Echoes of Lent in Epiphanytide

Traditionally this Sunday is/was Septuagesima, the third Sunday before Lent.  The modern calendar, however, continues the Epiphany season through these final weeks, all the way to Ash Wednesday.  What’s interesting is that some of the Collects for these final Sundays are lifted from the traditional Lent and Pre-Lent observances.  This week’s Collect, for example, Epiphany VI, is as follows:

Almighty God, look mercifully upon your people, that by your great goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

Traditionally this was the Collect appointed for Lent V, or Passion Sunday.  Compare this to the Good Friday Collect and you’ll see a very similar prayer: “behold this your people O Lord…”

This was no accident: Passion Sunday (Lent 5) was the beginning of Passiontide, the last two weeks of Lent, which direct our attentions to the suffering and death of Jesus.  Lent 5, being the Sunday immediately before Palm Sunday, provided something of a theological background to prepare the worshiper for Palm Sunday, by exploring the concept of sacrificial atonement such as found in Hebrews chapter 9.  Good Friday, being the intensification of Palm Sunday and Holy Week and Passiontide, naturally brings the some sort of prayerful approach as Lent 5.

But now we have that Collect here on the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany.  Although diminished in effect by being so much farther away from Good Friday, it can still be a signal for us that something different is coming.  Instead of hailing the beginning of Passiontide like it did at Lent 5, it now hails the approach of Lent, giving us a foretaste, an echo back in time, of the Good Friday subject: may God graciously look upon his people and govern and preserve us evermore.

The Collect(s) for Epiphany V

Sorry for the late post this time.  Nothing especially ground-breaking was planned for this post, mainly just some observations.  The “Collects for the Christian Year” document for our up-and-coming prayer book has undergone a few subtle changes here and there over the past three or four years, and to be honest this is the part of Texts for Common Prayer that I have monitored the least.  There’s only so much one pair of eyes can keep track of, I guess.

Still, I’ve noticed that this week’s Collect has undergone some interesting little edits over the years.  Here it is in its current form (at least, as of September 2018)…

O Lord, our heavenly Father, keep your household the Church continually in your true religion, that we who trust in the hope of your heavenly grace may always be defended by your mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord…

Compare that to how it appeared previously in 2016 and/or 2017:

O Lord, our Creator and Redeemer, we ask you to keep your household the Church continually in your true religion; so that we who trust in the hope of your heavenly grace may always be defended by your mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord…

The address to God has shifted from “Creator and Redeemer” to “our heavenly Father”.
The petition previously was “we ask you to keep” and is now more terse: “keep…”
The purpose clause had the word “so” but has since dropped it.

Before we can make too many inferences about the reasons for these changes, we should consider the original, traditional, collect for Epiphany V:

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Notice that the address here is simply “O Lord”… the question of the modern version seems to be concerning how to expand that.  We can see that “we beseech thee to keep” was initially recast as “we ask you to keep”, and then apparently ruled too clunky for modern English.  Considering the Great Litany still uses the phrase “we beseech you to hear us, O Lord” I’m not sure why this simplification was ruled necessary.  There’s also a style difference – traditional English prayer language tends to use third person (them/those who do lean…) where modern tends to prefer first person (we who trust…).  This is, I’d argue, a good adaptation to current language use; one rarely refers to oneself in the third person anymore 😉

Sometimes it’s just fun to explore how things have developed over time, and discover the strengths and weaknesses of modern language and style.

Pairing: a Collect & a Hymn

Our Collect of the Day from Sunday, the fourth in Epiphanytide, is the first Sunday Collect this season that matches the old Prayer Book tradition.  The first three Sundays have modern Collects to reflect the modern Epiphany emphasis on missions, and now this fourth one takes us back to the original Epiphany tradition.  Here it is:

O God, you know that we are set in the midst of so many and grave dangers that in the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: Grant us your strength and protection to support us in all dangers and carry us through every temptation; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

What I thought we’d do with this Collect today, rather than analyze it or link to a Scripture reading, is match it up with a hymn.  And, rather than dig up a lesser-known song as we’ve done a few times already, let’s pair this classic Collect with a classic hymn: O worship the King.

