Reflection on this Sunday’s Readings, by John Gibbs, PhD
The season of Epiphany concludes with Creation. We affirm on this last Sunday of Epiphany that God was made manifest not only in Christ’s birth (incarnation) and baptism. God’s striking appearance in Jesus Christ reaches out to the ends of the creation.
The development of our liturgical calendar, especially in the early centuries (3rd and 4th), shows that the season of Epiphany concludes with the light of Christ reaching all creation. [Theodor Klauser, A Short History of the Western Liturgy (Oxford, 1969 tr of German 1965 ed.), pp. 86-87; Cf, J. G. Davies, ed., A Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship (NY: Macmillan, 1972), pp. 17-71]
Accordingly, the texts chosen in the RCL for today appropriately focus on God’s self-disclosure through the creation. Elijah’s chariot is taken up in a whirlwind “into heaven.” “The mighty one, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. …Our God comes and does not keep silence…He calls to the heavens above and to the earth…The heavens declare his righteousness…” A blind man is healed so that “he saw everything clearly.” Peter looks at Jesus, and sees the Messiah. Then the nature of discipleship is disclosed: it has to do with putting priority on the gospel over one’s self, while at the same time acknowledging that the self is worth more than the whole world gained. “…what can they give in return for their life?”
These are the images that abound on the concluding Sunday of Epiphany: a whirlwind into heaven, the earth from sunrise to sunset, seeing clearly everything — including the Messiah, including the value of one’s “life.”
For the Apostle Paul likewise we are bound together with all creation as liberated debtors to the Lord. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” – so much freedom that “all of us…are being transformed.” (2 Cor. 3:17-18) Transformed into what or whom? Naturally we in our culture of individualism would raise that question. But for the apostle the emphasis lies elsewhere, and in images that multiply “out there” beyond us: “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord,” and only then “ourselves as your slaves” — not enslaved to your ideas, your wants, your demands – your slaves “for Jesus’ sake.”
The apostle’s vision nearly takes our breath away when he sees the first Creation and our “hearts” linked: “For it is the God who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts…” From the first day of all days to your day and my day and especially our days together, one Light shines: “…the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
What a new opening God has made, a new disclosure, a definitive epiphany — all the way from a birth in a barn to Recreation that embraces “all of us” and reconciles “the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19).
God brings Glory to what God has Made! by Robert Saler
We live in a post-Enlightenment time in which many of us (at least in the so-called “developed” West) have undergone what the sociologist Max Weber refers to as the “disenchantment” of the world. Where earlier generations looked at creation and saw unexplainable phenomena everywhere, we tend to be influenced by science to regard our world as eminently explainable.
Notwithstanding the undeniable gains that Enlightenment rationality has brought to the world, it also seems clear that this “disenchantment” has had deleterious consequences for our environment.
God’s glory is clothed in fire and storm wind (2 Kings 2:11, Psalm 50:3) but his saving purposes for the earth are focused on his people, with whom he has made his covenant (Psalm 50:2, 4-5). The devil, ruler of the unbelieving world order, hinders people from seeing his glory (2 Corinthians 4:4). The disciples received a revelation of Christ’s glory in the Transfiguration and its full power was shown in the Resurrection (Mark 9:1-3,9) – the beginning of a transformed creation.
A Spirit from on High, by Dennis Ormseth
In the Transfiguration of our Lord, we behold God’s new creation. The light that shines in darkness in the beginning of creation (Genesis 1:3) now shines from Jesus into the darkness of the world that will crucify him. As the culmination of the Season of Epiphany, the event develops themes we have lifted up in our comments on the lectionary readings for the season’s Sundays. As in his Baptism, we are taken to a remote location where creation is the strong and sustaining witness to the meaning of his presence—at his baptism, in the water of the River Jordan; here on the high mountain.