Seasonal

Preparing for the Time after Epiphany (Year C)

The following seasonal introduction was first published in Sundays and Seasons 2022, Year C, copyright © 2021 Augsburg Fortress.

Preaching

Epiphany commemorates the arrival of the magi who came from afar to pay homage to the Christ child. Yet, the Christ child is born to us every day and our Epiphany is continuous. The time after Epiphany is a perfect opportunity to receive new insights about ourselves and the God we serve.

Children’s sermons. Describe promises and what it means to keep or break a promise. Then explain what New Year’s resolutions are. Resolutions are popular but rarely last. Contrast these temporary resolutions with God’s promises. God keeps promises. God’s promises are “pure, like silver” (Ps. 12:6). Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, each week embrace Epiphany promises. God’s greatest promise is fulfilled in Jesus. Highlight promises from the weekly lectionary texts. For example, on the third Sunday after Epiphany we hear the promise, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). Share these treasures with the children and the rest of the assembly.

Motif of light versus dark. The baptismal waters call us to work for justice. Recently, we have seen a growing urgency to dismantle white supremacy and institutionalized racism. Part of this holy work includes examining the motif of light versus dark so often used throughout the liturgical year but especially during Advent through the time after Epiphany. We know that racism exists in the secular world. Since the church is a microcosm of society, bias and injustice are also present in our congregations. White and light are often imaged as divine, holy, and beautiful. Black and darkness usually represent evil, danger, and ugliness. In a perfect world, this symbolism would be harmless. However, we also refer to certain groups of people as Black or white, which adds a racial undertone to this symbolism. Fortunately, we can illustrate divine imagery and theological concepts without using language that reinforces white supremacy. Language matters. Imagery matters. Simply broadening our vocabulary can free us from this trope. When the writer of John’s gospel declares, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it,” the author is telling us generosity, love, and justice are indeed greater than hate, more powerful than fear, and mightier than death. Let’s choose more precise language.

Caution: Problematic verses ahead. When engaging lectionary texts, be aware of scriptures that carry overtones of white supremacy. On Baptism of Our Lord we hear, “I am the Lord your God. . . . I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, . . . I give people . . . in exchange for your life” (Isa. 43:3-4). This passage sends a blatant message that certain lives matter more than others.

Also be mindful of “Master” references for Jesus or God. Given the horrendous history of the enslavement of African people, “Master” is a weighted term. We encounter such language on the fifth Sunday after Epiphany (Luke 5:5) and Transfiguration (Luke 9:33). It may be helpful to employ other terms that are used to reference Jesus, like Teacher, Rabbi, or Messiah. This practice may prove helpful throughout the liturgical year. Consider embracing less injurious words when “master/slave” language appears any time in the church year, whether “master” refers to our Savior or to anyone else. We will not dismantle the sweeping effects of white supremacy by accident. Therefore, intentionality is vital as we journey toward the Beloved Community.

Intercessory Prayer

The Sundays after Epiphany give us time to unpack the full meaning of the gift we have received at Christmas. What begins in mystery starts to be revealed in signs and wonders until the light reaches every human being. The light does not overwhelm or crush the darkness; it helps us perceive what we could not see before. It pulls back the veil of our fear and the limits of our understanding such that we perceive the living God in our midst, and ourselves as God’s children. We are “born again,” baptized into Jesus Christ, and called like those first disciples to follow in the way of the cross.

You have kept the good wine until now. It may be tempting to take a deep sigh of relief after a marathon of services during Advent and Christmas, but the time after Epiphany need not signify a “return to normal,” even if these are days of “ordinary time.” While most people will have put away their decorations by this point, these Sundays actually build on the momentum of Christmas: the living God is in our midst!

