Epiphany 2, 2023
One of the joys about Christmas presents is the mystery of the package. We don’t know what’s going to be in it. When we are allowed to, we open up the packaging, and all is revealed. The bigger the surprise, the better.
When something has been covered up and is now revealed, we were imagining what it might be like, and now we see it. John the Baptist does not in fact say “here is the Lamb of God”, as the NRSV puts it. The little Greek word John uses is “ide”. “See”. What he is not saying is “now here is this chap” – John is saying that something about this man is revealed to our sight. We see it: “Behold the Lamb of God”. Not “this is the Lamb of God” as modern liturgies put it, but “Behold”. Later in this gospel passage Jesus catches the interest of Andrew and Peter, and he says to them, “come and see”. There is something that they have not seen, and they need to see it. When we say, “do you see”, we can be meanning, “do you grasp it? Do you get what is going on here?”
Through this experience of coming to see with Jesus, what do they “see”? They hear new teaching that makes sense, such as “love your enemies”. They see the effect Jesus has on people through teaching and healing and through his actions. But above all they see Jesus, the amazing person of Jesus. The experience is gradually going to change them. It is a whole experience of seeing and hearing, sharing meals, of events and experiences. A whole experience. Truly to behold, you see, is something that we come to know with the whole of our being.
There is a cluster of sayings scattered through the new Testament which speak of Jesus being hidden in the world that we see without being recognised, and now in the epiphany he is revealed. This being hidden is called a mystery.
In Romans Paul writes of … the mystery which was kept silent about for long ages. In Ephesians 3.5 we read: … this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed …
People had not connected many things in life with God, but now God in Christ is revealed.
In our society today there are many things which people know, but they don’t connect them with God. For instance, where anyone helps a stranger and shows them a bit of love, there is God. Ubi caritas – Where love is, there is God. Where an atheist helps some other person and shows them unselfish love, there is Christ. Where the medical staff in our hospitals shows thoughtfulness for people they are caring for, there is Christ. Most people would be surprised to hear that.
Here is a story from the First World War:
It was a wet, cold morning, about 6 a.m. on the Somme. I saw half a dozen of my boys taking charge of two infantrymen at their last gasp from the wet, mud, fatigue and exposure. The poor fellows had actually laid down to die on the roadside by our Battery. My men gave them their breakfast, we were short of rations, their socks, shirts and everything; and rubbed them and lit fires all around them and sweated over them, and got them to hospital. Now they would be utterly surprised to hear that any of this had got to do with religion.
This week I had a very cheerful conversation with an old man at the bus stop in the pouring rain. I think we both found it pleasurable. Wherever people delight in one another, we see something of God. In this small way Christ was revealed at the number 203 bus stop. Paul in 1 Tim 1.27 speaks of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you,
I have never eaten a truffle – I don’t mean the chocolate sort, but the fungus. Truffles are hidden beneath the roots of trees, and are notoriously difficult to hunt down. They are incredibly expensive and not something I can afford. I’m curious to know what is so pleasing about the taste of truffles, but I wouldn’t know I had eaten one unless I was told, “that was a truffle”. The only way I can get an idea of what truffles are like is having the opportunity to eat a delicious truffle dish which was named for what it is.
God has given us a gorgeous dish of truffles: the liturgy, the Scriptures, the sacraments, the people of God, and all the life of the Church. In all these things we gain a taste of Christ and he is named, so that we can go out into the world and recognise Christ’s taste all around us, and name him for who he is. The covers are taken off, and the nature of God is revealed. The gospel opens a door to reveal God in all the things that we delight in in each other, and in all the love of one another that is shown in the world. In Mk: Jesus says, To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God. But for those outside, all is in parables. This is not to say that we are better than anyone else. The bad behaviour of many Christians and the good behaviour of many atheists should be enough demonstration of that. All we have is the hidden Christ being made manifest for those who will see, and name him for who he is.
But what about where people are horrible to each other? The ghastly things happening in Ukraine, in unhappy families, in broken or abusive relationships? The mystery of Christ takes us to these people too. In all these situations we are trained by our life in the Church to see and to know Christ is present in them. In the Ukraine, in abusive families, and everywhere were people suffer. We are able to see even these situations in a different light. There is no ultimate answer to the problem of suffering while we are here on this earth – it remains intolerable and Sometimes ghastly, and leaves us in the end lost for words. But by our life in the Church we are equipped to go into these dark places knowing that Christ is there. That doesn’t answer the questions, but it gives us enough ground to walk on. It gives us the ability to be wise. In Colossians we read of the knowledge of God’s mystery, of Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom.
It was so important that the veil should have been taken away, that the truth about Christ should be revealed and not remain hidden. We have no answers to the question of suffering, but what we do have is pretty overwhelming: we have the crucifixion and the resurrection. This is the wisdom of God, which to the world is foolishness.
So in the season of Epiphany we celebrate the revealing of the mystery of Christ present but hidden through the ages.
Col 1.26: Colossians again speaks of the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. And the author of Ephesians sees this former hiddenness as a plan for the fullness of time
So in any situation, good or bad, we can hear the words of John: “Behold the Lamb of God”. And like Andrew and Peter and all who came after them, we can seek to follow the Lamb with an undivided heart.