Epiphany 2

Epiphany 2 Year B – Rev Alison Way

Link to the video service for Epiphany 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DGDbbRYDfg

Link to the Church of England online service for Epiphany 2 https://youtu.be/jGP9gtLV9V4

 Revelation 5:1-10, John 1:43-end

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

In times like this it is interesting that today we have 2 readings recognising Jesus as the son of God and his mission to save us. The easier of the two is the story in John’s gospel. We have Philip encountering Jesus, and following him. He shares this news with Nathanael – who is characteristically pessimistic about it – Can anything good come out of Nazareth? he says.

Philip doesn’t enter into a conversation about it or try to persuade Nathanael. He just gets him to come and see for himself. There is a stark change of mind when Nathanael is presented to Jesus (what we today would call a U turn!). And in a very short exchange of words, Nathanael recognises and exclaims who Jesus is. It was a very big deal for a true Israelite – a devout jew like Nathanael to say ‘You are the son of God’, ‘You are the King of Israel’

We must not doubt that at this point something radical had occurred in Nathanael’s heart. It is a world away from his previous remarks. He has not seen Jesus do anything particularly spectacular. All Jesus has done is recognise him as a devout Jew…  We can only ponder on what Nathanael saw in this encounter with Jesus and how he felt, but this is a huge change of perspective. As I was talking about last week, a real epiphany moment and also one where his life was going to change forever as a result of this declaration.

This recognition of things that are way beyond ourselves is important,  and especially despite our earlier preconceptions. We know from human experience that this kind of moment is not always easy. It involves a level of humility (that not all of us are good at). To climb down from previously clearly stated positions and it is to Nathanael’s credit that he does this. We need help from the Holy Spirit with moments where we need to recognise something new and radical of God among us like this. Especially where it challenges something we have held dear for a long time.

In these days of lockdown 3 there is much to challenge us and shake our foundations, recognising as Nathanael did who Jesus is, what he did and why, is one of the things that will give us the strength to persevere…No matter how dark it gets.

Let’s move on to the more tricky first reading from Revelation. This one tells us more about what we need to recognise about Jesus. This reading is quite pictorial and visionary – so let’s first unpack the action!

The writer of revelation – John – sees and describes a scroll. It is in God’s right hand, written on both sides and sealed with seven seals. John then describes the quest to find someone worthy to open the sealed scroll. A mighty angel proclaims – who is worthy to open the scroll and break the seals… No-one is initially found who is worthy. No one in heaven, no one on earth or under the earth

John describes himself as weeping bitterly, because no-one can open the scroll or look at it. One of the gathered elders then asks John to stop weeping. He says there is someone who can open the scroll and its seals. And he gives that someone the title the lion of Judah, the root of David (and I will come to these titles at the end of this sermon).

John then sees the lamb. He describes where the lamb is– in the middle of the scene, and the state the lamb is in – looking as though it has been slaughtered. The lamb takes the scroll from the right hand of God. The elders worship before the lamb singing a new song. The song contains the recognition of who the lamb is.

The words include that the lamb is worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, and the reasons for his worthiness are laid out. First he was slaughtered. Second he has ransomed all people for God by his blood, thus making us a kingdom serving God.

All of this is neither the language or approach to describing what Jesus did for us on the cross we would usually use. But it is recognition none the less of what it cost Jesus to save us. I always think it is difficult to feel the fullness of Easter joy without reflecting on the pain and the cost of Good Friday. Describing Jesus as the slaughtered lamb, and that his blood ransomed us is graphic but is the granite truth of the cost to Jesus and it is important to recognise this. Knowing the jeopardy and the price paid for Jesus to save us does help us with perspective. For me this is the fundamental truth of our faith in God, loving Father, Risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit. It doesn’t work without the sacrifice and the death involved. But for us – it is enough, so much more than enough to bring us into God’s kingdom forever.

The scope of Jesus costly love is startling too. It is for everyone – the vision includes every tribe, language, people and nation and that we are all in a kingdom now, serving our God. Again, it takes the big point of recognition and turns it around to us in how we should respond as Nathanael responded by following Jesus. So we need to do likewise serving him how and where we can. Revisiting and recognising Jesus saving love for us through the imagery of this vision is a call to renew our hearts in God’s service.  One of the ways to best keep on track is to pause, and pray and lift our hearts in worship. We can do this anytime – anywhere.

In the middle of the vision – The slaughtered lamb is described as the lion of the tribe of Judah. This is reference to the description of Jacob’s son, Judah in Genesis, head of the tribe of Judah. It is also a motif for victory – We will remember how the lion lies down with the lamb in Isaiah’s prophecy. In Jesus we have the lamb willing to lay down his life, and the lion of the victory won for us.

The lamb is also described as the root of David – which we find to be fulfilling the prophecy about Jesus’ heritage and lineage. Again, we remember the prophecy of the new shoot coming from the root of Jesse (David’s father) from Isaiah.

Both of these titles tie us back to what Nathanael saw and experienced in Jesus. Let us pray for faith and deeper recognition of the truth that Jesus is the Son of God, the King of Israel – the lion of the tribe of Judah and the root of David. And find our strength and resolve in service of him and hearts open to worship Him anytime anywhere. Amen

Prayer of adoration

Creator God, how awesome you are! Our lives were known to you before we came into being.
Marvellous Lord, Everything we do, think and say – you know about. Such infinite wonder!
Eternal, loving Lord, ever helping us to see and be more like you. How awesome you are, glorious Lord. Everywhere we go your hand is with us, always guiding and revealing your blessings – as we praise, listen and act. Amen.

This Prayer is taken from rootsontheweb.com and is copyright © ROOTS for Churches Ltd. Reproduced with permission.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989