According to hymnary.org this song appears in nearly 1,000 different books, and probably hundreds more that aren’t compiled on that site.  The lyrics were written by Robert Grant in 1833, loosely based on Psalm 104.  It has been set to a couple different tunes, so I’ll let you readers fight over if LYONS or HANOVER is best, or if one should vote third party.

It is the 5th verse that especially links up with the Collect for Epiphany IV.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In thee, Lord, we trust, nor find thee to fail;
Thy mercies, how tender! how firm to the end!
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and friend!

Both the prayer and the hymn consider us in terms of frailty.  We are “set in the midst of so many and grave dangers”, we need God’s “strength and protection” that, unlike us, are “firm to the end!”  It seems appropriate to consider this hymn a sort of response or follow-up to the Collect: we pray for God’s promised protection, and then we sing joyfully of his steadfast love, his covenant faithfulness, by which we know that our maker, defender, and redeemer is also our friend.

 

The Presentation / Purification / Candlemas

February 2nd is the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, also known as The Purification of Mary, or Candlemas for short.  I thought I’d take up some of the liturgical tid-bits that characterize the celebration of that day, and point out something of how they inform us of the Christian Faith, and biblical interpretation.

There are three primary worship services in Western liturgical tradition: Morning Prayer (or Mattins), the Mass (or Communion or Eucharist), and Evening Prayer (or Vespers).  Although they are normally held throughout the day in that order, the Communion service is the “principle” celebration of the day; that means that the scripture readings in that service are usually the most significant ones for the given holiday, and the readings in the Office are supplementary.  Also, what exactly the readings are, and how many of them exist, will vary between different specific traditions.  Older Anglican Prayer Books differ slightly from newer ones, and Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox liturgies also have slightly different choices in many cases, but over all the similarities tend to outweigh the differences.  With that in mind, let’s dive in!

The Collect

The “Collect of the Day” is a prayer that is meant to collect together the theme(s) of the day from the Scripture readings.  Looking at how this is done in a given Collect can reveal the theological, devotional, or practical emphases that the tradition is putting forth.  Here is one Collect for the feast of the Presentation:

Almighty and everlasting God, we humbly pray that, as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in the substance of our flesh, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

This focuses on the historical event (Jesus’ presentation in the Temple) and draws a spiritual analogy to the end product of our salvation: the Day we are all made completely holy in Christ such that he may present us to the Father as adopted members of the household of God.  It also points out that Jesus was in “our flesh,” providing an emphasis on the incarnation and the exchange that takes place: God entered into our humanity so that we can enter into His divinity.

Morning Prayer readings

One Old Testament reading that some of the classic Prayer Books set forth for the Office of Morning Prayer is Exodus 13:1-16.  This makes for a great first reading on this holiday because it gives the Old Testament Law of Moses background for what’s going on with Jesus and his family.  In the wake of the Passover (Exodus 12), God instructs Moses that by destroying all the firstborn males in Egypt except for those households protected by the blood of the Passover Lamb, all firstborn males in Israel now belong to Him.  Therefore they must be redeemed (or bought back) after they are born.  It’s like a first-fruit offering, except because children are not to be sacrificed, they are to be paid for instead.  (Interestingly, it’s the same concept as an indulgence – a debt is owed, but another form of payment is accepted.)

This is what Mary and Joseph were doing in the Temple with 40-day-year-old Jesus; they were obeying this law going back to the time of the Exodus.

Holy Communion readings

Across the board, the Gospel reading for this holiday is Luke 2:22-40, as that is the account of the event on which this holiday is based.  There we find the story of Jesus’ family in the Temple, Simeon recognizing Jesus and singing his prophetic song (or Canticle), and Anna the prophetess recognizing Jesus and sharing the good news of His arrival as well.

The Old Testament reading often included here (including our 2019 Prayer Book) is Malachi 3:1-5.  Much of that passage provides material for the preaching of St. John the Baptist, which inevitably draws the participant in the liturgy back to the season of Advent.  For there we heard for one or two Sundays about John and his preaching, and the accompanying Advent theme of the future return of Christ for the final judgement echoes in this reading too.  But most importantly, the very first verse here says “suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple.”  Obviously this has multiple fulfillments, as Jesus visits the Temple many times in his life and significant things take place at several of those visits.  But this is his first arrival in the Temple, and there are two people there (Simeon and Anna) who had been seeking him there.

