An Epiphany

The word “epiphany” literally means the “out shining” of light. In English, it has come to mean an experience of God which is often mystical and powerful. It can also mean a sudden perception of the meaning of something or an intuitive grasp, an insight.  In church usage, the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany today (January 6) commemorates the visit of the three kings or magi to present their gifts to the Christ child. It marks the first appearance of Jesus to the Gentile world. It is the manifestation (out shining) of God to the world.

A Buddhist abbot once told me his rule of life, “If you’re not moving forward, you’re just taking up space.” What he meant by that somewhat harsh advice was that we must be constantly changing, adapting, thinking about our situation, planning how to do things better and reviewing our progress. This applies whether we are high school students or seniors in a nursing home.

One thing to admire about our Anglo-Catholic heritage is that, over many centuries, our church has developed a very orderly and smooth transition of power whether for the archbishop of a country, the bishop of a diocese or the rector of a parish. Orderly, smooth, no muss-no fuss transitions are the name of the game. Most western governments took their cue about transition of power from the church, so we can owe our mostly stable government to the church as well.

But the same kind of ballast in the ship that keeps it on a steady course can be a hindrance as well. Maybe God has moved the goalposts. Maybe global circumstances have knocked the ship (the church) off course. At times, it becomes clear that the church (the ship) needs a course correction. Martin Luther applied one in the 1500s. Charlemagne did in the 800s. Constantine did in the 400s.

The problem is, if the church keeps moving in the same direction but that direction may no longer be the right one, how do we know and how do we make the change?

Church attendance might tell us whether we are on the right track or not. Church growth and “energy” would also be useful measures. While we may see some new faces in church once we can return to in-person worship, the church must be moving forward with the people.

The global population and the people of Muskogee will have had a close encounter with mortality. Loved ones have been lost. How will we honor the dead and celebrate life? What kind of living Christ can we proclaim to the people here that will distinguish Grace Episcopal Church from other judgmental, negative, guilt-inducing churches nearby?

I fear that doing the same old-same old when we start up again may not be sufficient to keep people coming back. Maybe we should expand communion to go so the body of Christ is available every Wednesday afternoon and every Sunday morning, rain or shine.

Communion to go will be a good thing. It offers a way for new people to experience the church in an easy way. But the challenge with communion to go is that it is completely personal and individual. What people need today is a sense of togetherness, a sense of community. And you can only get that by coming together.

What kinds of groups can the church create to bring people together? If we have groups coming together whether to sew quilts or to teach algebra, the details of church will follow. In the post-pandemic world coming very soon, shouldn’t we just get together and thank God for being alive?

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