Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
February 13, 2011
I must admit, I’m a liturgics and Prayer Book junkie! I make no apologies for this, and if it’s some obscure little point of fact, the better.
There’s an interesting little caveat in the rubrics of the Prayer Book that I want to share with you as it pertains to our Church Kalendar and the appointed readings during the year. If you spend any time with the Propers as found in the Book of Common Prayer, you may notice that the structure is quite ordered and logical in its sequence. This is no accident, and it’s one reason that I for one find it to be a more superior Lectionary than the three-year cycle as adopted in the 1979 book. We can save the rationale for another time and place, but the beauty of the historic lectionary is this – the Church Year is broken into two halves, the period from Advent Sunday, the beginning of the year through Whitsunday, and the second half being Trinitytide. As one person put it regarding this sequencing:
The purpose of the first part is to display to us and enable us to re-enact the life of Christ. The liturgy makes us contemplate our Lord’s birth, miracles, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. In a sense we are present with Christ’s family and disciples at the great moments of his life. We witness them and, like Mary, store them up in our hearts. (Luke 2.51)
The purpose of Trinity season is different. This period is meant to teach us how to live as disciples of Christ. We have walked with Christ, now we must learn to walk as Christ. We have witnessed the mighty acts of the Spirit of God in Christ, now we must learn how to live by that Spirit ourselves. Simply put, in the first period we review the great truths of our faith; and in the second we review how we ought to apply these truths in our daily lives.
I mentioned something about the rubrics that I want to point out. If you would turn to p. 224, you’ll see printed in italics the following words, “If in any year there be twenty-six Sundays after Trinity, the service for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany shall be used on the Twenty-fifth Sunday. If there be twenty-seven, the service for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany shall be used on the Twenty-sixth, and the service for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany on the Twenty-fifth. If there be fewer than twenty-five Sundays, the overplus shall be omitted.”
I’ll bet you didn’t have to guess that I love that word overplus, but sorry, I digress into my idiosyncrasies around the Prayer Book. I mention this only because of what I just mentioned about the Lectionary and the Kalendar. If these lessons ever need be substituted for Trinitytide, do they fit? Are they appropriate in the first half of the year when we speak of re-enacting the life of Christ, and his time on earth, as well as, when they would be read during Trinitytide as discipleship lessons? I’d say that they most certainly would. For we have in these readings a link or bridge if you will of time past, present, and future.
What am I getting at here?
If we take a look at the collect, epistle, and gospel lesson as an entity you’ll see that we have a look back at the epiphany past, the realization of how that first epiphany manifests itself in the Christian life of a disciple today, and the hopeful expectation of the epiphany yet to come.
First, we see the epiphany past or the snapshot of Jesus’ life on earth. Our collect prays that we might meditate and comprehend why our Lord became incarnate in the first place. Three reasons for are given, and they too are form an archetype of the trinity of the past, present and the future.
Jesus came first to destroy the works of the devil, Jesus past.
He came next to make us sons of God, Jesus present.
Finally, he came so that we might be made heirs of eternal life, Jesus future.
Time collapses in the person of Jesus Christ.
We then see the appropriateness of these lessons in the second half of the church year as they speak of our lives in the present as his disciples, walking as Christ in the present age. We call upon God to make us pure, as Jesus is pure. The theological name for this is sanctification. If we say that something has been sanctified it has been set apart, consecrated for a particular purpose, it is not merely secular but carries with it a divine sanction as well. As noted in the verb tenses here, there is always a striving and future component to our sanctification because this process is never complete on this side of life, but our entire journey as pilgrims is a life of purifying ourselves so that we slowly but surely begin to look like the one who is pure in His very essence.
Where these lessons continue one step further is that they invite us envision the epiphany that is yet to come and the life that awaits all who call upon the Name of the Lord. The collect concludes with those words of longing and expectation when we await our Lord’s coming again in power and great glory, not just that we might see it, but that we might be made like unto him in our redeemed form. As we recall from Genesis, God said, “let us make man in our own image.” That wonderful phrase that we sometimes hear proclaimed the imago dei – the image of God. When we are reunited to him we inherit as his children a kingdom that has a twofold nature that is beyond our human comprehension – eternal and glorious.
What makes all of this so remarkable is that all of this is not just a concept, or a notion, or a dream, but it finds its culmination in a person. As St. Paul declares Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is the one who was, and is, and is to come. What we are preparing to do in a few moments when we celebrate once again the Sacred Mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood in the present we are proclaiming the Lord’s death in the past until He come again in the future to reign for all eternity.
I find this notion of past, present, and future so captivating because it heightens within the notion of awe and wonder, and when those emotions become stimulated the only proper response is worship. The prophet Isaiah declares, “Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
We continue to be fascinated with time and its very essence because we are in time, and constrained by time. However, we are not intended to live that way forever. As the writer of Ecclesiastes declares, “God has written eternity on our hearts.” That means there will forever be within us a longing for home – a longing to be reunited to the One whose very dwelling place is eternity. C. S. Lewis helps explain this well when he speaks of our continued fascination by time and its passage. Our amazement of this phenomenon would be much like a fish who was constantly surprised by the wetness of water. That would be quite strange indeed, unless of course that fish were one day destined to live on land. What Lewis is saying here is that here on earth our very existence is encapsulated within time, but one day we will live for all eternity in the presence of the glorious majesty of Almighty God. Since God has written eternity on our hearts, blessed St. Augustine most succinctly but profoundly said, “for Thou has formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”
We come once again to a time of transition in our church from one epiphany to another. We are beginning our transition toward Lent and that time of intentional focus upon the saving work that our Lord wrought on our behalf. This is the time that we must be ever vigilant to concentrate more fully upon the epiphany of the present and strive toward that purity and holiness that was made manifest in Jesus Christ. Let us come and soothe the restlessness of our hearts by dwelling more intentionally with the one brings all existence, past, present, and future, into one glorious nature, that of the Incarnate Son of the Living God.