The Episcopal Church’s World Mission Sunday, an annual observance designated by the 1997 General Convention, occurs on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany – this year on February 27.
World Mission Sunday’s rationale is that Epiphany celebrates the showing forth of the light of Christ in all the world – over all the diversity of nationalities, cultures, races, languages and ethnicities. This is imaged in the appearance of the star that guided the Magi, who were non-Jewish, hence foreigners to Israel, probably from Persia, which was present-day Iran. Other Sunday gospels in Epiphanytide highlight the manifestation of Christ to the world, as in the Baptism of Jesus on Epiphany 1, this year the miracle of Jesus turning water into wine on Epiphany 2, and Jesus’ announcement of the content of his mission at Luke 4 on Epiphany 3.
Luke’s account of Jesus’ response to the Nazareth folks rejecting him – this year’s reading on Epiphany 4 – likewise has missional significance. Jesus pointed out how Elijah was sent not to a widow in Israel but to a widow in Zarephath, a town in Phoenicia. Similarly, Jesus cited how the one leper Elisha is recorded as having healed was not a Jew but Naaman the Syrian. Here Jesus was declaring that God was at work among the peoples of the world beyond God’s chosen people Israel.
Whatever the lessons turn out to be for much of Epiphanytide, which depends on the lectionary year, the theme of Christ’s glory being shown forth in the world climaxes every year with the Transfiguration of Jesus on the Last Sunday after Epiphany, which this year occurs on Feb. 27. Jesus was transfigured by the glory of God in order that he might be strengthened to undertake the last stage of his missional work, which was to face the opposition that was building against him in Jerusalem.
Preachers this year might note that in Luke’s account it was in order to pray that Jesus went up onto a mountain and that it was ‘while he was praying’ that he was transfigured (Luke 9.28-29). What we term ‘our mission’ or ‘the church’s mission’ is not ours or the church’s at all, but a participation in the ongoing mission of God in the world. It is only in prayer that we are able to discern how God might be calling us to participate.
– Titus Presler, GEMN president
Photograph: Christ Church, Alexandria, in the Diocese of Virginia