We are now two weeks into a season of the church called Epiphany. Having grown up in a different Christian tradition, I admit that the meaning of this period of the church year alluded me for quite some time. When I first came to the Episcopal Church, I had never heard of Epiphany. Like being a postulant and novice in a monastery, becoming acclimated to the richness of a new tradition can take some time. We learn by entering into the life slowly, absorbing little by little all that tradition has to teach us. There usually comes a moment when the nature and purpose of a particular practice will become apparent and make us exclaim: “Eureka! I got it!” While an epiphany seems like a sudden and random event, the truth is epiphanies happen after a significant period of time when a final tidbit of information gathered brings something into focus. While the ‘Eureka effect,’ (the sudden elation one experiences when having an epiphany) makes this event appear to be random, in actuality it is the end of a long process. Epiphany (from the Greek) literally means manifestation.
During this season we observe how this fully human man named Jesus was also revealed to the world as fully divine; how people began to see the face of the incarnate God in Jesus. There are at least four quintessential ‘epiphanies’ from the gospels that illustrate this manifestation. Two Sundays ago we heard the story of the three Magi from the East who follow a star to Bethlehem looking for a newborn who they knew to be the king of the Jews. When they found Mary, Joseph, and their newborn infant lying in a manger, they bestowed on him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In this story we see how Jesus, even though a Jew, was made manifest to the Gentiles, those who were outside the Jewish tradition, and who recognized in him something extraordinary. Last week, we heard about Jesus coming to the Jordan River to be baptized by his cousin John. As he emerges out of the water the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove and we hear a voice from heaven proclaim and manifest his identity, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” At the end of the season we will hear the story of the transfiguration, where Jesus is observed by Peter, James, and John talking to Moses and Elijah and is transfigured before their eyes. Again we hear a voice from heaven proclaim, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
Today we hear the other great manifestation in the series known as the “Wedding Feast at Cana,” where Jesus turns water into wine. From the section of John’s gospel following the prologue aptly named ‘The Book of Signs,’ this epiphany is probably my favorite. There seems to be to family drama happening in the midst of the celebration of this wedding. The wine runs out early in the party and the steward is faced with a potentially embarrassing situation. Jesus’ mother Mary catches wind of the situation and quickly tells Jesus, whose reaction is indifferent. “Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My time has not yet come.” Mary’s reaction is at once amusing, because we observe in her a strong matriarch who will not be dismissed by her son. But also because we can see that divine revelation is nothing new to her. By this point in Mary’s life, she has already witnessed the extraordinary power of God in relation to this son of hers. She intuits something about this situation that Jesus obviously does not and informed by her experience of God’s will in her own life, ignores Jesus reply and instructs the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them. I can almost see Jesus’ eyes roll as this 30-year-old man has no choice but to fulfill his mother’s wishes. It is easy to imagine a child reacting this way, but how many of us in our adulthood have experienced this same complicated family dynamic?
Jesus instructs the servants to fill the stone water jars that were used for washing to the brim with water and then to draw some out and take it to the steward. The steward, who had been out of ear shot of this exchange between Jesus and Mary, tasted the water that had been made wine and was at once concerned that the bridegroom had committed a faux pas and brought it to his attention: “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” The water that was to be used in the ritual washing of feet had become a wine, finer than what the bridegroom could have afforded on his own. Little did the steward know that a greater faux pas that would have brought shame to the bridegroom had been avoided while Jesus’ disciples had witnessed an epiphanic event that manifested Jesus’ divine identity and they at once believed in him.
If there is anything that our technological age has shown us, it is that we all desire relationship. However the innovation of social media that at once promised to bring us into relationships with ease, has left us jaded in a desert of further isolation. We seek something real and palpable in the here and now, yet have turned to a virtual universe that seems to have kept authentic relationship both elusive and enigmatic. This is true not only in our relationships with each other, but also in our relationship with God. The reason we revisit these great stories each year and why the season of Epiphany is so important to the life of the church is because they tap into our own desire to know and be in relationship with God and how he is manifest in our lives in the here and now. Our founder Richard Meux Benson poetically articulated this when he said: “If we are to have Jesus our friend, we must know Him to be continually near. The companionship of Jesus! It is a strange how many there are who look forward to being with Him in another world, but never think of living fellowship with him here.” God does not relate to us through FaceBook and Instagram, but rather, seeks something real and tangible with us in the here and now. What are the signs that Jesus is manifest in our lives?
Well first I would say Jesus is made manifest in community; in the lives of our neighbors both known and unknown to us. If you look to your right and you left in this chapel, you will see another beautiful person created in the image and likeness of God. Perhaps you know them well and see them here each Sunday, but you may be experiencing this person for the first time. In a few moments when we pass the peace to each other, make sure you look into their eyes as you shake their hand or embrace them. When you look into the eyes of another human being, you are seeing one tidbit of the divine image being reflected back at you. When we are all together, united in prayer and praise to God, we have a fuller vision of Jesus manifestation in our lives; we have an epiphany. In Matthew’s gospel we hear Jesus say, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. I think this is true not only when things are ‘nice and neat’ between us, but also when we do not see eye to eye. Even though we love each other, sometimes we can be at odds and need to reach out and speak the truth in love. When Mary was dismissed by her son, she did not run away and isolate herself from the relationship. She stood firm and in her telling the servants to do what Jesus said, seem to insinuate to him, “If not now son, then when? Do not miss this opportunity.”
Second, I would say Jesus is made known to us in the sacraments of the church, but most especially in communion. The Eucharistic overtones of our gospel lesson this morning are subtle and could be missed, but I think that it is important to note that Jesus is made manifest at a wedding feast which suggests the festive sharing of food and wine in the spirit of thanksgiving for the union of a groom and his bride. When Jesus changes ordinary water into the finest of wines there is a suggestion here of the Eucharistic feast that we will partake in shortly. Only now, the great epiphany is that Jesus becomes fully present to us in the consecrated bread and wine that is offered at the altar. We will hear the presider pray that the Holy Spirit descend upon us, and upon the gifts of bread and wine, sanctifying them and showing them to be the bread of life and the cup of salvation, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Often we hear the greater church referred to as the bride of Christ and it is in partaking of Jesus present to us in bread and wine that this love is consummated and we experience him manifest not only among us, but also ‘in’ us. And the more we participate in this act of love, the more we are transformed into his likeness, another sort of epiphany, making Jesus manifest in the world. Fr. Benson once wrote: “As each touch of the artist adds some fresh feature to the painting, so each communion is a touch of Christ which should develop some fresh feature of his own perfect likeness within us.”
As we leave this place today, having seen Jesus made manifest in our lives through our communion with him and our neighbors, let us bring help make Jesus manifest in the world, participating in acts of love, mercy, healing, reconciliation, and proclaiming desire for relationship, not in virtual reality, not in another life, but in there here and now, through the senses of touch and taste. It is this face to face relationship that the world is so desperately in need. “So, led from strength to strength, grant us, O Lord, to see the marriage supper of the Lord, the great epiphany.” Amen.
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Luke 9:28-36. [37-43a]
Instructions on the Religious Life, pp. 97-98
Eucharistic Prayer D, Book of Common Prayer 1979
The Religious Vocation: Of Communion, Ch. XII, pp. 160-161
Beadon, Hyde Wyndham, Hymnal 1982, #138
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