Epiphany: Lectionaries Keep Christ at the Heart of the Feast

Adoration of the Magi, Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany. Normally we say, “This is when the Wise Men visited Jesus and brought him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” And we’re not wrong in that.

But why is it called Epiphany?

Simply put — it is the revelation of YHWH to the Gentiles, represented by the Wise Men. It is the proclamation of the glorious God to the nations, found in the person of Jesus, the God Word Incarnate.

I’ve been mulling over lectionaries and Bible readings lately. One friend was encouraging people not to do a typical “Read the Bible in a year” plan but to use the daily lectionary from the Revised Common Lectionary because it puts the Scriptures together in Christological, Christocentric perspective. I have a built-in skepticism about the Revised Common Lectionary, so I started evaluating other options, looking for something pre-modern. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with my friend Andrew (a mediaeval manuscript guy who is a theologically conservative Anglo-Catholic pondering Eastern Orthodoxy [you can see why we get along]), I learned from him that the Canadian BCP 1962 lectionary for Morning and Evening Prayer is basically medieval.

Anyway, although this exchange also resulted in him sending me a 343-page Mass lectionary based on BCP-Sarum, I am going with BCP 1962, in large part because of the wonderful new Common Prayer Canada app from the Prayer Book Society! And its Scripture readings are doing just what my other, non-Anglican friend was lauding RCL for doing: Christological, Christocentric Scriptures.

Epiphany has been really exciting as a result — Psalms and Prophets proclaiming the recognition of YHWH by the nations, his revelation unto them, and Israel to be a light to lighten the Gentiles. You read this, and then you read …

not the three Wise Men.

This morning, the Second Lesson at Morning Prayer was the Baptism of Christ from Luke 3. And how does this end? “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.” The revelation of Christ as God the Son!

The Eastern Churches use a different Greek word for today: Theophany. Today is the Holy Theophany of our Lord Jesus, and it explicitly includes the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan.

Baptism of Christ, Arian Baptistery, Ravenna

Some closing thoughts, then. First: Psalm 87 sees a day when Philistia and Tyre, Babylon and Ethiopia, will worship YHWH. Isaiah sees in multiple places the nations coming to worship the Lord, coming to his holy mountain. The nations, the gentes (hence gentiles), will see the glory of the Lord and recognise him. The wise men who met the child Jesus and bowed and worshipped him were the firstfruits of this crop. We are of the nations as well. What was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures is being fulfilled here and now as the glory of the Lord is made known to the ends of the earth because of the ongoing life of Christ, himself the Lord, in his mystical body, the church.

Second: Babylon is gone. The ancient kingdom of Israel is gone. The Persian Empire is gone. The Roman Empire is gone. Some day, the Dominion of Canada, the United States of America, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will all pass away. “Earth’s proud empires pass away,” as the hymn puts it.

But the kingdom of God, the kingdom of the Heavens, revealed and made manifest in Christ at his holy Theophany — this kingdom will never fade. Let us hold to this hope and this citizenship above all.

Easter Readings – 1662 Book of Common Prayer

Baskerville_titleBack in 1662, it wasn’t the plan to have a separate service of Morning Prayer from Holy Communion. On those Sundays that you didn’t administer the Lord’s Supper, a normal service would consist of Morning Prayer, the Litany, and the Antecommunion (basically the Liturgy of the Word part of the service). This is why BCP Sunday readings appear so few.

Anyway, I think the historic Prayer Books are the best expression of historic-traditional-biblical worship in the English language, expressing the fullness of Gospel truth in the fullness of the beauty of the English language. Part of the glory of the Book of Common Prayer is its relationship with the English Bible. Extensive passages of Scripture are read at Morning and Evening Prayer, multiple Psalms are recited, and, at Communion, more Scripture is read. Throughout the services, more set passages and verses are used, let alone the biblical phrases and ideas inextricably intertwined with the historic translations and prayers original to the BCP.

I have no doubt some Anglicans have a ‘low’ view of Scripture, insufficiently reverencing it and failing to trust in its authority. Such Anglicans have not taken the Prayer Book to heart. For the rest of us, we revel in the quality and quantity of Bible readings throughout a Prayer Book service.

For Easter, the 1662 readings for Morning Prayer are:

First Lesson: Exodus 12:1-29 – the establishing of Passover

Second Lesson: Revelation 21:1-9 – the new heaven and the new earth

The Psalms: 2, 57, 111

To highlight the glory of the Resurrection and our salvation thereby, 1662 replaces the Venite (Psalm 95) with these verses:

CHRIST our passover is sacrificed for us : therefore let us keep the feast; Not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness : but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 1 Cor. v. 7
Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more : death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once : but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin : but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Rom. vi. 9
Christ is risen from the dead : and become the first-fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death : by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die : even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Cor. xv.

The 1662 readings for Holy Communion:

Epistle: Colossians 3:1-7 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. etc.

Gospel: John 20:1-10 – the Resurrection story

It also used to be common to attend church for Evening Prayer. The 1662 Easter readings for Evening Prayer:

First Lesson: Either Exodus 12:29 (this confuses me) or Exodus 14 – crossing the Red Sea

Second Lesson: John 20:11-19 (thus continuing from Easter Eucharist) or Revelation 5 – the Lamb upon the throne

The Psalms: 113, 114, 118

In these passages of Scripture, plus those interwoven throughout the Prayer Book, we encounter the Gospel event, the ancient typologies, and the eschatological fulfillment. And, in the Psalms, the Praise of God Most High. There is so much more truth and beauty awaiting us in the treasurehouse of the Scriptures than we realise if all we ever meet are but one or two passages each Sunday.

Furthermore, the Resurrection is the fulfillment of the hope of Scripture, Old and New. In Christ all of God’s promises find their yes. Let us bless the Lord for the benefits he has given us through the prayerfully constructed lectionaries of His Church.