Lent in the Maronite Church begins with Cana Sunday, (not Ash Monday). Cana Sunday is a wedding invitation. We are all invited to a wedding feast with Christ.
Cana is the New Eden
In his hymn on Virginity St Ephrem proclaims:
There is a parallel between Eden and Cana. The Gospel of John intends this to be the story of a new creation. John’s Gospel on Cana (John 2:1-11) begins with the words “On the third day.” This is a reference to earlier recounts of days in John’s Gospel. The Gospel unfolds like the story in Genesis with reference back to the days. Christ is the new Adam in Cana. The reason we hear this Gospel at the opening of Lent is because it is a reminder that the new Adam, Christ, is coming to undo the damage done by the first Adam. Similarly, in the Cana Gospel Mary is the new Eve. In the creation story in Genesis 2 only God is named. Adam and Eve are only identified as “the man” and “the woman.”
At Cana Jesus (who is God) is referred to by name. We know Mary is Jesus mother, but like Eve she is only referred to as ‘woman. Jesus responds to Mary when she informs him about the shortage of wine:
“woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come” (Jn 2:4).
John’s use of the term woman is not intended to disrespect Mary, rather here the use of the word is intended to show that Mary is the new Eve. It has symbolic value to alert the reader and show them that Christ has come as the new Adam and for salvation of all. We continue in John’s Gospel when at the foot of the cross, Jesus entrusts Mary to John, he saids “Woman, behold your son.” (Jn19:26).
In Genesis, Eve cooperates with Adam to fall into sin. At Cana, the new Eve, Mary, co-operates with the Christ, the new Adam to perform his first glorious work. Eve encouraged Adam to defy God and eat the fruit. Conversely, Mary is drawing to her son’s attention the needs of the people. She also tells the people (the Church) “Do whatever he tells you.” (Jn 2:5). Eve was the “mother of all living.” (Gen 3:20). The New Eve becomes the mother of the Church. We hear this Gospel at the opening of Lent as a reminder that we are about to witness what Christ was always sent to do for us. Save humanity from the sin of Adam and save us from our own sins.
Another theme that arises from this Gospel and the liturgy is the theme of transformation. Great Lent is a journey and like the water being transformed into wine we are called to transformation and repentance this Great Lent.
Wine in is a symbol of Jewish Torah. At the Wedding of Cana we see that the Jewish law is not going to be sufficient for the guests. Jesus came to transform the law and eventually he will pour out his own blood to transform us.
“In place of the old Law, you have given us your new Gospel, and instead of the fruit of the vine, you have quenched our thirst with the chalice of your redeeming blood.” (Prayer of Forgiveness)
There is a sacramental image in this Gospel. Jesus asks the servants to get water in the jars kept for the purification rite. The water is then turned to wine and nobody knows how it happens. Jesus asks the servants to serve the wine to the guests. In the Mass the bread turns into the body of Christ and the wine turns into the blood of Christ. It is part of the mystery of the Eucharist. This is a foreshadowing of what we will witness at the end of Great Lent, the pouring out of the cleansing wine on the cross and the glorious resurrection.
The Harbour of Salvation
Finally, tying all these images together is the reference in the Liturgy to the “Harbour of Salvation’. Knowing that the new Adam is here to save us from our sins and transform us, we as a Church are travelling through Lent to the harbour of salvation.
“O Lord, bless our families and our Lenten journey, that we may reach the harbour of salvation, which is the glorious feast of your Resurrection.” (Forgiveness Prayer)
In other parts of the Liturgy we are reminded that Christ is the Promise of true life, the heavenly Physician, and the harbour of rest and salvation. The theme of the Harbour and the nautical journey are an important part of the Syriac tradition and can be seen in Ephrem’s Hymn on Virginity:
At the end of Great Lent we see the distinct Maronite rite of Arrival at Harbour. It is celebrated on the evening of Hosanna Sunday and marks the beginning of Passion Week. We are reminded on that night that our journey which started at Cana Sunday ends with the “ark” which is the Church, arriving safely at the Harbour of Salvation, Christ himself.
The rite begins with the faithful gathering in front of the closed door of the Church with candles as the Wise Virgins (Mt.25 1-13) awaiting the Bridegroom. The Priest then knocks on the Church door three times before it is open to let in the faithful of Christ, who will live the sufferings of Passion Week culminating in the great plan of salvation with Christ’s resurrection.
Now is the time, to recognise God’s love for us, he has come to save us. Are we willing to accept his mercy and transform ourselves this Lent?