Other readings

An Epistle reading found in some Daily Office lectionaries is Galatians 4:1-7.  There we find a theme mentioned briefly in the Collect – our own becoming sons of God.  It also mentions the dynamic of moving from being bound to the Law to being adopted as sons.  Jesus himself, it says, was “born of a woman, born under law,” which this holiday describes.  So the sharing of Christ in our humanity leads to our sharing in his divinity, because “since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.”

One reading often used at the end of the day is Haggai 2:1-9.  This prophetic writing speaks of the newly-build second temple and its inferiority to the original built under King Solomon.  And yet, God promises that it will be greater in glory, for “in this place I will grant peace.”  This promise is empty and void throughout Old Testament history; it is not until Jesus arrives there that God’s presence actually ever even enters the Temple again!  As the Christian goes through Evening Prayer and sees this promise of peace at the end of the Old Testament lesson, he or she will be drawn back in memory to the Gospel reading earlier, specifically the words of Simeon: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.”  Haggai’s words are directly answered by Simeon in Luke’s Gospel book!

The Canticle of Simeon

Let’s stick with Simeon’s song for a moment here.  It’s Luke 2:29-32, specifically, and is actually used throughout the entire year as a canticle (prayer-song) in the Daily Office.  Traditionally it’s a canticle appointed for Compline, the bedtime office of prayer.  In that context, it is read by Christians sort of in union with Simeon with our approaching bedtime as a picture of our eventual death (as Simeon had been promised that would not die until he’d seen the Savior).  In Anglican practice, the Canticle of Simeon is also used in Evening Prayer, but the end-of-day/end-of-life context and effect is the same.  My point is that a regular participant in the liturgy will be intimately familiar with the Canticle of Simeon.  As a result, hearing it in the liturgy for this particular holiday will have an interesting effect.

Two major promises stand out in the Canticle of Simeon: Christ will be a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and will be a light to be the glory of Israel.  The theme of light coming into the world is echoed throughout the seasons of Advent (Romans 13:12’s armor of light), Christmas (John 1:9’s light coming into the world), and Epiphany (Isaiah 60’s light shining upon the nations).  So as this holiday wraps up the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle, the theme of light is brought to the foreground and celebrated quite visually.

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The Blessing of Candles

This holiday’s nickname is Candlemas, because of the tradition of blessing candles on this day.  All the candles to be used in the Church for the coming year are gathered up to be blessed for their sacred purpose.  Additionally, other candles are blessed and distributed to the people to carry in procession and to take home.  This is a physical enactment of what we learn from Simeon – Christ is the light of the world for all nations, including ourselves!  One can also find in the Gospel books the words of Christ, “you are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14 and following).

Light does many things.  It drives out darkness and exposes what’s hidden.  Thus, the blessings spoken over the candles include both penitential aspects as God’s people repent of their sins, and apotropaic aspects as demonic spirits are to flee from the light of Christ.  The Scriptures do attest, after all, that the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).  So, by receiving candles and lighting them, we participants in the liturgy are given physical reinforcement to the words and teachings of Scripture that we are God’s adopted children, receiving Christ the light of the world promised in ages past by the Prophets.  And we receive this not just as some abstract teaching, but as historically linked to real events that actually happened.  Christ the Light of the World is not just a spiritual reality that occurs in our hearts, but is grounded in the real arrival of the real Christ child in the real (though now long-gone) Temple.  And with all that in place we are pointed to look ahead to the Day we each are presented in the heavenly temple to our heavenly Father by our adoptive brother, Christ Himself.

This post, apart some new edits, was originally published on my blog Leorningcnihtes boc, on 3 February 2016.

Last Christmas Hymn: From East to West

Tomorrow is the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, or, the Purification of Mary, celebrating the events of Luke 2:22-40.  As I’ve suggested and explored here before, using these 40 days from Christmas Day until tomorrow is a great way to crawl through the massive collection of Christmas songs in our hymnals.  A good choice for the last of these hymns is From East to West, from shore to shore.

This is an ancient hymn, its text written in Latin by Coelius Sedulius around the year 450.  As often is the case with ancient hymns, its English translation has been set to several different tunes, so I’m not going to include a YouTube link this time; the lyrics will have to suffice.

