This time of the Liturgical Year is usually referred to as “the Season after Epiphany,” or Epiphanytide for short. It is part of the Ordinary Time of the Church Year, those Sundays ordered (numbered) after a feast (as opposed to being a Sunday of or in a season). Thus, the Season after Pentecost has numbered Sundays that stretch around to Advent, and this is true of the Sundays following Epiphany. The color for both seasons is green – a color of growth and renewal.
The feast that stands at the head of this season is the Epiphany, with its familiar story of the arrival of the Wise Men. This feast (occupying much more significance in the Western Christian tradition than in the Christian East) emphasizes a variety of sacred truths.
The first is Christ’s nature as human and divine. The gifts given by the Magi indicate both Christ’s divinity (the frankincense) and his humanity (the myrrh for his burial); the gold connects them together in that he is shown to be the King of Glory, who will restore God and humanity to peace through the Divine Love made known on the Throne of Glory, the Cross.
The Epiphany also tells us that all human knowledge is made complete in faith. The Magi were early scientists. They sought knowledge at great personal cost. But the end of that knowledge was not just more knowledge: their journey was crowned by worship. Modern humans tend to place data and technology in the place of wisdom and faith. This leads to fragmentation in our culture and alienation between peoples and their God. The Epiphany shows us that while using our minds is both good and necessary, we must be guided by a deeper obedience
The Baptism of Christ
On the first Sunday after the Epiphany, we recall Christ’s baptism in the river Jordan at the hands of St. John the Forerunner. This is called the Theophany (manifestation of God) in the Eastern Christian tradition, for this is when the Trinity is first shown and made explicit in the New Testament.
The voice of the Father pronounces: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) In this moment, we are given the glorious gift of God’s self-revelation, seeing there the mystery of Divine Love and interrelationship, into which we are baptized as followers of Christ. We share in God’s loving approval through Christ and our response to the gift of new life in him. This Sunday is both a showing forth of the Divine life of the Holy Trinity and a recollection of our own share in that life through Holy Baptism. This is emphasized by a re-affirmation of baptism in the liturgy. Following this, holy water is sprinkled on all present. The sign of the cross is made when the water reaches us as a personal acknowledgment of the gift of new life in Holy Baptism, and the call to live that new life out in our daily lives as disciples. And yet there is more!
Miracle at Cana
In Year C of the three-year cycle of Sunday readings (we are in Year A), the Wedding Feast at Cana is the Gospel lesson for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany. This, the first of Christ’s miracles, is another “showing forth” of his Divinity. It also tells us that God is able to transform that which is ordinary into that which is extraordinary. Another part of this mystery is that other than Jesus and his mother Mary, we are told the only people who understood what had happened were “those who served” at the wedding feast. In other words, only if we adopt a servant’s humility and role as disciples will we ever gain an understanding of the Gospel and the great mysteries of the Faith. This challenge stands before us each day, especially when we share in the Holy Eucharist. We take into our very selves the Holy Mysteries of Christ, and are called to service in the world as Christ’s agents of grace. Only in this way can we enter into the true knowledge of God.
Feast of the Presentation (a.k.a. Candlemas)
On February 2, the Calendar commemorates the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (also known as the Purification of the Virgin Mary, Candlemas, and Fortieth Day). This feast brings us to the Temple, when St. Mary and St. Joseph, in accordance with the Mosaic Law, presented the infant Jesus forty days after his birth. It concludes the Incarnation cycle of feasts that began with the Annunciation in March. In this feast we recall St. Simeon’s words (in Luke 2), “Lord, you now have set your servant free….” Once again, Jesus is revealed to be the God-Man, the Incarnate Savior in our midst.
Finally, Epiphanytide culminates in the Sunday before Lent, when we celebrate the final Theophany before Jesus’ going to Jerusalem to be offered upon the Cross – the Transfiguration. This great day, with its solemn retelling of the great mystery of Christ’s appearing on the Holy Mountain with Moses and Elijah (symbolizing the Law and Prophets, the Living and the Dead – of which Christ is the Fulfillment and over which he is Lord), is celebrated with great richness. The Uncreated Light of God shines from the Savior, and those privileged few with him are stunned by their encounter with the glory of the Son. We see on this day a foretaste of the Holy Resurrection, giving us strength and grace as we undertake the ascetic journey of a Holy Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday.