Seasonal

Preparing for the Time after Epiphany (Year C)

The following seasonal introduction was first published in Sundays and Seasons 2019, Year C, copyright © 2018 Augsburg Fortress.

Lectionary

The time after Epiphany is the shorter of the two “green” seasons of the liturgical year that are noted by their location “after” a particular festival (the other is the time after Pentecost). With the joy and excitement of the Christmas season, some may view this time as a low note in the liturgical cycle, just filler until the season of Lent appears. Yet this time after Epiphany serves an important role in continuing what was introduced during the Christmas season, focusing on the means through which God is made manifest in the world in Jesus Christ. Christ continues to be made known to the world throughout the lectionary readings. Each Sunday worshipers glimpse again the totality of Christ through the readings, hymnody, embodied ritual, and fellowship. Each Sunday Christ makes himself known bodily through the bread and wine of the Lord’s supper. Christ also makes himself known in baptism through the water and word that claims new daughters and sons.

In 2019 the time after Epiphany spans two months with mostly chronological readings from Luke’s gospel. The first Sunday in this season is the Baptism of Our Lord. Early theologians emphasized two themes for this celebration. First, Christ serves as a model for Christian baptism, the sacrament that makes frequent appearance throughout the New Testament. Second, by being baptized in the Jordan, Jesus has set apart all the waters of creation as baptismal water. This early motif is picked up by many subsequent theologians, including Martin Luther in his own baptismal prayer (ELW, p. 230). The lectionary texts for Baptism of Our Lord lift up many aspects of baptismal theology. Being called by name, as Isaiah notes the Lord doing, certainly happens in Jesus’ own baptism and happens at every baptism throughout the church. This Sunday is an ideal day on which to celebrate baptisms or have the whole assembly affirm their baptisms.

The second Sunday continues the manifestation motif with the wedding at Cana, where Jesus performs his first miracle, or “sign” as John calls it. Locating this revelation at a wedding makes it both ordinary and extraordinary—ordinary in that it happens at a familiar domestic ritual, one in which most people have either participated or attended; extraordinary in that Jesus does the unexpected by reserving the good wine for last, the exact opposite of what any reasonable host would do. The second reading for this Sunday begins a series of continuous readings from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. It may benefit preachers to familiarize themselves with the joys and challenges of the Corinthian congregation since the first half of Paul’s letter alludes to various contentions among its members. Strife continues still in congregations today, so Paul’s spirit-filled words of encouragement may be the very words needed in our contemporary context.

The spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12 (begun on the second Sunday and continued on the third) affirm that even though everyone in the Christian community is called by the Holy Spirit to proclaim Jesus as Lord, each person carries out that task in different ways. This parallels nicely with our current understanding of ministry—and not one of these ministries is above another since they are all for revealing God’s glory in the world. A congregation may wish to participate in the “Recognition of Ministries in the Congregation” rite (see Occasional Services for the Assembly) on either of these Sundays.

The manifestation motif continues on the third Sunday after Epiphany, where the lectionary again picks up Luke’s telling of Jesus’ ministry with his appearance in the synagogue. Chronologically, the reading from the prophet Isaiah occurs after Jesus’ temptation and sojourn in the desert, which is the gospel for the first Sunday in Lent. Christ reveals his glory by declaring that Isaiah’s words have been fulfilled at the moment they were uttered, which parallels Genesis 1 and John 1 (the latter read on Christmas Day) with God speaking creation and salvation into existence. The first reading partnered with this gospel emphasizes the importance of reading, interpreting, and understanding the word of the Lord. Lectors and others tasked with the ministry of proclaiming scripture in worship may be recognized on this Sunday.

The gospel for the fourth Sunday continues the scene of Jesus in the synagogue. The first reading describes Jeremiah’s own call to prophetic ministry, one he thought was not possible, but God promises to accompany him because God has always known him. The birth and womb language may cause discomfort in a congregation in which miscarriages or infant death has occurred, so preachers and worship planners should take care to provide pastoral care opportunities for those individuals and families. Resources from ELW Pastoral Care may be appropriate.

The miracle of the abundance of fish is the gospel for the fifth Sunday, another miracle that reveals God’s glory. With anxiety and doubt, Peter and his colleagues leave their now-lucrative occupation to follow Jesus. This parallels Isaiah’s doubts over proclaiming the word of the Lord in the first reading. In front of him appears a great vision of angels proclaiming what would be brought into the Christian liturgy as the “Holy, holy, holy” at communion. God prepares Isaiah to go out and prophesy, just as Christ prepares his disciples to proclaim the gospel. The natural anxiety over this change in identity, this calling from outside oneself, may also be present among those preparing for ministry. The assembly may wish to offer prayers for those who are preparing for rostered ministry.

The sixth Sunday’s gospel—the beatitudes—is one of the most popular in the New Testament, although many people are more likely to quote Matthew’s version than Luke’s. In Luke, Jesus is concrete in the blessings and woes—these are not primarily spiritual concerns but socioeconomic realities that have direct consequences for the body of Christ. Those who are blessed put their trust in the Lord, as Jeremiah proclaims. Paul locates such trust in Christ’s resurrection, in which the Christian community is to place its hope.

These exact themes are continued in the seventh Sunday, in which Jesus continues his Sermon on the Plain. The social transformation that is central to Christ’s manifestation is brought home in his exhortation to do the opposite of common sense, to do that which is the most difficult for human beings. Forgiving those who have done wrong to us, the hard task proclaimed in the Lord’s Prayer, is modeled each Sunday when both strangers and friends embrace during the peace that precedes the communion liturgy.

