Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Christ of Epiphany: Reassuring us to stay in the game

We've had a delightful series of homilies from members of the St. Paul's congregation on Wednesdays at Evening Prayer at 5:30 pm. If you haven't come lately, you are missing a richness in thought and word. Yesterday we were treated to a homily by Ashley Faulkner, who is a Ph.D. graduate student in English at the University of Virginia. His homily is based on Mark 11:27-12:12. Here is Ashley's text:

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We know there’s a feast of the Church called “Epiphany,” that falls on January 6th, every year. We know the name of it comes from the Greek word meaning a “showing forth,” and that it refers to when the Christ-child was revealed to the Magi, the wise men from the east who followed a star. Christ shone forth, that is to say, to the nations, to the gentiles, to not just one people but to the whole world. It is a feast for rejoicing in that Incarnation. Come Lent, that star will dim a little—only to show forth most brightly at the Resurrection. But we haven’t gotten that far yet.
At the time of Epiphany, we are still, as it were, naively happy. At the coming of this child. And our naive adoration cannot be confined to one day. Childlike, we don’t know when to quit partying. And this “Epiphany” will give its name to an entire liturgical season. We have only come to the middle of it now, and it’s the 16th of February. That’s ok.
At other times, in seasons of penitence, we will remember the suffering of Our Savior—the Man of Sorrows. We will take solace that He suffered as we have suffered, and we will know that he understands our burdens. And we will be called to repentance when we think that Christ suffered for us.
Save all that, though, for Lent. This is not the time.
In this season, the Christ we see is the radiant son. The Christ we see is not just solacing, he’s encouraging. He gloriously reassures us to stay in the game. He reminds us we’re on the winning side. And in our readings throughout Epiphany, we the Church dwell on those special occasions when Christ shows himself forth in glory. The Transfiguration. The wedding at Cana—where Christ presumably danced. The miraculous baptism in the Jordan, when the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, and the voice of God was heard.
The voice of God spoke, at any rate. As we see in Mark 11, some didn’t want to hear it. Some couldn’t be honest about what they’d heard—couldn’t be honest even with themselves.
Today’s gospel is about that willingness to acknowledge God, and it’s especially suited to the season of Epiphany. We as Christians are all familiar—all too familiar—with those times when we’re looking for God. When we’re calling on God. When Christ seems to be asleep, and our boat is storm-tossed. But what about those times when God shines forth in glory? When Christ is walking beside us? Will we know Him? Will we acknowledge Him? Will we believe Him and believe in Him?
We make much of the importance of having faith, even when God seems far away. Will we walk with Him when he stands beside us? That is the question of Epiphany. We wait to hear the voice of God, yes. But do we argue with him as soon as he begins speaking?
St. Augustine, writing on this gospel of Mark 11 says that those who argue with God have “shut themselves up against him.” Knock, he says, and God’s truth will be opened unto you. But when we argue with God, we barricade the door. If you’re at all like me, you often know better than God. Let’s try to be less knowing.
The Risen Christ is walking with us, as with those two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. Christ is with us, will we acknowledge Him? Even the disciples on the road beside Him did not recognize their Lord. Until.
Until he took bread, and blessing it, broke it and gave it to them. And they did eat and understand.
One way Christ is with us—showing Himself forth in Epiphany—is in our fellow Christians. They have taken the bread. They understand. They have entered into the body of Christ, and they walk beside us. We can at least listen to them, yes?
Let’s listen more, and talk less. (Even I am going to stop talking—in a moment—just to set an example.)
I find if I can’t be bothered to listen to God—to meditate and pray—I can at least practice listening to other people. And God—it turns out God’s rather resourceful—God finds ways to speak to me through those people. Christ is showing himself forth in those humble mangers every day.
But before I stop talking and go back to listening, I’d like to leave you with a poem, if I may. It’s by one of my favorite poets, Alice Meynell. It is called, “The Unknown God.”

ONE of the crowd went up,
And knelt before the Paten and the Cup,
Received the Lord, returned in peace, and prayed
Close to my side; then in my heart I said:

‘O Christ, in this man’s life—
This stranger who is Thine—in all his strife,
All his felicity, his good and ill,
In the assaulted stronghold of his will,

‘I do confess Thee here,
Alive within this life; I know Thee near
Within this lonely conscience, closed away
Within this brother’s solitary day.

‘Christ in his unknown heart,
His intellect unknown—this love, this art,
This battle and this peace, this destiny
That I shall never know, look upon me!

From that secret place
And from that separate dwelling, give me grace.
Art by Kathrin Burleson

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