2018 is Year B in the Revised Common Lectionary. Year B is the year of the Gospel of Mark, interrupted and supplemented by the Gospel of John. Although the Church of England introduces its own idiosyncratic variations and so does not always follow the RCL, this is the Lectionary of the Church of England. Here are some notes on themes that arise from the four sets of readings for each month. I have missed Advent, so I’ll start with January and Epiphany.
Epiphany of the Lord January 6, 2018
Isaiah 60:1-6 Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 Ephesians 3:1-12 Matthew 2:1-12
When they saw that the star had stopped they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother and they knelt down and paid him homage.
Baptism of the Lord January 7, 2018 First Sunday after the Epiphany
Genesis 1:1-5 Psalm 29 Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11 When Jesus had been baptised he came up from the water. Suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God (and thus the army of the Lord, moving up and down the road) descending like a dove. ‘This is my Son, the beloved’. The first reading is Genesis 1 – the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. (The RCL gives us ‘a wind from God swept over the face of the waters’). The psalm is psalm 29 – ‘The Lord sits enthroned above the flood… The voice of the Lord is upon the waters’. The waters are those forces of creation that sometimes become unruly. When they surge up wildly and threaten us, a word from the Lord subdues them and they become peaceful again. The promise of the Lord is that they will never again threaten creation. Yet the unruliness of man, and hid failure to act as good lieutenant does result in creation becoming violent and chaotic.
Second Sunday after the Epiphany January 14, 2018
1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20) Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51 You will see greater things you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man
Third Sunday after the Epiphany January 21, 2018
Jonah 3:1-5, 10 Psalm 62:5-12 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 (RCL) Mark 1:14-20)
John 2.1-11 Wedding at Cana
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany January 28, 2018
Deuteronomy 18:15-20 Psalm 111 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Mark 1:21-28 In the synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. What have you to so with us, have you come to destroy us? It threw him into convulsions and crying with loud voice, came out of him… Who is this who commands even unclean spirits?
Candlemas – Presentation of the Lord in the Temple February 2, 2018
Malachi 3:1-4 Psalm 84 or Psalm 24:7-10 Hebrews 2:14-18
Luke 2:22-40 Simeon and Anna
Epiphany means ‘revelation’. The revelation of the Lord goes on through the year. It starts at Advent at the beginning of the Church year, and then when the Lord appears at his nativity, in the manger in the stable. But first Epiphany is the moment when the Wise Men come to do him homage and so reveal his royal identity to us. This child is our King. The Epiphany continues in his presentation in the temple at Candlemas (2 Feb), and again when (in Luke 2) when the twelve year old boy is taken up to the temple for Passover, and is found among the teachers of the law are gathered around while the young Jesus is sitting in the middle.
The Lord is recognised, brought to the front and lifted up with his parents, by those waiting for him in the temple. Every Christian service is a presentation of our work before the Lord and before the world. There the Lord, and everyone else, will see it for what it is. There is a presentation in the temple, and it us who are being presented. Christ presents us to his Father, and the Father receives us from him. And we also lift each other up and present one another to the Lord. This is part of the process of our sanctification, and will be its climax too.
The Revelation – epiphany – of the Lord continues every Sunday when the Gospel is read. The Lord reveals himself, instalment by instalment. From Pentecost the Lord prepares and reveals his Body through the ministry of the Apostles and on through all subsequent generations of the Church, down to us. The Epiphany continues through the ministry and increasingly through the passion of the Lord which we follow in Lent. It makes itself bright for a moment in the Transfiguration which we read in Lent and again in the summer. All these scenes appear because people cluster round the Lord, so we see the Lord at the centre and all the others, the Marys, the disciples, the sick, the teachers of the law, around him. As they look at him, they frame him for us, so we can identify him. Some of these scenes are displayed in the images in our church windows. We see the Lord at the centre in the last supper and the disciples around him. All these are epiphanies. All these people, though they did not intend to, reveal the identity of the Lord – even Judas and Herod and Pilate, even the two thieves on crosses on either side, and the guards on duty outside the tomb. When the stone is rolled back, and Jesus is gone, yet there are two angels sitting at either end of the tomb, framing the place that could not contain him.
Where we see the Lord, we usually see three figures. We see the Lord and we see a figure on his right and on his left, looking inwards towards him. Their job is to frame the Lord, so we can see who he is. They are there for our benefit. There may be groups of witnesses framing him: the nativity scene fills up with Mary and Joseph, animals, shepherds, angels and kings, all looking in towards the Lord, leading our eyes inwards so that our gaze comes at last to him. They do this for us. And we do this for others. We stand on one side or the other, gazing and adoring, so that our orientation draws other people in to see Jesus and to realise who he is. We are witnesses because we frame the view with our bodies, and draw people toward him with our voices and songs. We do this whenever we worship together in church. But this becomes obvious, when we take that worship out with us into our public spaces, and stand before the Lord, by our bodies drawing the gaze of the world. We draw their gaze away from the grotesque spectacles displayed on screens and in shops, and towards the true spectacle, the true scene, the epiphany of the Lord with his people.
We are the body of Christ, and as Christ’s body, we are the present form of the revelation of the Lord. He shows us to them, in the hope that they will join us and become members of this body, and so become the Lord’s epiphany to the world. We are the body of Christ. We are the first instalment, the dark, still dirty, body but nonetheless the body that will be glorious, and is now being made glorified through all these confrontations and suffering.
The Epiphany we see before us
Anyone who comes into a church should be able to see the cross straightaway. The cross should always be in front of us when we worship the Lord, because it is the basic identifier of which lord it is that we are worshipping. We worship the Lord who was crucified. With this sign we indicate that we worship this Lord because, though he allowed us to do our utmost against him, we have not been able to break his commitment to us. We see the altar or table on which the bread and cup are set at Eucharist, and which have candles on either side of them. We should see may only see the screen on which the words of our worship songs are displayed. But at various times of the year we see a prepared scene. At Christmas we see the nativity scene of the stable, with the figures of the status, working in from the outside, we see, angels, ox and ass, and shepherds and a lamb, Joseph and Mary and at the centre the infant Jesus. But at various points of the year we also take these scenes outside with us so they become visible to our fellow townspeople. We take the nativity scene of stable and manger out into our town centre in the days running up to Christmas, and then take out the Wise men so it becomes the Epiphany scene. In the same way in Holy Week we will follow the stations of the cross, in church or in some public space, and so we follow the steps of the Lord’s passion publicly, so anyone in our town can see and follow too. At Easter itself we may set up some form of Easter garden, which will frame the cross and the tomb before which the action takes place. This passion and crucifixion are all signs and demonstrations that he is a king, and is our King, and they are demonstrations that we cannot break his power, that he will exercise his power for us, for our salvation, in order to make us his, so that we may be the people of his kingdom.