Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Bishop's Note - The Epiphanies of Epiphany

Bishop Eric Menees

As I write this week's Bishop's Note, we are on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany - a feast which holds the imagination of so many across God's One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. But, just like Christmas, Epiphany is not simply a Feast Day but rather a whole season - this year lasting until February 17th, the eve of Ash Wednesday. During this season, the lectionary scriptures will demonstrate a series of "epiphanies" which illuminate the divine nature of Jesus. Over this season of Epiphany, I would like to dive into these "epiphanies" with you in my Bishop's Notes, as we explore the divine nature of Jesus.

This coming Sunday, January 11th, is the first Sunday after the Epiphany, and the Gospel lesson is taken from Mark, chapter one - the Baptism of Jesus. Mark does not begin with the birth narrative - I believe he assumes people know that. Instead, he starts with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, which, as with all of us, truly begins with his baptism.  

John comes onto the scene preaching repentance from sin in Jerusalem and all Judea, calling people to be baptized. John prophesies about the coming of one who is the fulfillment of scripture and whose sandals he will not be able to untie. John is clear to say that he baptizes with water alone, but the one to come after him will baptize with water and the Holy Spirit!

It is in this dramatic environment that Jesus shows up to be baptized in the river Jordan - not as a result of repentance and needing forgiveness, but as a result of the prompting of God the Holy Spirit to set the example for his future followers; an example of humility and grace, setting the stage for God to "make manifest" the true character of Jesus. St. Mark described it in this way: In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased (Mark 1:9-11)

I am struck by Mark's description of the, "...heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove." Can't you see, in your minds eye, the hand of God reaching down and tearing the heavens open - eliminating one separation between the fallen world and the divine creator? As God starts phase two of His rescue mission, He does so with both amazing power - enough to rend the heavens - and loving gentleness in the form of His Spirit descending upon Jesus like a dove.

Clearly this was no ordinary man upon whom the Spirit alighted, but still the Lord God Almighty makes it perfectly clear who Jesus is when He declares: You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." Now that's an epiphany! Could the Lord God make it any clearer who Jesus is? Jesus is God's only begotten Son who had, and will always have, the full pleasure and love of the Father of Light and the Author of Creation.

That is who Jesus is - the beloved Son of God - but that is not all of who Jesus is, as we will see in the coming weeks of the Season of Epiphany.

Catechism Questions 58 - 60

58.    In what ways did Jesus suffer?
On earth, the incarnate Son shared physically, mentally and spiritually in the temptations and sufferings common to all people. In his agony and desolation on the cross, he suffered in my place for my sins and, in so doing, displayed the self-denial I am called to embrace for his sake. (Hebrews 4:14-5:10; Mark 8:34-38; Philippians 2:5)

59.    Why does the Creed say that Jesus suffered under the Roman governor Pontius Pilate?
The Creed thus makes clear that Jesus’ life and death were real events that occurred at a particular time and place in Judea in the first century A.D. (Matthew 27:22-26)

60.    What does Jesus’ crucifixion mean?

It means that Jesus was executed as a common criminal. He was scourged, mocked, and nailed to a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem. Though humanly a miscarriage of justice, his execution fulfilled God’s plan that Jesus would bear my sins and die the death that I deserve, so that I could be saved from sin and eternal condemnation and reconciled to God. (Matthew 20:28; 27:32-37; Romans 5:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

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