Just when you thought the Christmas season was over

By | January 21, 2010

The wedding at Cana starts us on a journey from Epiphany to the glory of Easter

Quick — what do a baby, an old couple, a lost boy, water jugs, a river and birthday gifts have in common?

If you answered “Epiphany,” you’re right.

This week, the church calendar returns to what we call “Ordinary Time.” The Christmas season ended with the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 10. However, in church history (and in the Eastern church today) Epiphany continued for eight days and often included the miracle of the wedding feast at Cana. This Sunday, Jan. 17, the Gospel is about this first miracle of Jesus (Jn 2:1-11).

While it may seem a bit late to look at Christmas, it’s important to realize that what started at Christmas continues through the church year: Christ’s glory being revealed.

Epiphany is one of the most ancient feasts in the church calendar — it was celebrated long before Christians had a formal celebration for Christmas, back to about the second century. “Epiphany” comes from a Greek word epiphaino meaning “to show forth.” It also means “to come into light” or “come suddenly into view.”

  • That, of course, is exactly how we see that first Christmas. Angels appeared to shepherds, a star shone to guide the Magi, night darkness became filled with the glory of heaven coming suddenly into view.
  • Then, the church continued to explore this “showing forth” of God’s glory on the feast of the Holy Family, when the Gospel — depending on the cycle of readings each year — tells of the Presentation at the Temple or of the finding of the boy Jesus in the Temple. We either hear the old couple Anna and Simeon proclaim to all who will listen that the Child is “a light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel” (Lk 2:32) or that the teachers in the Temple “were astounded at (Jesus’) understanding and his answers” (Lk 2:47).
  • Next in the cycle of yearly readings, we had Epiphany, when Isaiah tells Jerusalem that “upon you the Lord shines and over you appears his glory” (Is 60:2) and the magi follow the star.
  • After that comes the Baptism of the Lord. In each of the Gospels that tell of the event — Matthew, Mark and Luke — we have the voice of God and the appearance of the Holy Spirit. John’s Gospel, which doesn’t tell of the baptism, instead starts with John the Baptist. John identifies Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” and testifies that he saw the Spirit descend upon Jesus. This is the reading used for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time in the church cycle of Years A and B.
  • The wedding at Cana is the Gospel for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time for Year C, in which we are presently. So, once every three years, we have this reading on the Sunday that immediately follows the end of the Christmas season.

The wedding at Cana, when water changed to wine, is commonly referred to as the first miracle of Jesus’ public life. John calls this event “the beginning of his (Jesus’) signs” by which he “revealed his glory and his disciples began to believe in him.”

While this is the first time the adult Jesus reveals his glory, we know from the Christmas readings that this is not the first time God’s glory is revealed in him.

As Pope Benedict XVI said in his homily for Epiphany 2009: “Epiphany, the ‘manifestation’ of Our Lord Jesus Christ, is a many-faceted mystery. The Latin tradition identifies it with the visit of the Magi to the Infant Jesus in Bethlehem. … The Eastern tradition on the other hand gives priority to the moment of Jesus’ Baptism in the River Jordan when he manifested himself as the Only Begotten Son of the heavenly Father, consecrated by the Holy Spirit. John’s Gospel, however, also invites us to consider as an “epiphany” the wedding at Cana, during which, by changing the water into wine, Jesus ‘manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him’” (Jn 2: 11).

Epiphany is truly multi-faceted. It may center on a star or a thundering voice, but it certainly doesn’t end there. It continues through Can’s wedding and the many revelations of glory of the ministry of Jesus, onward to the Cross, Resurrection and Ascension.

As the late Scripture scholar, Fr. Raymond Brown, said of Epiphany, the magi were “the forerunners, the anticipation of all those who would come to worship the risen Jesus proclaimed by the apostles.” And that, today, means us. Pope Benedict also said that the wedding at Cana reminds all that we “are every day witnesses and ministers of the ‘epiphany’ of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist…”

As the cycle of the church year continues, moving toward Lent next month, we remember what the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” teaches about the wedding at Cana — that it is a bridge from Christmas to Ordinary Time and, from there, on to Easter: “The sign of water turned into wine at Cana already announces the Hour of Jesus’ glorification. It makes manifest the fulfillment of the wedding feast in the Father’s kingdom, where the faithful will drink the new wine that has become the Blood of Christ” (no. 1335).

The wedding wine of Cana hints at the glory of the wine that becomes the blood of Christ — both at the Last Supper and each time we celebrate Mass. The glory of God continues to shine forth for us today so that we might grow in our faith.

Sources: The Vatican Web site at www.vatican.va; An Introduction to the New Testament; The Merriam-Webster Dictionary; An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon; A Greek English Lexicon; Catechism of the Catholic Church

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