From East to West is a good choice for the end of this extended run of Christmas hymns because its lyrics touch upon some thematic material that makes it fitting for this point in the calendar:

  1. The appeal for “every heart”, “from East to West, from shore to shore,” to awake and sing about the newborn Christ, is very Epiphany-appropriate.  The song starts immediately with that world-wide invitation to worship Jesus.
  2. The epiphany theme of revealing the divinity of Jesus is also prominent in this song, which identifies him with godly epithets such as “the everlasting King” and “the world’s Creator” and “the Lord most high.”
  3. Mary plays a relatively prominent role in these lyrics, anticipating her prominent role in the feast of the Presentation tomorrow.  Here she is celebrated, “a maiden in her lowly place,” who becomes “the chosen vessel of his grace.”  In the doxology, the final verse of the hymn, Jesus is named as the “Virgin-born.”

In all, this is a fantastic hymn that works for Epiphanytide almost as well as for Christmastide.  I wouldn’t be afraid to pull it out almost any time of year, come to think of it, if I knew I’d be preaching or teaching Christology.  It plays out the dual reality of Jesus’ humanity and divinity, his lowliness and his exaltation, marvelously.

Perhaps you can read or sing it at the Daily Office or other time of devotion today?

From east to west, from shore to shore Let ev’ry heart awake and sing
The holy child whom Mary bore, The Christ, the everlasting king.

Behold, the world’s creator wears The form and fashion of a slave;
Our very flesh our maker shares, His fallen creature, man, to save.

For this how wondrously He wrought!  A maiden, in her lowly place,
Became, in ways beyond all thought, The chosen vessel of His grace.

And while the angels in the sky Sang praise above the silent field,
To shepherds poor the Lord Most High, the one great Shepherd, was revealed.

All glory for this blessed morn To God the Father ever be;
All praise to You, O Virgin-born, And Holy Ghost, to thee.  Amen.

A Canticle for Epiphanytide: Surge illuminare

In the “Supplemental Canticles” document which will be appended to the Daily Office in our new Prayer Book, Canticle #2 is marked “especially suitable for use during the season after Epiphany.”  Well, now we’re there, so let’s look at how to make use of this Canticle.

Throughout the history of Western liturgy, there can be found many Psalms and Canticles that get special treatment and use in various offices and rites.  The early Prayer Books were generally simple and minimalist about them, but still allowed a couple options in most cases.  If you trace the continuity of the Prayer Book Daily Office from its monastic predecessor, some basic principles can be drawn.  Most importantly:

  • The three Gospel Canticles (Benedictus, Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis) are said daily: morning (matins), evening (vespers), and night (compline).
  • The Te Deum is said on Sundays and feast days.

So, when looking at the Canticles of the Daily Office in current Prayer Book tradition, the usual best practice is to keep the Benedictus in the Morning and the Magnificat in the Evening, and replace the Te Deum or the Nunc Dimittis.  For these “seasonal” Canticles in our present list, it is the recommendation of this Customary to use most of them on weekdays in place of the Te Deum.  Perhaps, starting this week, you can try out Surge illuminare as the first Canticle in Morning Prayer?

What’s especially neat about this canticle in particular is that it was the Old Testament reading back on the Day of the Epiphany (January 6th), so to have parts of it as a Canticle in the subsequent season is to maintain a thematic and textual link to where this whole section of the calendar began.

Arise, shine, for your light has come, *
and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.

The Baptism of our Lord

Tomorrow, the majority of Christians across the world will be celebrating the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ.  As we discussed earlier this week the Baptism of Jesus was originally simply a part of the Epiphany Day, but in the modern version of the Epiphany season has been placed on the first Sunday so we’ll all be sure of celebrating it, at the expense of the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple.

One of the handy things about the story of Christ’s baptism is the fact that three of the four Gospels relate it, and it’s the same three books that the revised common lectionaries highlight each year: Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Mark’s telling of the baptism of Jesus (which we heard last year) is extremely short; it’s hardly more than a single verse, giving little context for the preacher to deal with the event itself, and perhaps therefore turning to other theological connections to the event as brought up in the other readings.  This year, however, is from Luke’s Gospel, which tells us something of the ministry of John the Baptist and more details of the event of the baptism itself.

