During this Epiphany season I have been pondering the nature of truth, how we know what is true and what is false, what is real and what is fantasy. Is everything I see and experience simply my own dream world, my fantasy, my wishful thinking?
Clearly we live our lives as though scientific truth exists, or we could not function from day to day. We count on scientific theories about invisible realities, evaluate our experience, and trust our authorities. Just so, in the realm of faith, we count on religious theories about invisible realities, evaluate our experience, trust our authorities.
It’s been raining steadily today, and the olive trees, still leafy and full, sway in the wind as they drink in the water from the heavens. The old oaks have lost their leaves now, their craggy crooked limbs winding into the steely skies. The wind rises, turning the rain into a storm riding the green hills of the East Bay.
St. Peter’s Oakland was warm and inviting this morning, as we came in from the windy wet to the red carpeted nave and chancel, the sweet Madonna and Child with its bed of flaming votives to the left of the welcoming pulpit, the careful steps leading to the gray-and-white marble altar, the vast red brick apse, the tall flaming candles honoring the Reserved Sacrament in the tabernacle. We knelt and gave thanks.
An elderly priest celebrated the Eucharist today, his memory reaching back for each word of the Eucharistic prayers, and as I took part in the ancient liturgy, I thought how ritual helped us with truth, how it ensured the truth was preserved through two thousand years. Seeming dry and formalized to some, ritual sets boundaries on belief, so that the codifying itself passes on a reliable testimony to what happened in Palestine that first century AD. Many would try and change the account of who Jesus of Nazareth truly was, but through creed, prayer, and ceremony, the truth was preserved by the believers, the Church, the Body of Christ, year upon year.
Our preacher this morning spoke of the manifestation of Christ in his baptism by John as told in the Gospel lesson today. Jesus, baptized for and asmankind, allowed all of human nature to participate in His baptism. We partake individually in Christ in our own baptisms, he said, and now it is our turn to make Him manifest to the world. For in Christ, we can do all things, as the Epistle tells us today.
The lessons too were part of the ritual, were designated for this Sunday, and in general the preacher preaches on the lessons. More codifying, discipline, structure. But in the fifty-two weeks of the year, I know I shall hear all of the major lessons, experience the major epiphanies, the truths, the manifestations of God to Man. And I am thankful.
I am thankful once again for the Church, the Body of Christ, that has preserved these truths about the Son of God coming among us. Loving us. Redeeming us. Through time two thousand years ago, year by year, to the present, on the altar.