The season of manifestations concludes with the Transfiguration of Our Lord. The claim that began this season (“You are my Son, the Beloved” at Jesus’ baptism) comes full circle and is made a public proclamation (“This is my Son, my Chosen” on the mountaintop). Jesus, Moses, and Elijah speak about Jesus’ departure (“exodus” in Greek) into Jerusalem, making this festival a bridge into the next large unit of the liturgical year: Lent, the Three Days, and Easter. The first and second readings nicely complement and give context to the mountaintop experience.

These various manifestations, beginning with the nativity and the visit of the magi, continuing through the various miracles and proclamations, and concluding with the transfiguration, demonstrate that God being revealed to the world brings about social disruption and transformation. The eternal Word, proclaimed on Christmas Day through John 1, is revealed through these earthly events and continues to be revealed today through word and sacrament, service and consolation.

Visual Environment

Unlike some other seasons of the liturgical year, the time after Epiphany does not automatically suggest a specific visual environment. If the congregation has added something special for the Epiphany of Our Lord (like a lighted star), that could continue throughout the season to connect the various manifestations that include the star leading the magi to the holy family.

The beginning (baptism) and end (transfiguration) of the season do offer opportunities for changes in the visual environment. For example, if your baptismal font is not normally in a prominent location, this might be a wise time to discuss moving the font to a central place, where it can be visible (and filled with water) throughout the year. Other symbols of baptism can be included, such as shells, jars of oil, blue fabric representing flowing water, or other things that call to mind baptism for the community. Transfiguration’s images of mountaintops and light may provide worship planners and artists ideas of how to represent the day in the worship space. If the congregation’s practice is to bury the alleluia at the end of the liturgy, a visual representation of the alleluia should be present in the worship space for the entire season (if not for the entire liturgical year, except Lent). The ritual can lose meaning if the visual alleluia only shows up on the day that it is supposed to disappear.

Music

If not already sung on Epiphany of Our Lord, Christopher Wordsworth’s “Songs of thankfulness and praise” (ELW 310) is a fitting hymn to begin this season. With its repeating “manifest” throughout the stanzas, it narrates the various ways God is revealed throughout the season. The final refrain “God in flesh made manifest” points worshipers back to Christmas and forward to the rest of the liturgical year. The rest of the hymns in the Time after Epiphany section of Evangelical Lutheran Worship are appropriate to the season, with the final four in that section tied specifically to Transfiguration. “Alleluia, song of gladness” (ELW 318) is often associated with burying the alleluia at the end of the Transfiguration liturgy and thus could serve as the sending song.

Worship planners may wish to experiment with the Service Music section (#151–238) to construct an informed-eclectic musical liturgy for the season. The various musical styles demonstrate how God has been revealed to Christians of diverse times and places. For congregations desiring to use hymns instead of liturgical music, the Chorale Service of Holy Communion in Occasional Services for the Assembly provides a model (pp. 50–51).

Lesser Festivals

Three lesser festivals occur during the time after Epiphany. The Confession of Peter (January 18) and Conversion of Paul (January 25), both described in more detail on pages 81 and 84, are the bookends for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. With resources provided in the seasonal rites section (p. 75) and on the ELCA’s and ELCIC’s websites, congregations can gather with other Christians in prayer, and with full communion partners in word and sacrament. The Presentation of Our Lord (February 2) connects with the seasonal themes of light and manifestation. Simeon’s words serve as a transition between Christmas and Good Friday, when Mary’s joy will turn to sorrow at Jesus’ great sacrifice. The procession and blessing of candles (the feast is often called Candlemas) also serve as a hinge between Christmas and the Easter Vigil’s paschal candle. Occurring on a Saturday in 2019, members of the congregation could be invited to assist the altar guild in placing new candles at the altar and ambo, or work together to make candles that will be used in the upcoming year.

Seasonal Checklist

  •  If Baptism of Our Lord (January 13) will be observed as a baptismal festival, publicize the festival for the congregation and arrange for baptismal preparation with parents, sponsors, and candidates.
  •  Order a sufficient annual quantity of Welcome, Child of God (a board book for infants and toddlers) and Living the Promises of Baptism: 101 Ideas for Parents (both Augsburg Fortress) and present them as baptismal gifts from the congregation to children and parents. Enrolling families with babies and toddlers in the monthly Frolic Enewsletter is one way congregations may choose to provide ongoing support to families of the newly baptized (wearesparkhouse.org/kids/frolic).
  •  If a form of baptismal remembrance is used, evergreen branches for sprinkling may be desired.
  •  On the festivals of the Baptism of Our Lord and Transfiguration, consider using thanksgiving for baptism instead of confession and forgiveness during the gathering rite.
  •  Use “Glory to God” as the canticle of praise throughout the season.
  •  Use the Nicene Creed for festivals and the Apostles’ Creed for the green Sundays.
  •  Increasingly, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed as a day of service in many locales. Plan to participate as a church in local observances or organize your own.
  •  If you are hosting a catechumenal process and have a group of inquirers, use Welcome to Baptism (ELW, pp. 232–33) prior to the beginning of Lent.
  •  If the congregation is celebrating Candlemas, collect supplies for refreshing or creating candles for the worship space.
  •  If the alleluia will be symbolically buried or bid farewell on the festival of the Transfiguration, make appropriate arrangements (for example, prepare for the burial of an alleluia banner). See the seasonal rites section (pp. 76–77) for more ideas.

From sundaysandseasons.com.

 

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