Why are the Epiphany banners still up?

Why are the Epiphany banners still up?
Psalm 27
February 28, 2010
Steve Hammond

If you are wondering why the Epiphany banners are still up, it’s mostly Glenn Loafmann’s fault.

On the way to the gym on Wednesday morning, I stopped in the church for some prayer time and noticed the Epiphany banners were still up. I completely forgot to take them down. I remember thinking to myself that I would deal with them later in the week. But by time I was ready to leave, though, I realized I wanted them to stay up, regardless of how liturgically incorrect they are. As if I had any real regard for liturgical correctness.

I had been thinking a lot about Glenn’s sermon the previous day for the Community Lenten Service. Glenn’s experience with Lent is a lot like mine, and a lot of others of us here, I imagine. We’re from church traditions that never really did much, or anything, with Lent. Maybe that gives you a bit more freedom to really take a look at the possibilities it offers. And Glenn has been looking. Just check out his sermon on the web site.

Here is something from the sermon that I have been spreading abroad or, at least, around. “Lent is about facing – admitting, at least to ourselves – our own sin – our own death. We turn our faces to the cross, take our souls into the wilderness. Lent is about being with our own beasts, not naming someone else’s beast – Militarism and consumerism and racism are demons – sins of our world – but don’t hide behind those demons to avoid facing your own. I need to face my beasts, and you need to face yours. Forty-six weeks we can work on the sins of the world; six weeks in Lent we need to work out our own salvation “with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12)

So when I was going into church on Wednesday morning, I was wondering about what ‘facing my own beasts’ would look like. Then I saw the banners that weren’t supposed to still be up. And it occurred to me that facing my own beasts was an opportunity, if nothing else, to not bring any more darkness into the world. And maybe even go a bit further and carry some Epiphany light with me. If engaging my own beasts could do that, then maybe Lent does make sense. And maybe there’s good reason for Epiphany happening just before Lent. They inform each other.

I don’t think I have to argue too forcefully that there is plenty of darkness in this world. Tuesday night at study group, the topic was torture. That’s about as dark as it gets, but it is far from the only darkness that’s about.

I can’t begin to explain why people torture other people, or Haiti is struck with an earthquake, or why Emma Mears Webb, the eight year old child of Amy Mears, a Co-Pastor at Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville TN, was killed in a freak accident on her way home with her family from this year’s Ash Wednesday Service. Emma’s parents, her three older siblings, folk from her church, her friends, and so many others know a stark darkness during this Lent, as do so many others, maybe even you. We’ve had three kids from Baptist Peace Fellowship families die in the last few years. It makes no sense.

I can’t explain how the promise God made to Abraham went so bad, so bad that Jesus ends up weeping over the city that should have welcomed prophets rather than kill them. I can’t explain why awful people like Herod that Fox run this world. I can’t explain why God would promise land that belongs to others to Abraham in the first place. Look how that’s worked out, and the darkness that results when nations regard their land as more holy than others. And it’s not just in the Middle East where that happens.

I can’t answer those and a thousand more questions like them. All I know is that it is dark enough in this world, and that Lent reminds us of the dark, hard journeys some are on. But then there are those Epiphany banners.

We looked at Psalm 27 in Bible Study the other night. That’s another reason the Epiphany banners are still up. Psalm 27 is about the dark things. “When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh…Though an army encamp against me…though war rise up against me… Do not hide your face from me…Do not turn your servant away in anger…Do not cast me off, do not forsake me…Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries.” Those are the cries from the torture chamber. The lament of grieving parents. The confusion of those surrounded by the rubble. The anguish of the person who has just lost her job, or who just had his heart broken, or just gotten the confirmation from the doctor that the test results came back and it’s not good.

Psalm 27, though, is also about something else. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?…For God will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; she will conceal me under the cover of her tent; God will set me high on a rock…If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up…Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies…I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” That, too, is the cry from the torture chamber, the grieving parent, those standing in the rubble. We saw that literally happen in those scenes on television after the earthquake in Haiti. In their anguish people were gathering and singing hymns and offering prayers for one another.

Some read Psalm 27 and dismiss it as a fairy tale, as a coping mechanism, as a confused editor making two Psalms into one. No one undergoing such anguish could offer such trust and faith. How could anyone under such stress, experiencing such hardship actually say “One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in God’s temple?” But people do it. They show that trust, that faith, they continue to hope, though it is a hard earned hope.

We have to remember, though, that Jesus didn’t only confront beasts in the wilderness. There were angels. There was light in that darkness. The Epiphany banners. Even if we have to confront our own beasts, dive into our own darkness, we take angels with us, we carry the same light that we discovered at Christmas and Epiphany. There is nothing after all, not tragedy, not heartache, not terrible injustice, not even ourselves, that can separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Savior.

Jesus took his Lenten journey to the cross. But that’s not where the journey ended. What else did Glenn say in that sermon of his? He grew up learning that there was sin and death, but there was also Easter. The writer of Psalm 27 knew that, too…a long time before Easter.

We took down the lamps and candles, the crystal and the glass that Susan had on the table, that beautiful and amazing reminder during Epiphany about the light that has come into the world. And now that it’s Lent, what have we got up there? Candles and light. It’s different. The light is not blazing, but it is still there. And it is still amazing. And it reminds us of the honesty that Glenn also talked about in his sermon.

Jesus, “the light of the world,” once said, “you are the light of the world.” Maybe it’s because of all the Lent experiences people have that Jesus said we need to find ways to shine.

I think we get it backwards. When Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany roll around we think of it as a break from all the yucky stuff. Finally some light in the darkness. But don’t forget that all comes at the beginning of the church year. It helps us get ready for what’s ahead rather than simply take a respite from what has been. There’s Lent dead ahead, and we’ve got light. We find it in ourselves, right there with the sin and death.

I have an admittedly rather vague memory of Granny Clampett on the Beverly Hillbillies singing the old hymn “Brighten the Corner Where You Are.”

Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do,
Do not wait to shed your light afar,
To the many duties ever near you now be true,
Brighten the corner where you are.

Isn’t that our Lenten challenge? Isn’t that what these Epiphany banners are telling us we are capable of doing? I’m grateful Glenn stopped me from taking those banners down. They are not done with me, yet.