What's in your Epiphany?
When I was in seminary, I did my field ed work at All Saints’ in Chicago under the Rev. Dr. (soon-to-be Rt. Rev. Dr.) Bonnie Perry. Like this All Saints’, that one has a very small sacristy, and a lot of people who feel as if they really need to cram into the room. One particularly busy morning was Pentecost Day. Bonnie was set to preach about Pentecost, and wanted to illustrate the surprise in breaking of the Holy Spirit by having the seminarian dress up head to toe in bright red, with a hat with flames rising from the top, and a bright red cape run in unexpectedly, singing “I am the Holy Spirit” to the tune of “I am the Heat Miser” from the 1974 Year Without a Santa Claus. And yes, there are photos.
In the middle of all the preparatory sacristy chaos, the senior warden walked in, said he was looking forward to the service, everything looks good out front, and by the way, what’s Pentecost? To be fair, where else do we encounter that word? The season of Epiphany has been with us for centuries, but many life-long Christians have no idea what it means, aside from the one from the familiar hymn, “In Epiphany we trace all the glories of his grace.” And that is no help at all.
Now despite the confusion about the season of Epiphany, if I were to tell you that I’ve had an epiphany, you probably know exactly what I mean. You’d know that I had a “eureka” moment. That I suddenly realized something important and true. Something big had been revealed to me. That I had greater clarity about something that makes a big difference. And that’s what Epiphany is all about, Charlie Brown. During Christmastide, we proclaim “unto us a child is born.” That’s nice. Epiphany is the answer to the unspoken question, “Your point being?”
The Day of Epiphany tells us the story of the three kings who follow a star to Bethlehem, presenting gifts worthy of royalty, but also of death and great sadness to avoid death at the hands of Herod. An angel warns Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt. The actions of Herod and of the three kings reveal that they’ve had their epiphany already, and know who this child is, and how to respond. The Sundays of Epiphany give us a clue. One the first and last Sundays of Epiphany (January 12 and February 23 this year), just so none of us miss the point, the heavens open, the Spirit of God descends like a dove, and the voice of God the Father reveals “This is my son, my beloved.” And the February version, the Transfiguration, the Father adds, “Listen to him!” And Jesus’ face begins to glow.
The fact is that while Jesus was pretty interesting before that, it was when Jesus had his own epiphany in the waters of the Jordan River, when he had a leap of self-awareness and revelation, that he became truly effective in his own work and ministry. Epiphanies are transformative, because they lift the scales from our eyes, and show us as we really are, as we were created to be, glowing faces and all. The work of interim ministry is to facilitate Epiphanies in a congregation. For some, the epiphanies came long ago. For several, the first glimpse came in mid-January with the Healthy Congregations Workshop. Epiphanies always include disillusionment, because illusions are not truth.
What illusions are we still holding onto? What great glory does God have in mind for you personally, and for all of All Saints’, when we emerge from the water and have the Epiphany God has in mind for each of us? “Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20,21 and BCP p. 102
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