Epiphany—Ordinary Time, Extraordinary Worship
Epiphany's literal meaning is "manifestation" — an indication of the existence or presence of something, especially of a divine being. It means to show, make known, or reveal. It is the third and final observance of the Christmas Cycle (Advent-Christmas-Epiphany); the other cycle is the Easter Cycle (Lent-Easter-Pentecost).
Epiphany is one of the oldest celebrations of the Christian church, even predating Christmas. In the Eastern Church, the main theme for Epiphany Day is the baptism of Jesus; but in the Western Church, we commemorate the visit of the magi. Traditionally, on the first Sunday after Epiphany, we focus on the baptism of Christ; and on the last Sunday after Epiphany, the Transfiguration.
The date of Epiphany Day is fixed as January 6, following the twelve days of Christmas. The date of Easter Day is not fixed, since the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. decreed Easter to be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon following the vernal equinox. Thus, Easter may fall anywhere from March 22 to April 25. Since Lent consists of forty days (not counting Sundays) before Easter, its beginning on Ash Wednesday is also variable, resulting in an unspecified number of weeks between Epiphany Day and Lent, including as few as four or as many as nine Sundays.
The four to nine weeks after Epiphany Day are known as Ordinary Time. Ordinary here does not mean common, usual, or mundane. Rather, it stems from the word "ordinal," related to the concept of ordering or counting time. Some denominations observe Epiphany as one day — January 6 — while others observe it as the season between January 6 and Ash Wednesday. But in either case, we count and name the Sundays during this period as Ordinary Time — "The First Sunday after Epiphany," the Second Sunday after Epiphany, and so on.
Epiphany offers opportunities for extraordinary worship. The United Methodist Book of Worship says that Epiphany has no central theme, which is true. The season's gospel readings focus on numerous events in the early life and ministry of Jesus:
- Matthew 2:1-12: The visit of the magi.
- Mark 1:4-11: Jesus' baptism.
- John 1:43-51: Jesus calls disciples and is revealed as the Son of God.
- Mark 1:14-20: Jesus begins his ministry, first preaching, calling first disciples.
- Mark 1:21-28: Jesus teaches in the synagogue; heals the demoniac.
- Mark 1:29-39: Jesus heals many and goes on a preaching tour.
- Mark 1:40-45: Jesus cleanses a leper; his fame spreads.
- Mark 2:1-12: Jesus heals a paralytic.
- Mark 9:2-9: The Transfiguration.
These readings certainly illustrate the themes of Epiphany: the mission of the church as making disciples, reaching out to the world (evangelism), proclaiming Jesus as the Savior of all the world — all this as we attest to the incarnation of God in Jesus. In the church today, we have also taken Epiphany as an opportunity to foster Christian brotherhood and fellowship, to repent of our sins of bigotry, hatred, and prejudice, and to mend the divisions in our church and society. We have included within the Epiphany season the following observances in The United Methodist Church calendar for 2006:
- January 15: Human Relations Day; Ecumenical Sunday
- January 16: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
- January 18-25: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
- February: Black History Month
- Third Week of February: Brotherhood/Sisterhood Week
So where does the extraordinary worship come from? It comes from those who plan and lead worship, preach, and lead music. The calendar, the lectionary, The United Methodist Book of Worship, The United Methodist Hymnal, The Faith We Sing, and our church tradition all provide many opportunities for you to lead your congregation in rich, meaningful, redemptive, extraordinary worship in this Epiphany Season and period of Ordinary Time.
One place to begin is on this site, containing resources and helps for planning and leading worship through liturgy, Scripture, sermon, and song.
An Epiphany Blessing of Homes and Chalking the Door
Resources for Human Relations Day
Resources for Observing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Resources for Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
Resources for Black History Month
Resources for Black History Month: A Brief Bibliography for Worship and Music