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HYMN FOR EPIPHANY III

Nehemiah 8:1-10; Luke 4:16-30

Jesus teaching in the synagogue Icon Visoki Decani Monastery Kosovo 14th century

MEDITATION

This Sunday’s texts are rich with truths that shine like the light of Epiphany: Jesus revealing himself to the synagogue in Nazareth. Luke says it was where he was brought up, so Jesus is coming home. He is well known there—it was his custom to be there. He reads the great text from Isaiah 61:1-2, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me….”


The people marveled at his speech, “his gracious words.” Even if he was Joseph’s son, someone they knew, he was well spoken. Until he began making claims that horrified them. Jesus is quick to catch them in their own toils—they want him to perform miracles as he did in Capernaum where he had healed the paralytic brought to him through the roof.


Because they want magic, he cannot do any miracles there. He makes the observation many of us know to be true: “Prophets are without honor in their own country.” They are enraged and seek to lay hands on him, but he passes through their midst unseen.


We all know this to be true. If some kid from a small town makes good, many in his or her home town will scoff and say, well we really know them. They never amounted to much here. It turns out they did not know him or her, they have restricted them to their passing knowledge of them.


An epiphany cannot happen when people think what they see is all there is and are not open to seeing what is happening before their very eyes. This couldn’t be, they say, confident of their prior knowledge, unable to see the very truth standing before them.


Most great stories are tales of people who move from ignorance or innocence to a terrible knowledge—such as Oedipus who discovers who he is and has to come to terms with who he is. In horror, he blinds himself. He has seen what his eyes prevented him from seeing. In Emily Dickinson's language, now he could "see to see." Jesus says it was prophets in the Old Testament like Elijah and Elisha who did their best work among the strangers, like feeding the widow of Zaraphath, or healing Namaan the Syrian of leprosy.


Christ in the Synagogue at Nazareth (1658), Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (1621-1674).

I have always loved the accounts in Scripture where of Josiah, the young king, cleansing the temple and his people finding The Law buried in the rubble of the past, or in Nehemiah, when the people hear the Torah being read to them, listening in amazement to words they had not heard before, but knew existed. They could see to see the light flowing from the words being read by the reader. They heard what they had missed and began to worship, which is what worship really is--standing in the presence of someone who knows us completely and has power over us. All worship starts with repentance, when people realize their ways of being and living have been wrong and unseeing. Suddenly they see the light and life changes utterly for them.


The light dawns, we say. An Epiphany. We see to see. Once I went to a baptism in southwestern Minnesota. Late January when the sun can seem the brightest. The snow was blue in the late afternoon light. Magic. I got to my motel filled with wonder at the beautiful landscape reaching across the fields. The next morning in church, the sun was shining bright. The church had gorgeous stained glass from the twenties. There were large swaths of yellow glass in the south windows. The light played through them brightening the room with warm shafts of light. The light shone through the dust so we could see the air. God's word rode on the light, it felt like, almost becoming incarnate in the room.


Rather like the words the people heard when the Book of the Law was discovered by Hilkiah the High Priest in the rubble of the temple, and Josiah had it read to the people, or when the exiles returned to Jerusalem and heard the law read by Ezra, or Jesus reading Isaiah in his home synagogue. Light was a palpable sign of the words being spoken in the space, entering hearts with the truth. Suddenly we see the divine, in the words, or now in a person standing before us. This is the Lord!


HYMN INFO

I wrote this hymn on the Nehemiah story after my experience that Sunday in January when the light was all around. The preacher's calling is to make visible the invisible, but only the spirit can make that happen in our eyes. Rereading the hymn brings me back to that time of Epiphany and how we caught glimpses of the divine in the world around us, either through utter beauty or the homely things like dust out of which we are made.










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