Yesterday we looked at the historic Anglican calendar for the Epiphany season. Now let’s take a look at what the ACNA calendar has for us this year. There are six parts to this summary: the First Sunday, the Second Sunday, the Epistles throughout the season, the Gospels throughout the season, Mission Sunday, and the Last Sunday.
#1: The First Sunday after the Epiphany
Since the post-Vatican-2 revisions to the liturgical calendar, the first Sunday is about the Baptism of Christ. All three years of the cycle recount the story to us, taken from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, year by year. This year (Year C) is Luke’s Gospel’s year. The Collect and all the lessons revolve around the Baptism of Christ, and is rich with teaching and preaching and devotional material: insight into the Trinity, revealing the divinity of Christ, insight into the Old/New Covenants, contemplation on the origins of Christian Baptism, considering the call to Christian mission.
#2: The Second Sunday after the Epiphany
The Gospel lesson on the 2nd Sunday is taken from John chapters 1 and 2. Years A and B are from chapter 1, dealing with the gathering of Jesus’ first disciples from John the Baptist. Year C is the story of the Wedding at Cana, which was also the traditional Gospel lesson for this Sunday. The first two years, therefore, play into the “mission” orientation of the modern Epiphany season, while the third year (this year) reflects more of the original epiphany-as-revealing theme for the season.
#3: The Epistles throughout the Season
From the 2nd Sunday through the 8th, in all three years, the Epistle lessons highlight much of 1 Corinthians and a little of 2 Corinthians. This is done brilliantly, breaking the book into three logical sections: chapters 1-4 in Year A, chapters 6-9 (with a little of 2 Corinthians) in Year B, and chapters 12-15 in Year C. As far as I’m aware, this has nothing to do with the Epiphany season as such. Rather, it is functioning like the modern Trinitytide season by focusing on mostly-sequential readings week by week through the epistles and gospels. The book of 1 Corinthians is long enough and rich enough that it takes up the Epiphanytide Sundays in all three years. The downside of this is that if your preacher decides to preach through this epistle, people are not likely to remember where they left off the year before.
#4: The Gospels throughout the Season
As mentioned above, the bulk of the modern Epiphany season simply walks through the early part of the Gospel books: Matthew 4-6 in Year A, Mark 1-2 in Year B, and Luke 4-6 in Year C. The lectionary is carefully designed such that where you leave off at the end of the Epiphany season is where you’ll pick up after Trinity Sunday. In that spirit, the Roman Catholics refer to Epiphanytide and Trinitytide both as “Ordinary Time”… the latter is merely the continuation of the former. In other words, the two green seasons have no thematic or theological character of their own in the modern calendar, but are instead devoted to the sequential and systematic reading of the New Testament Epistles and Gospels. This is where the Revised Common Lectionary (in its several versions) is basically trying to act like the Daily Office lectionary, for better or worse.
#5: The Second-Last Sunday
New to the ACNA Prayer Book is the invention of “Mission Sunday” or “World Mission Sunday”. Technically, the rubrics admit that this is an optional observance, and may actually be placed on any Sunday in Epiphanytide excluding the First and Last. The Collect for (World) Mission Sunday is actually the same one as Epiphany III, and the Gospel lessons are all evangelism themed: Matthew 9:35-38 in Year A, Matthew 28:16-20 in Year B, and John 20:19-31 in Year C. All of these Gospel lessons, as well as most (if not all?) of the other lessons, can be found elsewhere in the lectionary. Therefore, with neither a unique collect nor unique lessons, it is my opinion that Mission Sunday is redundant in the liturgical calendar, and thus it is the recommendation of this Customary that Mission Sunday be left unused, unless the second-last Sunday happens to be Epiphany III, in which case you might as well go for it because the Collect is the same either way. Instead, consider using Mission Sunday on a weekday?
#6: The Last Sunday
The length of the Epiphany season varies from year to year because its beginning is fixed by the simple calendar (January 6th) while its ending is determined by the lunar calendar (how the date of Easter is determined, and therefore the seasons before and after Easter). When Easter is later, as is the case this year, Epiphanytide is longer and Trinitytide is shorter. The traditional calendar had a three-Sunday buffer zone between Epiphanytide and Lent, but the modern calendar just has one Sunday: the Last Sunday before Lent. Despite the fact that the bulk of the Epiphany season is based on sequential readings and not on any epiphany theme, the Last Sunday sees a return to the epiphany theme by focusing on the Transfiguration of Christ. Although the Transfiguration already has its own holiday (August 6th), the Last Sunday between Epiphany and Lent takes that event and gives it a different spin, noting it as a final revealing of Christ’s divine glory before he descends the mountain and heads for Jerusalem where he will soon suffer and die. For all the complaints one might raise against the modern calendar and lectionary, the function of this last Sunday is brilliantly devised. Simply comparing its Collect with that for Transfiguration Day is a fruitful devotional study in itself.