Contemplating the Cross

Luke 2:22-40 shares the story of The Presentation. In it, we discover the holy family on a pilgrimage to the ancient temple in Jerusalem fulfilling their requirement “as it is written in the law of the Lord” (v 23). That is, to offer their firstborn to the Lord through the sacrificing of a small bird. The Presentation not only marks the time when the young Jesus was presented to God in the temple, it formally marked the Son of God taking on our nature and giving itself back to God the Father. This theodrama played out when Sts. Simeon and Anna announced that the glorious return of Yahweh to his holy temple had happened right before their eyes – For these eyes of mine have seen your salvation (v 30). In the Gospel appointed for this coming Sunday, the young Jesus has now come of age. Entering into the temple court again, he now passes judgment on it and declares that his very body had become the new temple. A few days later, this new temple would give his final sacrifice on the cross, offering himself yet again to the Father for the redemption of the world.

Two thousand years later, are we still like Peter?

~The Rev Brandon Duke

We’re at the point in this season of Lent where the image of Christ’s cross begins to take shape. If Epiphany is the season to reflect on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, Lent is the time to come alongside Jesus with his cross. Remembering is challenging. Even his closest followers could not comprehend the cross. St. Peter could not fathom the Messiah undergoing suffering and death (Lent II). Sunday (Lent III), we learn that it was only after “he was raised from the dead” that his disciples “believed” (Jn 2:22). Two thousand years later, are we still like Peter? We know the story, and like the disciples, we remember what is written (v 17). Like Peter, we often deny that we will one day die and even ignore the truth that our closest friends and family will do the same. Forgetting we are dust and to dust we will return is prevalent in our culture, even as we have experienced significant death this year due to the ongoing pandemic (Gen 3:19). Contemplating death alone leaves one with a sense of hopelessness. Set this despair up and against the cross of Christ, and death has no sting (1 Cor 15:55). Again, we know the story. God raised him from the dead. We preach Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23).

There are four more Sundays left in Lent. Use this time to not only remember your death but to contemplate the cross.

**The above reflection was originally posted on Modern Metanoia where The Rev. Brandon Duke writes as a guest blogger.**

Life Elevated

Mark 1:29-39

Next week will be the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, and we’ll read the Transfiguration story. That being said, today truly marks the end of the arc of our journey through this beautiful season. This morning, I’d like to remind us of the gifts this season has brought us by looking back through Sts. Mark and John’s Gospels.

Five weeks ago, I reminded us to be on the lookout for the three miracles of Epiphany – “the baptism of Jesus with the miraculous dove and voice from heaven, the miracle at the wedding feast in Cana, and the miraculous star that led the Magi to Bethlehem.”[1] Combining these stories reminds us that we worship a God that participates in our lives in tangible ways, thus elevating life itself. Epiphany is a “green season” in the church. In other words, it’s a time for spiritual growth, maturity, and discipleship. The green seasons are sometimes referred to as “ordinary times” within the church. We might also claim that for the Christian, spiritual growth, maturity, discipleship, and evangelization is what the church does all the time. It’s so common in the culture of the church that we can claim it as ordinary. Even though we sinners fall short of this claim, nevertheless, we hope to always increase the celebrity of Jesus Christ in ordinary and extraordinary ways.

On the First Sunday after the Epiphany, St. Mark tells the story of Jesus’ baptism leaving behind the Christmas child introducing us to the adult Jesus. Jesus’ first act of solidarity with society as an adult is to go into the human condition’s muddy waters. John’s baptism was a baptism for the repentance of sin. Even though Jesus was without sin, he freely chose to take on the sins of the world to clear the water, to make it drinkable, to change and transform it so much so that when we are baptized, the waters that touch us have already been purified by Christ.

On the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, we are in St. John’s Gospel, where Jesus orders Philip to “Follow me” (Jn 1:43). Philip acquiesces and even brings on a few others. His calling signifies not only God gathering God’s people once again but also remembers a spirit of evangelism: Once we begin following the way of love, our spiritual instinct drives us to share that same love with others.

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany brings us back to St. Mark’s Gospel, where Jesus continues to gather his disciples. Remember, Jesus went through those muddy waters of a sinner’s baptism and was now calling his disciples. What does this mean? To shed the sin that one carries, to follow him, Jesus reminds them to repent. Repentance takes the form of Peter and Andrew dropping their fishing nets, now caught up in the way of love.

On the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, we leave images of rivers and oceanic waters to enter into a Capernaum synagogue. Sequentially, God first remembers God’s creation, and now moves into the institutions of humanity. Within the establishment of the church, God does not encounter the holy. Instead, he discovers the demonic. When Jesus drives out the unclean spirit found within the synagogue, the purifying force of God’s love and judgment reveals itself. Jesus orders the demon to “keep silent.” The church had run amuck. It could not save itself. It needed the Savior.

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany is today. Jesus leaves the institution of the church to enter into the foundations of the family. Here, he does not discover the demonic but sickness. Healing Simon’s mother-in-law, the scripture tells us she then gets up and begins serving them. There’s an intimacy to this story that is peculiar and different from the other narratives found in this Epiphany season yet somehow captures their spirit. St. Mark tells us that Jesus came to Simon’s mother-in-law, took her by the hand, and lifted her up. This little (yet profound) description captures the entire spirit of Epiphany, and within it are its three miracles.

Jesus came to her, took her by the hand, and lifted her up. Jesus came into our condition, takes us by the hand in the waters of baptism, and elevates our spirit. Jesus goes to a wedding in Cana, takes the ordinary water, and makes it extraordinary by becoming wine. He elevates the water’s mood. As a baby, Jesus took the Magi’s hands and lifted their heads heavenward to the guiding star. We might even claim that this secret little passage foreshadows a reversal of the human condition of sin. Remember, Adam and Eve used their hands to grasp the fruit they believed would make them like God. Instead of allowing God to come to them, they hid. Instead of being lifted up to God’s presence, they found themselves east of Eden. To right this wrong, God came to us, and with pierced hands, was lifted up on the cross. Jesus came to her, took her by the hand, and lifted her up. In this little passage is the whole of the Gospel! In this short narrative is God’s M.O. In this small passage is God’s promise to us. We’ve already tried to grasp and be like God. We continue attempting to hide from God. When we are brought low, we instinctively drag others down with us – east of Eden. 

Epiphany has reminded us that we still need a savior, that we still require the savior of the world who calls us to follow him, first by the act and ongoing acts of repentance. Epiphany has reminded us that there is not a place so low that God is not and has not gone to take us by the hand and pull us up and out of the mud and muck. After the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, the scriptures tell she was able to serve them (Mk 1:31). After we have encountered God, do we desire to serve him and our neighbors? What would it look like to share the blessing, to share the truth, that the great Epiphany of this world is that God loves us so much that he sent his only Son to take us by the hand and lift us up?


[1]                J. Neil Alexander, Celebrating Liturgical Time: Days, Weeks, and Season, Church Publishing: New York, 2014, 36-37.