The season of Epiphany, of which today is the final Sunday, takes you on a journey from the Magi at the cradle to the top of mountain shimmering in light. It is supposed to be a season of growing understanding and awareness. Or from the divine perspective a season of greater and greater self-revelation. What was first revealed through nature, a star rising in the east, and then by messengers, the angels, and then prophets like Simeon and Anna and The Baptist, and then by the Son in private like at Cana, is at last revealed in public. Jesus performs the works of the messiah, proclaiming the Kingdom in every town healing their sick and casting out demons. What was whispered, and dreamed about, and promised, is now proclaimed, and in the flesh, and fulfilled. And we have seen it.
I don’t exactly know why, but I’ve been in a stewing mood recently. And I wish I was talking about it being cooler and looking forward to a nice beef broth. No, just lots of things worming around. Things you know about. Things you can see coming around the corner. Things you can’t do anything about but walk through them. We always walk through the valley of the shadow. Something that is tough to remember in the Valley of the Sun. As I said to my mother before moving here, “how could anyone remain down for long living in this” while sitting poolside soaking in the strong rays. Maybe the Lenten journey will bring some insights that Epiphany doesn’t. You can know something in your head, but while in the head it remains something of a theory. Ideas and thoughts are a bit like ghosts in that way. They only have as much reality as you let them. It takes something like a Lent to move head knowledge into flesh knowledge.
Our Epistle lesson for today (2 Corinthians 3:12-4:6) feels a little like Paul stewing on some things. Things he has stewed on before (Romans 9). His fellow Jews have not heard him. Paul has seen the glory, that dazzling light on the Damascus road. He knows. It is interesting to me that the Lord when telling Ananias to receive Paul also tells him, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name (Acts 9:16).” Paul has seen the vision, and knows in the head, but he’s got a long lent in front of him. And we might say that this Lent is the recitation of the sufferings that Paul gives elsewhere. “Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Cor. 11:25-27).” But none of that is what Paul stews over. It’s the veil that is over the heart of his people. And the one thing that can remove that veil, the thing Paul knows, is the one thing they won’t accept – Christ.
Our Epistle lesson cuts off before what is to me the greatest statement of a post Lenten faith in the bible, a faith that has moved from the head to the heart. “We hold this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” Paul is always throwing himself at that wall hoping “for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh (Romans 9:3).” A head only knowledge might trick us into believing that almost anything is within our power. That we can remold this clay as easily as we refashion ideas. That we can make our ghosts real. But it is the mature faith that will still do all those acts – that will walk through the valley, but understands that they are not testimonies to our strength. That we cannot remold the clay. That we ourselves are but weak vessels. But in our weakness, the light might shine. “Let the light shine out of darkness (2 Corinthians 4:6).” It is on the far side of the stewing, after the valley, that we know the glory.