You know how it goes, haters gonna hate, complainers gonna complain, the overly-picky will never be satisfied. Actually, being excessively choosy in one’s tastes is a form of the sin of gluttony, so their reward will be in their bellies… or something like that.
Anyway, one of the more nit-picky criticisms of the Texts for Common Prayer and the resultant 2019 Prayer Book was the introduction of a new commemoration: World Mission Sunday. It has been branded as the Second-to-Last Sunday of Epiphany since its first appearance, if I remember correctly, though the rubrics (such as on page 604) state that it may be observed on any Sunday in that season, except for the first and last Sundays.
This shows us two things:
- The first and last Sundays are noteworthy over against the Sundays in between. This is perhaps why many modern Anglican calendars appoint white for them, and green for the Sundays in between. It also stands in line with the tradition of being able to celebrate major saints days (or “red letter days”) on the “green” Sundays but not the first or last in Epiphanytide.
- World Mission Sunday itself is not fixed. It’s the 2019 Prayer Book’s default for the penultimate Sunday before Lent, but it doesn’t have to be!
In fact, when you look at the numbered Sundays “of Epiphany” you’ll find that there still are eight, which means that you can live like 2015 never happened and World Mission Sunday doesn’t exist.
So there you go, if you don’t like it, fine, you’re not required to use it!
What if I’m not grumpy about it, one way or the other?
I’ll tell you a secret, since this is Weird Rubric Wednesday where I’ve given myself permission to be a bit silly-yet-sincere. I have never observed World Mission Sunday with my congregation. They probably don’t even know it exists. And it’s not because I’m opposed to world missions, or think it’s not worth celebrating or preaching about. I’m not even one of the aforementioned grumpy critics. Though I have been grumpy and critical about things in the 2019 Prayer Book before… but this isn’t one of them.
Initially I had two reasons for ignoring World Mission Sunday in my tiny parish.
- It used the exact same Collect as the 3rd Sunday of Epiphany and all its Scripture lessons are already found elsewhere in the lectionary, so it added nothing really new to the calendar on its own.
- More importantly, I had decided to preach through as much of 1 Corinthians as possible through Epiphanytide in Years A through C, so WMS would have interrupted that series considerably.
Since then, World Mission Sunday has gotten its own unique Collect, which is great, though its scripture lessons are still generally duplicated elsewhere in the lectionary. So if you’ve got a preaching series through the lectionary readings going on during Epiphanytide, you too may want to opt for giving WMS a miss. But in general, it’s not a bad tradition to introduce, and the Epiphany season is probably the best part of the year to place it. Epiphanytide is already one of the most-changed seasons when you compare the historic and modern calendars, so it’s not as though further tinkering is going to make it any more or less like its original form.
If you want to learn more about World Mission Sunday in the context of the Epiphany season, here are some links to check out: