The word epiphany, from the Greek [epiphaneia], literally means “appearance.” The Greek word “upon” or “on” [epi] used before the Greek word “to show” [phanein] is how the compound word was formed. In the liturgical calendar Epiphany is the season before Lent. It is traditionally celebrated on January 6. Many churches adjust the Sunday closest to this date to be the first Sunday in Epiphany.
The date is chosen to commemorate the coming of the Magi to Jesus to pronounce him King at Bethlehem.
Epiphany is also celebrated in connection with the baptism of Jesus since this is the day his divine appearance is announced by a voice from heaven saying that this is God’s unique, only-begotten Son. Finally, since the third century the miracle at Cana of Galilee, where Jesus turned water to wine miraculously, is also celebrated in connection with Epiphany.
In my own experience, over the last two Sundays, we celebrated first the announcement and the baptism and then today the story recounted in John 2:1-11.
But Epiphany is an entire season in the church’s liturgy. During this time we celebrate the incarnation itself. Traditionally the church has remembered that there are two epiphanies in Scripture. The first took place in the first century A.D. The second appearance will take place when Jesus comes again at the end of this age. This is why we speak of his first coming and second coming. We are actually speaking of his first and second epiphany if you have followed what I wrote above.
The texts chosen today for the liturgy in my own church, besides the Gospel reading in John 2:1–11, were a prophecy from Isaiah about God’s revelation to his people and then a reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, found in 12:1–11. We stressed the oneness of the body of Christ and the diversity of the spiritual gifts. The theme was “We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.” There is one Lord, one faith and one church.
One of many reasons why I have come to love liturgy as I do is found in the seasons of the church and the cyclical way we are brought to the life and person of Jesus throughout the entire year. Epiphany has unusually moved me the first two Sundays of the New Year.
Last week I saw how my baptism identified me with Jesus in his baptism and today I saw how Christ’s provision at Cana of Galilee demonstrates the abundance of his grace for his one flock. When a service of worship is built around the ideas of preachers and human holidays this rich biblical treasure can be passed over all too lightly. It does not have to happen but it quite often does. For me Epiphany has become a special time and a special reminder.