An Epiphany Blessing

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
    and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
    and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
    and his glory will appear over you.

—Isaiah 60:1–2

LOOK: Comet by Antonello Silverini

Silverini, Antonello_Comet
Comet, a digital collage by Antonello Silverini (Italian, 1966–). Used with permission.

LISTEN: “May It Be” | Words by Roma Ryan, 2001 | Music by Enya, 2001 | Performed by Voces8, 2018

May it be an evening star
Shines down upon you
May it be when darkness falls
Your heart will be true
You walk a lonely road
Oh, how far you are from home

Mornië utúlië
Believe and you will find your way
Mornië alantië
A promise lives within you now

May it be the shadow’s call
Will fly away
May it be you journey on
To light the day
When the night is overcome
You may rise to find the sun

Mornië utúlië
Believe and you will find your way
Mornië alantië
A promise lives within you now
A promise lives within you now

At the behest of composer Howard Shore, film director Peter Jackson approached Enya to write a song for his 2001 epic fantasy adventure The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the first in a trilogy. Enya brought her lyricist Roma Ryan on board, and together they wrote “May It Be.” The song, which plays during the movie’s end credits, contains two lines in the fictional Elvish language Quenya that J. R. R. Tolkien invented: “Mornië utúlië” and “Mornië alantië,” which translate to “Darkness has come” and “Darkness has fallen.”

The original recording by Enya, the London Voices, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra is gorgeous, but I’m partial to the 2018 rendition by the British vocal ensemble Voces8, arranged by Matthew Sheeran. It’s absolutely stunning. I must have listened to it at least a hundred times!

Why am I sharing this “secular” song (inspired by a tale of hobbits, elves, and wizards) on today’s feast of Epiphany, the grand finale of the Christmas season? I could have chosen one of the church’s many beautiful works of music written explicitly for this day (and I have in previous years, such as here, here, and here, not to mention yesterday’s festive feature)—perhaps something louder, brighter, more triumphant—but instead I wanted to cap off the Twelve Days of Christmas with a benediction. It’s from an unlikely source, sure, but it speaks well, I think, to where we’re at in the liturgical year.

According to Christianity, darkness entered the world with humanity’s rebellion against their Creator in the garden of Eden. Sin and death became a reality that, millennia later, we still grapple with. But a promise was spoken in the beginning, was born in a manger at Christmas, walked the dusty streets of Israel-Palestine teaching the Way and performing wonders, was nailed to a cross and buried but then rose from the grave and now lives in the hearts of millions. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God’s promise of salvation and holistic restoration—shalom, the world set right again.

The light of Christ shone on the small Jewish town of Bethlehem at the Nativity and on the wider Gentile world at Epiphany (when the magi traveled from afar to receive personal revelation, an experience they brought back with them to their homelands), and it continues to shine, often in unexpected places.

Advent is a journey through the dark into the light that breaks at Christmas/Epiphany. Although in one sense morning has broken, in another sense this earth is still very much in darkness. Even the “children of light” (1 Thess. 5:5), those who have been reborn in Christ, experience (and sometimes, sadly, inflict) ache and horror as much as anyone else.

But hope has come. The Word has been spoken, redemption won, even if it’s not yet been consummated. We walk in the valley of shadows, but eventually the night will be vanquished, as Enya’s song says, and we will rise and greet the sun—or, to put a Christian inflection on it, the Son!

May we walk forward into 2022 true to our calling as sons and daughters of God. May we welcome God’s light and bear it to others, and trust the Promise that indwells us.

This is the final post in the 2021–22 Advent/Christmas series. Thanks for following! You can find a collation here (Advent) and here (Christmas). I will now return to my regular publication schedule of roughly one post a week.

Maundy Thursday (Artful Devotion)

Kazanivska, Solomia_Washing of the Feet
Solomia Kazanivska, Washing of the Feet, 2018

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

. . .

When [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

—John 13:1–17, 31b–35

The Thursday before Easter is referred to as Maundy Thursday—the Middle English word maundy being a derivation of the Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, “commandment.” The name refers to John 13:34, where, after the Last Supper, Jesus commands his disciples to love one another.

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SONG: “Ubi caritas” | Words: Traditional | Music by Ola Gjeilo, 1999 | Performed by Voces8, on Lux, 2015

 

“Ubi caritas” is an ancient (or early medieval—it’s disputed) Latin text that is traditionally used as an antiphon, or sung refrain, for the foot-washing ceremony on Maundy Thursday. The current Roman Catholic Missal reassigns it to the offertory procession of the Maundy Thursday Mass.

Originally the text was set to a Gregorian chant melody, but it has since been set and/or arranged by Maurice Duruflé, Ola Gjeilo, Paul Mealor, Ivo Antognini, Audrey Assad, and many others. I’ve chosen the setting by Ola Gjeilo, a Norwegian composer and pianist born in 1978 and now living in the United States.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exsultemus, et in ipso jucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen.

English Translation:
Where charity and love are, there God is.
The love of Christ has gathered us into one.
Let us exult, and in Him be joyful.
Let us fear and let us love the living God.
And from a sincere heart let us love each other.

Where charity and love are, there God is.
Therefore, whensoever we are gathered as one:
Lest we in mind be divided, let us beware.
Let cease malicious quarrels, let strife give way.
And in the midst of us be Christ our God.

Where charity and love are, there God is.
Together also with the blessed may we see,
Gloriously, Thy countenance, O Christ our God:
A joy which is immense, and also approved:
Through infinite ages of ages. Amen.

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The main panel of contemporary iconographer Solomia Kazanivska’s Washing of the Feet shows Christ, whose halo bears a faint cross-shape, washing the dirt off Peter’s feet, as the other disciples, silhouetted in white, look on. At first Peter was much distraught by the notion of his superior stooping to such a menial act of servitude, and he objected. But when Jesus told Peter that Peter would have no part with him unless Peter received the foot-washing, Peter changed his tune completely: he figured that if this were true, then a full body wash would give him an even bigger part with Jesus, so he exclaimed, “Wash my hands and my head too!” That’s why icons show Peter pointing to his head (not, as might be assumed, to signal his initial discomfort, as in “Oh dear . . .”).

What strikes me most about Kazanivska’s icon is the bottom panel, which seems to show the disciples washing one another’s feet, following their teacher’s example. (It’s possible that this band is meant to show Christ washing different disciples’ feet, as the biblical text says he did, but the different clothing of the kneeling figure in each of the six tableaux inclines me toward the other interpretation.) Kazanivska is not suggesting that that’s how it literally went down that evening—the disciples immediately understanding Christ’s meaning and faithfully imitating him. Rather, I read this an aspirational and metaphoric image, of how Christians are to interact with one another: in love and humility, time after time (hence the repetition). And that’s why I chose it to complement the “Ubi caritas” hymn.

Follow Solomia Kazanivska on Facebook @Kazanivska.Icon.Art or on Instagram @kazanivskaicon.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Maundy Thursday, cycle A, click here.