The Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) is one of the seven
principal feasts in the Book of Common Prayer, and it is one of only three
fixed-date feasts in the Anglican tradition, occurring exactly 12 days after
Christmas Day (December 25). This is how we get “the twelve days of Christmas” and
“Twelfth Night” parties. Even Shakespeare had something to say about “Twelfth
Living into the Epiphany season, where we celebrate Jesus’
manifestation in the world, the First Sunday after the Epiphany each year is the
Feast of the Baptism of Christ. The lectionary readings center around water and
the Spirit, particularly the Gospel account of Jesus’ baptism and the
descending of the Holy Spirit as a dove.
In the grand liturgical scheme, as the Epiphany occurs on a
Wednesday this year, I have often said that Jesus “grows up very quickly”
between January 6 and the following Sunday. In actuality, scripture tells us
nothing about Jesus’ childhood years in Nazareth. After the return from the
flight into Egypt, we next hear the account of Jesus’ baptism by his cousin
John the Baptist.
The hymns for the 10:30 service this Sunday are wonderfully
specific to the feast day, thanks to the strength and variety of The Hymnal 1982. The liturgy begins and
ends with old favorites “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry” and “Songs of
thankfulness and praise.” The Sequence hymn Caithness
is a strict Protestant 17th-century Psalm tone with its
characteristic “gathering note” that is held for two beats rather than one; the
wonderful text of this hymn tells the Gospel story almost verbatim.
The opening voluntary is one of the most significant (and I would say beloved) chorale preludes of the organ master composer Johann Sebastian Bach, Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam (Christ our Lord to Jordan came). The counterpoint and solo line melody of this organ chorale is perfectly woven and practically sings itself. This exact German chorale is Hymn 139 in our hymnal, a setting of a Martin Luther text. Check out this hymn’s text as my colleague Dr. Gamble plays this prime example of Bach’s expert craft. Church doesn’t get any better than this!
Video below: Recording
of J. S. Bach’s (1685-1750) organ choral prelude Christ unser Herr zum
Jordan kam (BWV 684); played
by organist Roy Neumann on the historic Andreas Silbermann (1766) organ in the
Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, Meissenheim, Germany