Harrowing Of Hell
January 20, 2013

“Help, Thanks, Wow”

Preacher: The Rev. Kate Wesch


John 2:1-11

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 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.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A few weeks ago, my 2 year-old daughter had a fever that kept climbing and climbing and wouldn’t stop.  It was scary and I felt helpless.  So, at 10PM, as it continued to rise, I bundled her up and we took off for the Urgent Care clinic.  It was late and we were both tired, but I knew we might be there for hours, so on the way out the door I grabbed a book.  I was reading Anne Lamott’s new book, a slim volume, called, “Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.”  In her typical style of lengthy run-on sentences filled with self-deprecating humor, raw honest emotion, and startling insight, Lamott focuses in on these three repeating themes of prayer: Help, Thanks, Wow.

“Prayer,” she says, “can be motion and stillness and energy – all at the same time.  It begins with stopping in our tracks, or with our backs against the wall, or when we are just so sick and tired of being psychically sick and tired that we surrender, or at least we finally stop running away and at long last walk or lurch or crawl toward something.  Or maybe, miraculously, we just release our grip slightly” (5).

We all have those days, those times when life seems too much and overwhelming, yet a blessing while it feels like a curse. There are moments when prayer is a whisper and days when you’ve just got to shout!  Help me, God. Thank you, God!  Wow!

As time crept along in slow motion in the Urgent Care exam room and Avery quietly rested, I read a few pages.  I was in the second section of the book on ‘thanks’ and each sentence seemed to resonate and speak to me in that moment.  Thanks, God for a child who is usually healthy.  Thanks, God for a safe clinic to go to in the middle of the night.  Thanks, God for a kind pediatrician who can make my daughter laugh at midnight in this cold, depressing room.

“Thanks,” she writes, “is a huge mind-shift, from thinking that God wants our happy chatter and a public demonstration and is deeply interested in our opinions of the people we hate, to feeling quiet gratitude, humbly and amazingly, without shame at having been so blessed”(60).

In the middle of that night, thanks was a mind-set I chose to hold on to as we waited for hours to see a doctor and then for a lab result and finally to go home at 2AM.

‘Thanks’ was an attitude God helped me to hold on to the next day, as I stayed home caring for a sick, whiny toddler.

“When we go from rashy and clenched to grateful, we sometimes get to note the experience of grace, in knowing that we could not have gotten ourselves from where we were stuck, in hate or self-righteousness or self-loathing (which are the same thing), to freedom.

The movement of grace in our lives toward freedom is the mystery.  So we simply say “Thanks.”  Something had to open, something had to give, and I don’t have a clue how to get things to do that.  But they did, or grace did.  Thank you” (61).

We move fluidly between these mind-sets, between help, thanks, and wow.  Some days we need help, some moments we are blown away with thanks, and on occasion, we are awestruck,

The story of the wedding in Cana of Galilee makes me think about visiting Cana while on a Pilgrimage a few years ago.  It was surprising to me how close it is to Nazareth, less than 3 miles and easily walkable.

You can begin to imagine Mary walking over early in the day to help the mother-of-the-bride make preparations for the feast.  The bride and groom were probably good friends of the family.  Jesus and his friends were included in the celebration and Jesus may have known them since childhood.

In 1st century Palestine, weddings were a big deal for the couple as well as their community.  It was a giant celebration, a rite of passage, and a sign of social status.

There were cultural norms and expectations, traditions the families were expected to uphold.  When the “wine gave out” it was a social catastrophe and an embarrassment from which the new couple might not recover.


Mary certainly wouldn’t have wanted that kind of shame for her friends, so she thinks to herself, “Help, God.”  Help my friends out of this mess.  Because isn’t that what any one of us would wish for our friends?

Mary is a mother and she knows her son.  She knows he is destined for greatness.  She knows he is capable of oh so much.  So, she tells him, “Jesus, they have no wine.”

His annoyed response is typical from a young adult to their daft parent, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?  My hour has not yet come.”  Maybe he feels she is putting him on the spot or imposing.  He’s rude and petulant….but he does something about it just as Mary knew he would.

Thanks, God.” I can imagine Mary saying as she watches her son intervene and spring into action.

He directs the servants to fill six stone water jars – used for the Jewish rites of purification – each holding 20 or 30 gallons.  He tells them to draw some out and take it to the chief steward.   The steward tastes the liquid and immediately knows it is really good wine.       Although he has no idea where whence it came.

“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.”


Lamott writes, “The third great prayer, Wow, is often offered with a gasp, a sharp intake of breath, when we can’t think of another way to capture the sight of shocking beauty or destruction, of a sudden unbidden insight or an unexpected flash of grace.

“Wow” means we are not dulled to wonder.  We click into being fully present when we’re stunned into that gasp, by the sight of a birth, or images of the World Trade Center towers falling, or the experience of being in a fjord, at dawn, for the first time.  “Wow” is about having one’s mind blown by the mesmerizing or the miraculous: the veins in a leaf, birdsong, volcanoes” (71).

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, and revealed his glory to his friends, to his mother, to the bride and groom, and to their guests.

Wow!  Jesus performed a miracle and his disciples believed in him.

As you move through your days; driving the car pool, picking up groceries, going to the doctor, sitting in a sunny spot to read a book, or pray, or visit with a friend – live with these simple prayers on your heart.

Help, God.  Thank you, God.  Wow.