a little while before the wood would be cut and would be ready to take back to Nazareth.
Sepphora had returned to Bathsaida a few days later. Her father had advised that the marriage had indeed been approved by Ananias’ family and the couple were now to meet in person.
Feeling sadness and grief
When Sepphora met Ananias in person she felt calm and peaceful. Her heart did not beat as if to warn her that he was dangerous. She found that he was easy to talk to and he was polite and considerate of her needs. He showed a genuine interest in her as a person and asked her about her hobbies and interests and listened intently.
Over the next few weeks as Sepphora met with Ananias to discern if she wanted to accept his proposal, a new excitement about the future possibilities also started to enter her mind. She started to imagine the new love that would be created in her new family and the new relationships that her marriage would create. She imagined holding her own children and sharing their joy and holding them and her future husband physically and emotionally in joyous and more difficult times. She experienced a deep satisfaction when imagining these scenarios but she also started to feel some sadness. Sepphora started to grieve for her childhood and the life she would be leaving behind.
Her days would be different and the routine and rhythm she had known would be gone. Sepphora pondered how beautiful and blessed she had been in her childhood. Her parents had nurtured her and provided for her in a way that she had never wanted for anything. She had been privileged to have had a more than modest education for a woman of her social standing. She had learned how to read as well as know the Torah. She loved the stories of the strong women in it and she aspired to be as courageous as they were – although she hoped she would never be tried or tested as much.
Her simple days of helping her mother with running the household and sometimes with balancing the books and administration of their family’s fishing business would be at an end. She had a busy life as a single young woman but not so busy that it didn’t afford her time to wander from time to time up and down the sea shore, meditating on the different shapes and colours of the rocks and sand, sometimes lying on the shore and watching the clouds roll on above her as her brothers, father and their men toiled on the water.
In addition to this sadness Sepphora also experienced doubt. She began to wonder if Ananias was the best possible suitor for her. She had not met any other potential husbands. She started to worry that she could marry him only to find out later that in fact there was a better match for her.
Sepphora struggled to reconcile these different thoughts and feelings within her so that she could make a clear decision. She did as Mary suggested and asked God to reveal to her whether the path to marriage with Ananias was right for her. She listened to what God was saying to her and felt like he was saying that when making any big decision there was always bound to be some unpleasant feelings, uncertainty and even some grief in leaving things behind. She felt like God was saying to make the decision based on whether she felt by following this path of marriage with Ananias she felt she could best serve and love others, including herself. Sepphora thought about this and her predominant feeling was that this marriage with Ananias was right. Despite the doubts and sadness she felt an overriding peace about the decision. She decided to act on that and told Ananias she wished to accept his proposal.
Welcoming the future
Sepphora remembered all these things and held them in her heart as she welcomed this new peace. Now it was time. She and her bridesmaids begin to walk slowly towards the Ananias’ home – the home that after this evening will also be her own. The air was warm but dry and crisp and some amber light leftover from the sunset glowed above the mountains on the horizon. The pebbles on the course path crunched beneath her sandals and her bridesmaids began to sing. Sepphora too joined in their trills, letting the newfound peace swell within her. A smile glowed from within and filled her face as the group continued on their short journey to where Sepphora’s new life would begin. She felt God in this peace was confirming her vocation to be married to Ananias.