Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Three Epiphanies

The Triduum is super cool because it's one "moment" over three days. Does that make Epiphany super cool too, because it is one manifestation spread out over three weeks...and maybe thirty years? This may sound crazy, but both the East and the West have very ancient traditions of seeing the coming of the Magi, the Baptism, and the Wedding at Cana all as moments within "the moment" of Epiphany.

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

Three Epiphanies

 Today's Gospel is the wedding feast at Cana and we're told about this first miracle, at Cana: that in this moment Jesus "revealed himself—revealed his glory to his apostles.".

And that's all great except for there's kind of the fact that he "reveals his glory for the first time" like a half dozen times. He's constantly "revealing his glory for the first time." This is a tricky question that the early Church tried to deal with, "When does God reveal, or manifest—that's just the Latin word for it—when does he manifest his glory in the flesh, in Jesus, for the first time?" 

It's a 2,000 year debate, most of which was done the first five hundred years of the Church, but it really is this debate about the month of January: When does God reveal himself? Is it at his birth, December 25th, as little baby? Is it later on, at the Epiphany when the Magi come? Is that the revelation—as we call it, the Epiphany—the "showing of himself"? But then at the baptism, Jesus is shown—sky opens, dove down, voice loud, right? Definitely revealing who he is there. And then we're told by John that he reveals himself at Cana, that that's the moment. In other words: "Everybody agrees that Christmas ended last week with the baptism of the Lord, but maybe Epiphany didn't end yet. Maybe that's actually still going on.

So open up your missals to page 89. That's why you've been keeping them open there. I'm sorry, it's Song 89. My bad. Go to Song 89 in your little missalette. This is a song that in most Masses, we sing it either at Epiphany or at the baptism or maybe both. But it's also fitting to use it here on this day.

So I want you to notice first of all, this hymn will literally use the word "manifest" seven different times. It's clearly a big theme here, and the song captures the tension and the debate about when is Jesus really made manifest? Again, you can see it as early as the Feast of the Magi. Look at that first verse; come to the second line of the first verse: "Manifested by the star/ to the sages from afar/ branch of Royal David's stem/ in thy birth at Bethlehem." Okay, so that's clearly the Magi, the Wise Men, coming on January 6.

But then look at the second verse, the very beginning: "Manifest at Jordan's stream/ prophet, priest, and king supreme"—that was the homily last week on prophet, priest, and king—but then look at the second part of the second verse: "And at Cana, wedding guest/ in thy Godhead manifest/ manifest in power divine/ changing water into wine." So it's pulling that one event in too.

And then the third verse kind of implies that there's always this manifestation going on, but now it involves us: "Grant us grace to see thee, Lord/ mirrored in thy holy word/ May we imitate thee now/ and be pure as pure art thou/ That we like to thee may be/ at thy great Epiphany,"—implying that all of this is a "great Epiphany". Kind like how you have the Greater Omaha area, well this is the "greater epiphany area". Okay, now you can close your books. So in some sense, Epiphany isn't just January 6th or the closest Sunday. It really is something much bigger.

So I checked out the Catholic Encyclopedia on "Epiphany" and let me tell you, that is a deep dive with a lot of stuff, and don't go there unless you're really got some time on your hands. But in there are talks about Epiphany with all sorts of different names. It calls it "epiphany" which literally means "the showing upon", like "epidermis", like the top layer—the "upon" layer, so "a showing upon the people". "Theophany" which is "showing God" to the world. "Manifestation." "Apparition." "Illumination." "Illustration." It also calls it "a day of light" which works for all three, right? There's the Magi following the light of the star, also the light of Jesus' glory is shown at the river with John, and then you now have these enlightened apostles who know what's going on with Jesus. It also used the word "Declaration" which is weird because that doesn't fit super well with the Magi. Like, the baby Jesus can't talk. At the baptism there's a declaration of God the Father, and at Cana it's kind of an unspoken declaration like Jesus shows himself but he doesn't say anything.

Again these were debates especially the 300s and the 400s: "What is connected with what?" There was certainly a connection of Nativity and Epiphany all along. But then there is kind of a sense that you've got the Nativity, where he's born; the Epiphany is something later. Nativity is he's born here; Epiphany is he is revealed here. But which revelation? Is it when a couple of wise men sneak in and then scurry home without talking to Herod? It is when a handful of people see him at the Jordan thirty years later? Is it when the locals see what's going on it Cana? You know, he's only a couple miles from Nazareth. Mary's there, and the people who grew up with him, you know, now they know something about him. We don't really know.

What is interesting is we've never had a feast day of the wedding feast at Cana. Unlike the feast of the three kings and the feast of the baptism, we didn't have a separate feast, but there's always a sense that these three were connected. And in fact at Vespers, in the prayer of the church, for Epiphany it says this: "We keep our holy day adorned with three miracles: today a star led the magic to the crib; today wine was made water at the marriage; today in the Jordan Christ will be baptized by John and save us." But that's saying one day: But they are spread over 30 years. So see in some way that's all still "one day".

It's a constant theme in both the East and the West that these are connected. Sometimes you pull them more closely together: this all is the manifestation of God. And sometimes we see them as very distinct feasts. But there's both there. And the key is this: God is revealing himself in Jesus in his humanity whether as a little baby to the Magi or thirty odd years later in public. God has made himself known in the flesh. God has made himself known to the people. God is going to make himself known to the greater world. So these three moments, together, make this perfect transition, as we leave the world of Advent and Christmas and transition into his public ministry at Ordinary Time.

And as the song pointed out, it's not enough for us to say, "Oh there he is; he's manifest." We're also saying. "Let me be a part of that." We see that as he is light, let me also be light. Let me give a revelation of God's mercy in the world. As he comes into the world, let me go out into the world—not as God to save it; we can't do that—that but as a disciple to proclaim it. That's our job. If we've seen the revelation, if we've become aware of God made flesh, then it's our job to go out and proclaim it. And that's part of all three slices of Epiphany.

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