January Journal, Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

star of bethlehemWe are in the season of Epiphanytide, the weeks following the Feast of the Epiphany and leading up to “Pre-Lent”, the “Gesima Sundays”: Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima. These Sundays in turn lead up to Lent proper, which begins Ash Wednesday, March 2, this year. Epiphanytide can be up to six weeks, swinging upon the date of Easter, which depends upon the full moon (!). Yes, we still have holy days and seasons depending upon full moons, reflecting the two thousand years of celebrating the stunning reality that God came to earth, became incarnate, in the flesh, walking among us.

Epiphany celebrates the good news of the birth of Christ, Christ-mass, to our world: the birth of the Son of God. The magi, or kings, or wise men, arrive from distant places bringing gifts. They follow a star that has led them on their journey, a star that history has identified as the conjunction of three cosmic events in the heavens.

Epiphany means manifestation, or showing forth, and in this case a showing forth to the gentile world, proclaiming that the gift of salvation is for all peoples, not just the “chosen” ones.

FamilyIn this sense, Epiphany proclaims the equal dignity of all men and women, of all human life. Epiphany says, God loves you no matter who or what you are. God wants you for his own, to be with him in Paradise.

And so the lessons in this season reflect this showing forth, this shining light upon this marvelous truth for all. Today’s Gospel is particularly lovely, for we speak the words of the Centurion in the liturgy of each Holy Eucharist. The Roman soldier asks Jesus to heal his servant at home. Because of his faith, he believes that Christ can heal from a distance. He says: “Speak the words only and my servant will be healed.” And, we are told later that his servant was healed in the same hour.

Centurion's Servant Lincoln CathedralThese words are spoken in our liturgy just before receiving the Eucharist, with a slight modification: “Speak the words only and my soul shall be healed.” We repeat these words three times as the celebrant holds up the Host for all to see. Then we line up to receive the Real Presence, the Mystical Presence, of Christ.

It is a mystical miracle, each time, indeed. These homely elements of bread and wine, our simple bodies bowed in penitence and hope, our plea for salvation, our faith that it will be given to us if we ask, conquering death and time.

This is no small thing. And yet we are small, the wafers are small, the offering we make – ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable sacrifice – is small too. He is the God of small things. He inhabits small things, as Eastern religions have known for a long time. Large things are puffed up and proud. Pride seals off the divine. It closes the door of the heart. Pride – largeness – says I can do it myself, leave me alone.

But we can’t do it ourselves. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot heal ourselves.

Christians are simple people. They face simple truths directly and live accordingly, or at least try not to self-deceive. We are mortal and frail and one day we will die: we need God. We do not love enough: we need Christ. To admit these things is what living is all about. If we want to glory, we glory in Christ himself, in the Cross of Christ, in our redemption.

BCPOur 1928 Anglican-Episcopal Book of Common Prayer is full of Holy Scripture like these words of the Centurion. And because we repeat many of the phrases each week, each month, each year, depending upon the season, we write these words on our hearts, we inwardly digest them, as one opening prayer says in Advent. The repetition is useful and beautiful, for not only do we learn and digest, but we speak the words together, in unison, in a kind of starry dance. We in the pews become a choir of angels, bathed in the light of Christ.

Writing2It is this light – these starry epiphanies – that I desire to write about in my next novel. I am currently developing the main characters, those who will inhabit the pages, who will hopefully and faithfully shed light upon our world. I study real people through memoir or biography and create composites that will become epiphanies, manifestations of the light of God. While I am not creating living breathing human beings as our Heavenly Father does, I pray that Our Lord will speak the word only and they shall come alive on the page, that they shall reflect simple truths of our existence in today’s world, the joys, the pains, the meaningful moments pointing to our reason to be alive at all.

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