Year A, Epiphany 2
January 19, 2014
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
Epiphany. We are in the season of epiphany. That word, epiphany, has a few definitions. What might they be? ___
- A moment of sudden revelation or insight. That is the use in common parlance.
- the name of this season.
- “The manifestation of a divine or supernatural being.”
A definition of the holiday Epiphany as celebrated on January 6, that we celebrate each year as a whole season running between the Christmastide and Ash Wednesday is “the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi.” The Epiphany season is the commemoration, the celebration, the recognition that God is for/with the whole world, not just Israel. It is the commemoration, the celebration, the recognition of this new covenant as revealed in Jesus Christ. We celebrate that God is manifest (that’s the epiphany) in an individual person called Jesus of Nazareth (that’s the incarnation).
Epiphany is the season that we embrace fully the full nature of God’s revelation to the world in Jesus Christ. In the Western church, we have always placed the emphasis on Christmas; the birth, the incarnation. We have emphasized the fabulousness of God definitively entering the world as one of us, as a creature, fully human and fully divine, revealing that God literally has skin in the game, the creation itself is good, very good, sanctified by the Holy Spirit in this incarnation. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ…”
In the Eastern Church, the Orthodox church, their emphasis has always been much more on the Epiphany. The incarnation was important, of course, but the incarnation is fulfilled, it is realized in the manifestation of Christ, the revelation of God’s incarnation in this child, born for all. The incarnation is foundational of course, but us learning about it, that’s where we come into the picture.
John the Baptist is all about the epiphany. The scenes he occupies in the gospels are fabulous, in particular in the Gospel of St. John. The baptism scene in Martin Scorsese’s very complicated film The Last Temptation of Christ inhabits my religious imagination. Do you know it? What a chaotic, ecstatic scene, disciples, bystanders, all sorts of folks wading around in the slow and muddy waters of the Jordan. And they are consumed with the spirit. The kingdom of God was very much at hand in that moment.
St. John the Baptist was a prophet of Israel, like the prophets of old. He proclaimed, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” He preached to his disciples, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” Maybe he is implying that Jesus was one of those disciples, sitting, listening to the prophet; his glory, his full nature not yet manifest in the descent of the spirit, like a dove, upon him. Biblical theologians speculate on that possibility, that Jesus may have been a disciple of John until His baptism and the annointing of the Holy Spirit that John the Baptist tells of, that God had revealed to the Baptist, told him to expect.
The Epiphany season is all about this manifestation. A manifestation is a sign, a public demonstration, a visible form of a divine being. While the incarnation, the Christmas holiday is about the arrival of the Christ in our midst, Epiphany is about the revelation of that arrival. It is about the answer to that voice of one crying out in the wilderness.
Then the rest of the story happened. The earthly ministry of Jesus. His persecution, execution. The resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God. And we who are left in his wake, we wait. The parousia, the long wait for the return of a savior goes on and on and on and it might end today. Who knows? Maybe tomorrow. That is how we are called to live. But while Jesus’ human body is long gone from our recognizing, His spirit lives with us, in us, writing on the fleshy tablets of our hearts, whispering that still small voice in our heads, steering our gentle souls towards a better way. And Jesus Christ lives right here. In our corporate heart. In a corporate heart and spirit that encircles the earth, made up of every form of human being imaginable. And it culminates right here, in every right here proclaimed by a Christian community around the world in one form or another. The body of Christ gathers around tables like this, around Bibles and song, around silence and chant, baptismal fonts and icons and preaching, the Word in all its myriad forms, all holding a place like the sacrament hold a place for us.
And each of us here, we are tiny, individual cells in this Body of Christ gathered, in our Anglican form, together, on the Sabbath, sharing the body and blood of our Lord in the sacraments as we have received them from our ancestors. Each of us here individually is mortal, perishable, a pip floating on the ever-flowing stream of life. And yet, with out you, and you, and you, all together, the big us, where would we be? You, we are the body of Christ.
It is like our existential condition. We are fleeting creatures, a whisp of stardust collected in a form for a short time AND we are of utmost importance, each of us, to God the creator of heaven and earth and every thing else. We are the body of Christ, broken, and whole all at once.
There is a poem attributed to St. Teresa of Avila. It was in a letter written in the later part of her life. It goes like this:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
No hands but yours,
No feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ’s compassion to the world;
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.
Beautiful words. Beautiful words about the epiphany, the manifestation of Christ in the world. The continued and continuing manifestation of Jesus Christ in the world here in the body of Christ. After we share the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ at this table, we are going downstairs to conduct the business of this little conglomeration of the body of Christ, this church at our annual meeting. How we organize ourselves is important. Like the theology of the budget that posits that how we spend of money says a lot about our beliefs, how we organize ourselves also says a lot about what we believe, too. In congregational churches, they embrace a notion that the will of God is best revealed in the will of the gathered saints, radical, pure democracy. Presbyterians have faith in gatherings of elders in ordered processes. Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters find God’s revelation in the magisterium of the Church and her bishops. Our evangelical side of the family in the relationship each believer has with Jesus Christ. And we Anglicans, we’re walking the via media, the middle path. A little voting, a little order. A balance of power between bishops, priests, deacons and laity. Here, priest and vestry. At the diocese, Bishop, Standing Committee and convention. Nationally the College of Bishops and the House of Deputies. Balance. Representational governance. You can just come to church, pray, worship, pledge and be done with it. That is fine, not optimum, you get more out of all of this with the relationships built outside of worship, but it is fine. You can come and get involved in all sorts of ministry, formal and informal, local and canonically mandated in lay and ordained orders. Our tradition finds the will of God revealed in the body of Christ through the three legged stool of Scripture, Reason and Tradition. Scripture, the revealed Word of God, a narrative trajectory and vocabulary of God; Tradition, the church, our ancestors, our orders, and creeds; and Reason, our individual and corporate ability to discern the will of God with all of our faculties. And that theological notion of balance is reflected in out polity.
It is not flawless, far from it, but it works mostly. Bills and staff get paid. Buildings are cared for, programs run, people are fed and housed and the Word of God is proclaimed with our voices, our hands and our hearts. And we move closer to the kingdom of God one baby step at a time. Please join us downstairs, consider the state of the body of Christ manifest here in this place, for from where I sit, the state of this church is excellent. AMEN