What does this new reality mean for our lives, the world, and those in need—all the things we pray for each Sunday? The stories we hear during this time are anything but normal. Jesus inaugurates his public ministry using the revolutionary language of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). How do we unite our prayer with Jesus’ own stated mission? This would be a good time to lift up ministries and organizations working for racial and economic justice, police and prison reform, and the alleviation of debt. Name specific community partners, and bless God for their work. Craft intercessions around the countercultural beatitudes, which are also proclaimed during this season.

You save humans and animals alike. Even with the addition of the petition for creation in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, we still rarely pray by name for the other living creatures with whom we share this earth. As we contemplate how the love of God radiates and reflects in all that God has made as we sing Psalm 36 (Epiphany 2), we might give special place to animals and other living beings in our prayer: for their protection and safe treatment, for an end to abusive farming and other practices, for a lessened reliance on animals as food, for service animals, and for people who help abandoned animals find homes.

In the temple all are crying “Glory.” Scripture itself often gives us the words for prayer. The reading from Nehemiah on the third Sunday after Epiphany paints a picture of an assembly at prayer: standing at attention, lifting up their hands, bowing their faces to the ground, crying out “Amen, Amen.” If your assembly typically adopts a single posture for prayer (standing or kneeling), experiment with a different posture each Sunday. Feel what it’s like to lift your hands into the air or bow your face toward the ground or shout “Amen!” Invite someone from another tradition to teach about how their community prays. Remind people that exclamations of praise are not reserved only for the intercessions but are welcome anytime the Spirit moves.

Assembly Song

This year the time after Epiphany is a full eight Sundays. This longer season would be the perfect time to explore and learn a new setting of the liturgy. Start small and well-practiced on Baptism of Our Lord, and use soloists and the choir to teach the liturgy in small pieces. Create simple preludes by using instrumentalists or even just the keyboard playing the new music. If learning an entire new setting is not an option, how about exploring a new setting of the “Glory to God”? For example, you could teach this liturgical song in both English and Spanish, from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Setting 7) or All Creation Sings (Setting 11/Liturgia 11). Either Gloria could be accompanied with percussion instruments. Perhaps older children or youth could learn percussion parts and play them from the midst of the assembly.

This season of revelation and insight is an ideal time to assemble an eclectic, musically varied setting of the liturgy using Evangelical Lutheran Worship’s service music section and/or its various settings of Holy Communion. (Hint: sundays andseasons.com makes it easy to select liturgical music from multiple settings—and worship books—via the Planner, and to save what you’ve assembled as a template.) Set your assembly up for success by using some familiar selections as well as new ones. Teach or review a newer piece of liturgical music each week, and then revisit the whole setting in the more leisurely summer months.

A hymn based on Isaiah 60 and Matthew 2 from Music Sourcebook vol. 2: All Saints through Transfiguration (Augsburg Fortress, 2013), “Rise up! Shine!” (S555a), could be taught by a soloist and then used during the season as the offering song or as the table is set. A choir or quartet could sing the harmony or the unison melody with the gospel setting (S555b). On Baptism of Our Lord consider using a simple refrain that can be taught and sung by heart as the assembly is sprinkled with water in thanksgiving for baptism. Many examples of baptism-themed short songs and refrains can be found in the service music section of Evangelical Lutheran Worship (#209–214), in All Creation Sings (#955–957, 959), and in Music Sourcebook vol. 2 (S562–S564).

Pay attention to the prayer of the day for Epiphany 7 based on the words of Francis of Assisi. Many musical settings of this prayer exist that could be used as anthems or assembly song. Worship & Praise includes one version, “Make me a channel of your peace” (#95); Bret Hesla’s collection Justice, like a Base of Stone includes another, “Make me an instrument of your peace” (#18); and Ray Makeever’s collection Dancing at the Harvest, yet another, “Instruments of Your Peace” (#81).

Do not overlook the burying of the alleluia on Transfiguration and the power music can bring to that ritual action. Depending on your tradition, you might consider using the musical setting in Music Sourcebook vol. 2 (S571) as you have the children and the rest of the assembly process out to bury the alleluia. This simple, rhythmic setting could be sung by a solo voice, a choir, or the assembly. Another option is “Heleluyan” (ELW 171), which can be sung by heart, in a round, and without instruments. You might consider resurrecting the alleluia on Easter with the same sung alleluias used at its burial.

