06 January 2019

Pondering the Joys of the Divine Service upon Epiphany

I noticed on the way to Church this morning that you can FEEL the sun making its comeback now. The light is growing. And so fitting to sense it on the Feast of the Epiphany. Overflowing joy from start to finish. Kantor began worship with that awesome "Wie Schön Leuchtet" by Kaufmann; it almost dances. Hard to sit still in the pew listening to it. Makes you want to move! Then to the more somber but lovely "As With Gladness Men of Old." Old Dix wrote some really excellent stuff: "As with joy they hailed its light, Leading onward, beaming bright, So, most gracious Lord, may we Evermore be led by Thee."

Amilia trumpeted with sturdy and lovely alto voice the Antiphon to the Introit that announces the joy of the feast: "Behold, the Lord, the ruler, has come, and the kingdom and the power and the glory are in his hand!" Before Him we ask for mercy (Kyrie) and sing His triune praise (Gloria in Excelsis)

As usual, I don't like how the collect was changed in our new rite; there was something so gutsy and daring about asking for "the fruition of Thy glorious Godhead", and "to enjoy in heaven the fullness of Your divine presence" just doesn't cut it. The beautiful promises from Isaiah 60 "your heart shall thrill and exult" and "gold and frankincense." During the reading of the epistle, I remembered that the Isaiah reading WAS the Epistle historically on this day and contemplated how the very close juxtaposition of Isaiah's words with Matthew's would have formed a beautiful dance to Christians of yesteryear. I still struggle a bit with the ESV's "we saw his star when it rose;" I prefer the KJV "in the east."

Following the Gospel from Matthew 2, pastor (as he always does) read us the announcement of the holy days for this year. I love how Christmas, with the reading of the Kalends (which precedes the start of the Divine Service) situates us on the vertical plane (through the depths of time and the sacred writings) while on Epiphany, the calendar notices situates us on the horizontal plane of this current year of grace. They are like bookends. Here is the announcement: 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the glory of the Lord has shone upon us and shall ever manifest itself among us until the day of His return. Through the rhythms and changes of time let us call to mind and live the mysteries of salvation.

The center of the whole liturgical year is the Paschal Triduum of the Lord, crucified, buried, and risen, which will culminate in the solemn Vigil of Easter during the holy night that will end with the dawn of the twenty-first day of April. Every Sunday, as in a weekly Easter, Christ's holy church around the world makes present that great and saving deed by which Christ has conquered sin and death.

From Easter there comes forth and are reckoned all the days we keep holy: Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten spring, the sixth day of March; the Ascension of our Lord, the thirtieth day of May; and Pentecost, the ninth day of June; the first Sunday of Advent, the first day of December.

Likewise in the feasts of Mary, of the Apostles, of all the Saints, and the commemoration of the faith departed, the pilgrim Church on earth proclaims the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.

To Christ who was, who is, and who is to come, the Lord of time and history, be endless praise forever and ever! Amen.

After the Creed came the great "O Morning Star." I could sing that hymn every single Sunday! "Almighty Father, in Your Son, You loved us when not yet begun Was this old earth's foundation!" Amen!

Pastor's homily was so simple and comforting: an invitation to childlike faith to trust the Word of God spoken by the holy evangelist, that we too, like the Magi, may rejoice with exceeding great joy.

After the offerings were gathered and before the Prayer of the Church, the new officers were installed. Again, I miss the line that used to be in the Agenda, charging the officers not just to see "that the services of the Church are held at their proper time" but also "and in accordance with the order of our Church." I think that going AWOL highly suspicious. It's the ONLY criticism I have of our Lutheran Service Book Agenda, which is one of the crown gems of the LSB project.

Pastor had noted in the sermon how the wisemen saw nothing of obvious glory before they fell down in front of the Child on His mother's lap, how they believed the word of the prophet and rejoiced in the light of the star. So we fall down before Christ at the altar where He comes to us, with His glory hidden, and yet we know where to find Him. The Altar is our Bethlehem. "Brightest and Best" and "Of the Father's Love" and "Let All Mortal Flesh" served us to sing out our joy before Him as He fed us with His body and His blood, and with them Himself our Forgiveness and everlasting Joy.

Prayers with Simeon for a blessed departure and the Lord's blessing and then onto one of the great Reformation hymns that comes to us from a woman: Elizabeth Cruciger. My favorite stanza by far: "O time of God appointed, O bright and holy morn! He comes, the king anointed, The Christ, the virgin-born, Grim death to vanquish for us, To open heav'n before us And bring us life again!" LSB 402:2

And Kantor crowned our joy by giving us Bach's postlude on that chorale. Joy, joy, joy! Epiphany joy: God in man made manifest. Blessed Epiphany, one and all!

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