Sunday, September 6, 2015

131. Hymn for the 1st Sunday after Epiphany

The historic First Sunday after Epiphany is the Sunday when everybody used to hear the story about 12-year-old Jesus astounding the teachers in the temple at Jerusalem. This hymn honors that Sunday of the church year, though it has become somewhat of an endangered species. To learn why this is so, see the text block following the hymn below. It is based on the Epistle of the day, Romans 12:1-5, and the Gospel, Luke 2:41-52. The tune I have in mind is LOBET DEN HERRN UND DANKT IHM SEINE GABEN by Johann Crüger, 1650.

Christ, when Your parents to the temple brought You,
Lo, how three days with fear and grief they sought You!
Mark too the cares whereby our hearts are ridden;
Be not long hidden!

Three days again Your faithful few spent weeping
While at Your grave cold eyes their watch were keeping;
Yet even they in time beheld Your rising,
Swift and surprising.

When in these latter days we strive to find You,
Spare us though we in weakness blame or bind You!
Grant us, lest we exalt ourselves unduly,
To know You truly!

Where should we seek but in the house and teaching
Of Him who in Your very flesh was reaching
Into our world with sacrificial favor -
Where else, dear Savior?

Teach us Your word lest, all our will demanding,
We turn aside Your awesome understanding;
Be known to us in sacrament and preaching,
Our blindness breaching!

Pardon us, Lord, and place us in subjection,
That in our hearts we treasure Your direction;
Dwell in us, day by day more closely knitting,
For glory fitting!

Help us henceforth with trusting prayer address You;
Be No Your answer, help us still confess You;
Or hearing none, bide undiscouraged, waiting
Till our translating!

All right, so, Epiphany is always Jan. 6, regardless of the day of the week or the date of Easter. The Epiphany season may comprise as many as six Sundays after Epiphany or as few as one, depending on the date of Easter. Of course, this assumes the historic church year that inserts the pre-Lenten Sundays of Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima between the last Sunday after Epiphany and Ash Wednesday. Adding complexity is the matter of Transfiguration Sunday, which is always the last Sunday after Epiphany, except there is only one Sunday between Epiphany and Septuagesima. In spite of this rubric some liturgists find the Transfiguration sexier than Jesus Among the Doctors, so they'll prefer it even if there is only one Sunday after Epiphany.

In the revised lectionary that came out of Vatican II, the Gesimas disappear, the number of Sundays after Epiphany varies from four to nine, and Transfiguration moves to the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday. For another twist, the modern lectionary's custom of celebrating the Baptism of Our Lord on the First Sunday after Epiphany has found favor among many who, like me, continue to hold to the historic cycle; though some of us prefer to fix it on Jan. 13, exactly one week after Epiphany. So in a strictly historic one-year series there may not be a "First Sunday after Epiphany," as such, when Easter falls from March 22 to 24 and the minister's preference pushes Transfiguration back onto the Sunday immediately after Jan. 6; and in either the modern lectionary or some semi-strict variants of the historic series there may never be a "First Sunday after Epiphany" at all because the Baptism of Our Lord is celebrated instead.

Between this Scylla and Charybdis lie a few, but I think valuable, chances to observe the historic "Jesus Among the Doctors" Sunday. I hope this hymn may be of use in that event.

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