Worship Space

Celebrating the Incarnation doesn’t end with the feast of the Epiphany. In the time after Epiphany, we continue to reflect on the presence of Jesus becoming manifest among us. Jesus will journey to join John in the waters of the Jordan, beginning his public ministry with baptism. In the weeks flowing forth from those waters, Jesus brings abundant signs of God’s love: wine in great jugs, fish that tear the nets, and grace so radical it is scandalous. Instead of merely “packing up Christmas,” approach your worship space as a place to keep announcing and discovering what the incarnation of God means for us.

The Sunday following Epiphany is Baptism of Our Lord. If you have baptisms at this time, how can you help celebrate these new Christians tangibly in your space? Some congregations use colorful banners featuring the names of the newly baptized. Maybe new, fresh plants could be added to the worship space to evoke the beginning of new growth in God’s love. You could send the plants home with the newly baptized and their families at the beginning of Lent.

Following Baptism of Our Lord, seven more Sundays, including Transfiguration, provide ample time to explore themes of baptismal living and the many ways God becomes manifest in our daily, shared lives. Read the list of baptismal affirmations made by the assembly on page 237 of Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Notice that, rearranged, and with an alleluia added in the middle, the first letters of these phrases can spell out SPLASH:

S—Serve all people, following the example of Jesus

P—Proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed

L—Live among God’s faithful people

A—Alleluia!

S—Strive for justice and peace in all the earth

H—Hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper

Consider using one Sunday for each affirmation. Select a wall or other prominent spot to display the letters, large and colorful. Then invite worshipers to bring images of the affirmation in action. By the end of the time after Epiphany, you will have gathered a wide and diverse collection of examples of how we “splash,” or dwell deeply, in God as we live out our faith in the world.

Transfiguration Sunday concludes the Incarnation cycle, making a bridge into the season of Lent. Some assemblies bid farewell to the alleluia on this day. Involve many hands in the task of changing the worship space, and use the process to teach about caring for the ritual life of the church. Invite anyone who will be engaging in a catechumenal process during Lent to join in the work, discovering all that happens “behind the scenes” to make worship happen. If you plan to bury the alleluia, here are a few ways to do it:

  • Does your church have a parish garden? Write“ALLELUIA” in flour on the surface of the soil, then use your hands or small shovels to turn the earth and literally bury the word in the ground.
  • Paint or stitch “ALLELUIA” onto fabric. Set out fabric pens, sequins, feathers, and other adornments for children to use to decorate the word. When it is dry, carefully fold it up and let the children decide where to hide the banner. Let one or two adults in on the secret so you know where to find it at Easter!

Seasonal Checklist

  • If Baptism of Our Lord (January 9) will be observed as a baptismal festival, publicize the festival and arrange for baptismal preparation with parents, sponsors, and candidates.
  • Order a sufficient annual quantity of Come to the Water, Little One: My Holy Baptism Board Book and Welcome, Child of God (both board books for infants and toddlers) and Living the Promises of Baptism: 101 Ideas for Parents (all Augsburg Fortress), and present them as baptismal gifts from the congregation to children and caregivers.
  • If a form of baptismal remembrance is used, evergreen branches for sprinkling may be desired.
  • On the festivals of Baptism of Our Lord and Transfiguration, consider using thanksgiving for baptism instead of confession and forgiveness during the gathering rite.
  • 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 to organize your own.
  • If you are hosting a catechumenal process and have a group of inquirers, use Welcome to Baptism (ELW, pp. 232–233) prior to the beginning of Lent.
  • If the alleluia will be symbolically buried or bid farewell on the festival of the Transfiguration, make appropriate arrangements.

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From sundaysandseasons.com.

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