A few misunderstandings about the baptism of John sometimes float around in popular artwork or teaching.  The mode of this baptism is not related – whether Jesus was fully immersed in the river or simply stood in it and had water poured on his head.  The Holy Spirit descended in the appearance of a dove after Jesus came out of the river, not (necessarily) the moment after he emerged from being fully immersed.  And this baptism was not even Christian baptism, either.  As Acts 19 notes, those who only received the baptism of John had to be baptized again in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as Jesus instructed.

The way this Sunday is observed in the lectionary, depending upon how you look at it, either creates some liturgical tension, or adds theological richness.  The tension lies in the fact that the readings from Acts 10 and Isaiah 42 emphasize the baptism of Jesus as a “missional” moment, instead of making it out to be an epiphany of Jesus to be God, as the traditional epiphany season would have done.  But if the reader and the preacher keeps the epiphany theme in mind, then the emphasis on mission – a light to the nations – can be seen as an enrichment to the traditional focus of Epiphanytide.

Oh, and, as usual, don’t forget to start the use of tomorrow’s Collect at Evening Prayer tonight!

Eternal Father, who at the baptism of Jesus revealed him to be your Son, anointing him with the Holy Spirit: grant to us, who are born again by water and the Spirit, that we may be faithful to our calling as your adopted children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Looking Ahead: two Friday Feasts

Happy Friday!  Happy Epiphanytide!  It’s unusual to have such a long beginning to the Epiphany season, having a whole week between the Day (January 6th) and the first Sunday.  It’s as if the wise men are staying to party with the holy family extra long this year 🙂

As we look ahead at the next few weeks, a succession of major feast days await us.  The two remaining this month are both on Fridays: the Confession of Saint Peter on the 18th and the Conversion of Saint Paul on the 25th.  The former was not in the historic prayer books, but now adorns our modern calendar.  If your church has a regular Friday worship service, these two holidays stand as special opportunities to celebrate the work of the Gospel in the New Testament as well as to flesh out the Epiphany season even further.

For, although we don’t know the dates of the original events – when Peter declared “you are the Christ, the son of the living God”, and when Paul encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus – it is appropriate that we celebrate these critical gospel moments during the Epiphany season.  Both of these holidays celebrate epiphanies, revelations, or showings of who Jesus is.  They fit right in to the season’s traditional overarching theme.

Eight days after that will be February 2nd, a Saturday, when the feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple and the Purification of Mary is observed.  That is the 40th day after Christmas, matching the event being 40 days after the birth of Jesus.  We’ll hear more about that when it draws near, but it’s good to mark one’s calendar ahead of time so these major holidays of the church year don’t surprise us when they arrive.

The Epiphany Season (modern)

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.

 

The Epiphany Season (Traditional)

From the traditional calendar to the modern, the Epiphany season is the one that probably has undergone the largest transformation.  Although the majority of us are using the modern calendar, it’s helpful sometimes to look at how things used to be.  It may be that some echoes can be found of the old in the new.

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After the three-fold Epiphany Day followed a series of Sundays each with their own epiphany, or showing, of Jesus to be God.

  1. Luke 2:41 (The Finding of Jesus in the Temple) with Romans 12:1-5
  2. John 2 (Wedding at Cana) with Romans 12:6-16
  3. Matthew 8 (Healing of the Leper and the Centurion’s Servant) with Romans 12:16-21
  4. Matthew 8:23-34 (Calming the Storm and Exorcising Legion) with Romans 13:1-7
  5. Matthew 13:24 (Parable of the Wheat and the Tares) with Colossians 3:12-17
  6. Matthew 24:23 (Sign of the Coming of the Son of Man) with 1 John 3:1-8

There were fewer Epiphany Sundays in the old calendar because there was a three-week transition period between Epiphanytide and Lent… we’ll explore that when we get there.  Suffice it to observe here that the theme of the Epiphany – revealing Jesus to be God – continues for three to six weeks after the Epiphany Day itself.  Although the modern calendar does not intentionally pursue this theme in its lectionary, it is still a theme that preacher and reader alike can watch for throughout this season of the church year, allowing the “principle feast” of the Epiphany to light our way through this section of the calendar before moving on to the penitential pastures of Lent.

If you have a regular weekday Communion service, pulling up these traditional Epiphany Sundays might be a great idea.  With the exception of the 2nd Sunday this year (Year C of the 3-year cycle), there’ll be no overlap between the old and new at all.