Epiphany is the season of teaching. It speaks profoundly to the nature of education at King’s-Edgehill. Teaching and learning concern the whole person and the formation of character. Such is the recurring emphasis on gentleness and learning, respect and dignity. So too with Epiphany. The question implies that there are things that we should know or at least come to know.
In the Christian understanding, the teaching is about the essential divinity of Christ. In other words, something about the idea and nature of God is made known through Christ. The stories of the Epiphany season illustrate the wisdom, the power and the eternity of God manifest in the words and deeds of Christ. The further point is that through the teachings about the nature of God something is shown to us about ourselves; indeed, something about the vocation of our humanity.
The lesson from Isaiah 42 read on Monday and Tuesday is the first of the four so-called ‘suffering servant’ songs in Isaiah. Powerful poetry, the prophet presents God as saying, “behold, my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights; I will put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations.” The servant can be understood individually as a Messiah figure or collectively as the people of Israel. The vocation of Israel is as God’s servant, charged with “establishing justice in the earth,” as being “a covenant to the people” ,“a light to the nations,” as “opening the eyes of the blind,” as “bringing the prisoners out of the dungeon”, “from the prison those who sit darkness.” The images speak to the redemption of our humanity and ground the vocation of our humanity in the life of God. For Christians the song is seen in relation to the Baptism of Christ understood as an Epiphany of Christ’s divinity, an Epiphany of the Trinity. Jesus “coming out of the waters of Jordan” “sees the heavens open and the spirit like a dove descending upon him.” He hears “a voice from heaven saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” It is the voice of the Father. The imagery draws explicitly upon Isaiah and continues the theme that the teaching of God’s Word and Will shapes human thought and action.
The emphasis is very much on the intellect yet with respect to the whole of our humanity. Nowhere is that idea captured more compellingly than in a phrase by Simone Weil, the remarkable philosopher of compassionate humility. “Whatever debases the intelligence,” she says, “degrades the entire human being.” Thinking about God belongs to the dignity of our humanity. We are made aware of something more than ourselves and, even more, we are made aware of the principle upon which our being and knowing depend. It is something learned through what is taught in Chapel but also in the classroom, on the sports fields, courts and arenas, and in the social interactions of our daily life with one another. Through an openness to the things of God we become more alive to one another in justice and compassion.
One of the Epiphany stories, read on Thursday and Friday, is the utterly unique story of Jesus at the age of twelve. In the Jewish understanding, it is his bar mitzvah, if you will, meaning his stepping into adulthood and its spiritual responsibilities. In the Christian understanding, it shows Jesus as the Divine Teacher and the human student. He is found by Mary and Joseph in the Temple, “sitting in the midst of the doctors” of the Law, “both hearing them, and asking them questions”. In the mystery of the Epiphany there is always a sense of awe and wonder. “All that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.” Mary and Joseph, too, were amazed and perplexed. They question him about why he has remained behind rather than journeying with them back to Nazareth.
His response is itself an Epiphany of his essential identity and his mission. “Wist ye not” - did you not know? - “that I must be about my Father’s business?” It is a remarkable statement. Some translations have “in my Father’s house.” Literally, it is about “the things of my Father,” meaning the things of God, thus signalling his identity as the Divine Son.
Things are made known to us, shown to us, sometimes over and over again. We don’t always understand at first. There has to be a constant wrestling with the things that are being made known to us. We come to truth in ways that are appropriate to our own thinking. Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph “understood not the saying which he spake unto them.” How will we come to know the high things of God which perfect and dignify our humanity? Mary, “his mother,” we are told, “kept all these sayings in her heart.” So must we.
There has to be our engagement with what is being made known, to what is said and heard, to what is seen and known however unclearly. Through keeping these things and thinking upon them we enter into an understanding of what is revealed, into what is given to be known. In other words, the Epiphany of God leads to an epiphany in us.
This story is one of the few biblical stories represented in the stained glass windows of the Chapel. It presents the final words of the story. “Jesus increased in wisdom, and stature”. What we learn carries over into a life of service and sacrifice. We are to honour, not debase, the life of the mind. Our vocation is to be students, learners who translate what they learn into how they live. Such is the Epiphany in us. Did you not know? This is Jesus’ challenge to us about taking hold of what is being taught and making it part of ourselves. It speaks to the intelligence and thus to the whole of our being, to the truth and dignity of our humanity. Such is the place of Chapel in the educational project of the School. Teaching and learning and living what has been taught and learned.
(Rev’d) David Curry
Chaplain, English & ToK teacher
Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy
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