Epiphany remembered again
“Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Isaiah 60:1
Sunday we are celebrating the Feast Day of Epiphany, the manifestation of the light of Christ to the Gentiles. That’s most of us. I first met Epiphany when I was eleven or maybe twelve years old. A boyfriend and his parents took me to visit her on an icy winter night on January 6th in the mid 1950’s. I sat in the candlelight in the small Episcopal Church in my hometown in tidewater Virginia and heard her ancient liturgy and her haunting mystic melodies. As we walked out of the small-town white wooden church into the bitter cold January night carrying our small candles, the first winter’s snow also came down to celebrate her. Epiphany led me to an experience I wanted to have again and again.
Epiphany revealed to me a living presence, a God, greater than myself that was also greater than time, eminent and transcendent.
But like many epiphanies, I soon became caught up in growing up and going to school and succeeding in life and let her slip away and did not again seek her out for many years until I was a junior in medical school. I was studying and working at a frantic pace. My marriage had recently failed. I felt alone, exhausted, and damaged. I was open to Epiphany’s call. I connected to the dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis, William Dimmick, and he led me by the hand back to her feast day this time in St. Mary’s Cathedral.
On that Sunday closest to January 6th the darkened stone church was packed with young people. Now I heard haunting ancient as well as contemporary music. The priest of the Greek Orthodox Church read the gospel in Greek. At this service three ornately adorned wise men sang as they slowly and majestically processed down the long center aisle of the nave and laid their gifts on the memorial altar. The service ended as we sang hymns and the cathedral came ablaze with light as our candles were lighted. Like the wise men, we continued to sing as we processed now in the opposite direction, recessing away from the altar and out into the dark night taking our new light out into the world beyond the cathedral.
That January 6th I stayed with Epiphany and she has been my companion for fifty years. Each year we continue to celebrate her gifts twelve days after the feast day of Christmas. She is a reminder of God’s coming, God’s presence to the entire world, not just to a chosen few. We are strengthened by worshiping in new and old ways, the manifestation of the living, eminent, incarnate God, and as we also are strengthened and enlightened by her, we are called to take her light, that love, that enlightenment out, out into a world that is often cold and exhausted, and dark and damaged and lonely.
Epiphany yearly also shows us one more revelation. Out in the world, we see her path in the dark night more clearly because of her great light from so many more candles than our own light.
May this new year be full of many more epiphanies for all of us and those we love.