Bartolome Estaban Murillo, “Adoration of the Magi”
17th Century, Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio, USA (1)
Why even bother paying attention to a spiritual calendar? Isn’t it a contrivance anyway based on centuries of ecclesiastical accretion? What relevance does it have to a modern secular world?
Setting aside the spiritual question for a moment, what’s the importance of calendars? They are critical. Without them we wouldn’t be where we need to be when we need to be there for the sake of the important people in our lives. We use calendars to map out priorities and make realistic plans. Businesses understand the importance of the calendar, which is why they report results from one quarter to the next and plan their steps from month to month, week to week, and day to day.
In a secular world, where time is of the essence, how then can our spiritual calendars be ignored? If we can’t manage our spiritual calendars, how in the world are we going successfully to manage our secular ones? What really is important? Why are we doing what we are doing? Are we doing the right things at the right times? These are questions that both spiritual and secular calendars, properly used, can answer.
Yes, “centuries of theological accretion” is certainly one way to perceive the lectionary and how it shapes liturgy. But there is another way to look at it: in terms of centuries of theological understanding. The great irony is that we can’t get away from liturgy. Every church has one, even if it’s announcements followed by a chorus followed by a video. The question is not whether to be liturgical versus non-liturgical: the question is whether what kind of liturgy we’ll have.
Christmas is now past and Epiphany is now upon us. Epiphany is a Greek word meaning “manifestation of God”. The Baby Jesus has come. Now the true import of his life begins to be manifest to the world and to us.
Epiphany is book-ended by the two events in the New Testament where the three members of the Trinity appear together. The first is the Baptism of Jesus. The second is Jesus’ Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. In both cases the Father speaks, the Spirit is made visible, and the Son is made manifest.
This is also manifest: we matter to God. We are his Creation, blessed by him, and crowned with purpose, truth, and grace. On this day, in this week, in this month, and in this year may the Epiphany be made manifest in and among God’s people in the present as it has been in the past.