Epiphany

According to the church calendar, we are nearing the end of a season called Epiphany. During this season, inaugurated with a feast on January 6 to celebrate the revelation of the birth of Jesus to the gentiles, we direct our attention to Matthew's birth narrative and the magi from Persia who came to Jerusalem asking an all-important question:

'“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?'"

Both the gospel narrative and the wider world pose a similar question to us during this season. Approached by the magi of our twenty-first century secularized culture, we hear the question anew: Where is Jesus?

In a recent sermon at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri, Pastor Brian Zahnd offered five answers to this question. While Zahnd is quick to point out that this list of answers is by no means exhaustive, his suggestions merit reflection. For what it's worth, I can't get these out of my mind and, since I heard this concise list, Jesus is revealing himself in all sorts of concrete, unexpected places. 

1. Exalted to the right hand of God. - Ephesians 1:22 - "Christ now fills all things everywhere with himself."

Of course, "The right hand of God" isn't a physical location in the cosmos, as if you could hop on a spaceship, find God, look to his right, and see Jesus. But if God is everywhere, as Christians confess, then "the right hand of God" is right here, among us! As C.S. Lewis famously said, "The Russians, I am told, report that they have not found God in outer space. Send a saint up in a spaceship and he’ll find God in space as he found God on earth. Much depends on the seeing eye."

2. Among the suffering. Matthew 25:45 - ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Jesus has a personal identification with those who suffer the most. Do you see the poor, the sick, the immigrant, the prisoner? You have, mysteriously, found Jesus.

In a fourteenth-century allegorical work called Piers the Plowman, the narrator articulates this truth, saying, "Our joy and our healing, Christ Jesus of Heaven, always pursues us in a poor man's apparel, and looks upon us in a poor man's likeness, searching us as we pass with looks of love, and forever seeking to know us by our kindness of heart; and he sees which way we cast our eyes, and whether we love the lords of this earth before the Lord of Heaven."

Paradoxically, Christ is ruling the nations, highly exalted, holy and set apart, while at the same time dwelling among and identifying with the poor and suffering. 

3. With us, always. Ephesians 4:10: "He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things." 

The notion that Christ "fills all things" is deeply mysterious, challenging us resist treating the words "God be with you" as merely a comforting platitude. How can we conceive of the notion that Christ fills all things? Zahnd suggests the image of the church's director of prison ministry visiting the prison. our In this picture, Christ (in the one visiting prison) is ministering to Christ (in those who are imprisoned.) This is enough to tie my brain in knots, but it's a concrete example of what it might mean for Christ to fill all things with himself. 

4. Among the community of the baptized gathered in his name. Matthew 28:20 - 'I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'

When we gather as a community, Christ is among us. Zahnd adds the important caveat that if communities gather in the name of Jesus but adopt un-Christlike attitudes (exclusivism, for example), then their coming together in the name of Jesus is in vain. 

5. At the table -- in the bread and in the wine of communion. 1 Corinthians 10:16 "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?"

When we gather at the table, we, as the body of Christ gathered in his name, are participating in the crucified body of Christ. Again, we encounter the mystery of Christ's body ministering to Christ's body. 

The deep mysteries hinted at in this list make it difficult to grasp, but the more I put it in concrete terms, the harder it is to avoid Jesus. Even our seemingly insignificant acts of compassion to those who are suffering are Christ-saturated.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me;
Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me;
Christ to the right of me, Christ to the left of me;
Christ in my lying, Christ in my sitting, Christ in my rising;
Christ in the heart of all who think of me,
Christ on the tongue of all who speak to me,
Christ in the eye of all who see me,
Christ in the ear of all who hear me.

(St. Patrick, 5th century)

Posted on January 29, 2016 .