As I prepare this article for the Newsletter, I am also preparing for six worship services in the next eight days. A week later we will have the opportunity to celebrate Epiphany on a Sunday (Epiphany day is always January 6, twelve days after Christmas). Then we move into the time after Epiphany which is the shorter of the two “green” seasons of the liturgical year that are noted by their location “after” a particular festival (the other is the time after Pentecost). With the joy and excitement of the Christmas season, some may view this time as just filler until the season of Lent appears. Yet this time after Epiphany serves an important role in continuing what was introduced during the Christmas season, focusing on the means through which God is made manifest in the world in Jesus Christ. Each Sunday we will glimpse again the totality of Christ through the readings, hymnody, ritual, and fellowship. Christ makes himself known bodily through the bread and wine of the Lord’s supper. Christ also makes himself known in baptism through the water and word that claims new daughters and sons.
In 2019 the time after Epiphany spans two months with mostly chronological readings from Luke’s gospel.
· The first Sunday in this season is the Baptism of Our Lord. Early theologians emphasized two themes for this celebration. First, Christ serves as a model for Christian baptism, the sacrament that makes frequent appearance throughout the New Testament. Second, by being baptized in the Jordan, Jesus has set apart all the waters of creation as baptismal water. This early motif is picked up by many subsequent theologians, including Martin Luther in his own baptismal prayer (ELW, p. 230).
· The second Sunday continues the manifestation motif with the wedding at Cana, where Jesus performs his first miracle, or “sign” as John calls it. Locating this revelation at a wedding makes it both ordinary and extraordinary—ordinary in that it happens at a familiar domestic ritual, one in which most people have either participated or attended; extraordinary in that Jesus does the unexpected by reserving the good wine for last, the exact opposite of what any reasonable host would do.
· The manifestation motif continues on the third Sunday after Epiphany, where the lectionary again picks up Luke’s telling of Jesus’ ministry with his appearance in the synagogue. Christ reveals his glory by declaring that Isaiah’s words have been fulfilled at the moment they were uttered with God speaking creation and salvation into existence.
· The gospel for the fourth Sunday continues the scene of Jesus in the synagogue.
· The miracle of the abundance of fish is the gospel for the fifth Sunday, another miracle that reveals God’s glory.
· The sixth Sunday’s gospel—the beatitudes—is one of the most popular in the New Testament, although many people are more likely to quote Matthew’s version than Luke’s. In Luke, Jesus is concrete in the blessings and woes—these are not primarily spiritual concerns but socioeconomic realities that have direct consequences for the body of Christ.
· These exact themes are continued in the seventh Sunday, in which Jesus continues his Sermon on the Plain. The social transformation that is central to Christ’s manifestation is brought home in his exhortation to do the opposite of common sense, to do that which is the most difficult for human beings – forgiving those who have done wrong to us.
· The season of manifestations concludes with the Transfiguration of Our Lord. The claim that began this season (“You are my Son, the Beloved” at Jesus’ baptism) comes full circle and is made a public proclamation (“This is my Son, my Chosen” on the mountaintop).
These various manifestations, beginning with the nativity and the visit of the magi, continuing through the various miracles and proclamations, and concluding with the transfiguration, demonstrate that God being revealed to the world brings about social disruption and transformation. The eternal Word, proclaimed on Christmas Day through John 1, is revealed through these earthly events and continues to be revealed today through word and sacrament, service and consolation.
I am looking forward to seeing all of you in worship throughout the Epiphany season.