Saturday, February 14, 2015

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same, or, Leaving Epiphany and Lent to Come

I'm being a total geek right now... I'm looking back on the Revised Common Lectionary readings for this past Sunday while also preparing for tomorrow. Epiphany has had a fascinating theme this year, although I'm not sure whether it's been obvious (I'll admit that my geeky perspective may put me in a different place than everyone else).

The theme has been change. Jesus is changing everything around during the season after Epiphany this year. And Lord knows that if you change a couple things around on church people, everyone gets grumpy. But nonetheless, Jesus does it. And he, himself, is changed as well; the reading for this coming Sunday is the Transfiguration of Jesus.

This is a picture of an icon of the Transfiguration that I keep by my desk.
It was written by one Fr. Giuliani.

It's really fascinating for me, since we read about Jesus' Transfiguration every year (Matthew in year A, Mark in year B, and Luke in year C) on the Last Sunday after Epiphany, just before we go into Lent on Ash Wednesday. And my fascination grows deeper when I realize that Ash Wednesday keeps this theme of change, except that it could be said more accurately as repentanceRepentance comes from the Latin word that means "to turn," so we are still talking about a change here.

If you'll humor me, I'd like you to come with me, just for a little while, as I go down this rabbit hole of geekiness...

The RCL for 5th Sunday after the Epiphany
Lesson from the Hebrew Bible - my favorite verse, Isaiah 40:31 is in here... but the upshot of this passage is concerning the reward that someone gets for trusting in the LORD. It begins, crying out "Have you not known? Have you not heard?" and it goes on to describe the good news for those who trust in God, while also describing the torments that await those who do not.
The New Testament Epistle - is from 1 Corinthians and it gives Paul's discussion of how Christ resets all the rules... the only reason that we, as Christians, need to submit to rules is for the sake of interacting with (and saving) the people who still adhere to them... God does not require that of us.
The Gospel - deals with the ways in which Christ frees people from their bondages... Peter's mother-in-law from a fever, others from the demons that possess them
I was also interested in the collect for this Sunday because it provides a nice lens for this whole thing....  "Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life."

The RCL for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany
The Lesson from the Hebrew Bible is Elijah's assumption into heaven on the fiery chariot of the LORD... I think it has to do with Elisha's faithfulness and embodiment of the change that comes over a person when they encounter God.
The New Testament Epistle deals with the Gospel "being veiled to those who are perishing." So it's problematic, if you just think that people are predestined for salvation. But if it's a matter of looking at the encounter with God, I think it's much more moving.
The Gospel is the Transfiguration story from Mark... we've been building up to this in the Gospels from the season after the Epiphany. Once again, it's about the way that people are changed after an encounter with God. But this one is also links Jesus with the prophet Elijah... and Elijah is in turn linked with Moses, both of whom were present at the Transfiguration.

The RCL for Ash Wednesday
It's all about repentance. Sins have been done, but if you let those sins keep you from God, you will surely die. Turn away from your ways, persevere in God's ways, and you will come into the Kingdom of God. Specifically, there is a choice of Hebrew Bible lessons, either from the prophet Joel or the prophet Isaiah, but either of them include instructions to announce a fast in Zion or the house of Jacob, and to announce it with trumpets and much hoopla. Paul's Epistle is from 2 Corinthians and includes the line "Now is the acceptable time, now is the hour of our salvation." In the Gospel, Jesus warns his disciples not to be like the hypocrites, so the instruction is to be humble in order to receive the Kingdom... the hypocrites have received their reward.

All of this screams repentance and a returning to the LORD... there are verses that I know can be perceived as threats, but as I read them, I see a message of urgency and promise. It does seem intimidating, but then again, I think that this path of faith is intimidating. C.S. Lewis said “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” There is an intimidation and discomfort at the prospect of following these ways that don't make sense in the world. But despite all this intimidation, I think that this is what the season after Epiphany and the season of Lent are calling us to do.

It's times like these that I'm reminded that I go to church not because I want to be in a group of people who are just nice to one another. I keep this faith and act out in it because I am impelled to do so; living my life like this means that I am always being called to contemplate how I am going to serve God and serve others. And it is this way of living that makes the most sense to me.

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If you are liturgically minded, what is it that you contemplate, here at the changing of the seasons? What are you impelled to do because of faith? Please share your reflections in the comments below. Otherwise, you can join with me in conversation on Facebook or Twitter! Additionally, you can subscribe to my blog by email with the subscription bar in the navigation menu on the right-hand side of this page, and/or send me a friend request/follow me to make that social connection and participate in a deeper dialogue that way. Thanks!