My Epiphany - Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Continuing the themes of the Epiphany Season, we hear in Luke the story of Jesus’ baptism by John. It is a remarkable moment in which a voice from heaven announces, “You are my beloved….with you I am well pleased.” Whenever I hear this story I am reminded of an epiphany that occurred after the first baptism I performed as a priest in God’s One Holy and Apostolic Church while curate at Christ Church, Winnetka, IL.
It was a special morning, and all in the congregation were eager with anticipation as I baptized a little girl named Eleanor and her mother, Franny, who had not been baptized. Seeing the mother and daughter baptized together was enough of an epiphany for some, but God was not through with me yet. Eleanor was about 4 years old and capable of fully participating in the baptism herself.
Afterwards, we were invited back to Eleanor and Franny’s house for brunch. As I stood there talking with someone while having a glass of wine and a piece of quiche (how entirely Episcopalian), I felt a tug on the back of my pants leg. As I looked down, it was Eleanor. I asked her, “Eleanor, what can I do for you?” To which she replied, “Can you still see the cross on my forehead?” Meaning, of course the cross traced with oil blessed by our Bishop, James Winchester Montgomery, marking her and sealing her as Christ’s own forever. This ritual signing also represents her answering, “I will with God’s help” to a series of questions like: Will you continue in the Apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers? Will you persevere in resisting evil and whenever you sin, repent and return to the Lord? Will all that you say and do proclaim the Good News of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, not some persons, not most persons, but all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? And, Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, not some people, not most people, but all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
All this flashed through my mind as Eleanor looked up at me with eager anticipation for an answer to her most wonderful question, and I said, “Yes, Eleanor, I can still see the cross on your forehead.” And you really could in her smile, in her skipping off so pleased with herself upon hearing that indeed, we could still see the cross on her forehead. I thought to myself, what a great question! And then I went back to eating quiche, drinking wine and talking to someone.
The next day I went to church to do such important tasks for the kingdom of God, such as lay out the parish newsletter and deliver it to the printer. I forgot all about Eleanor’s question. But God was not through with me yet!
A week later, as I was vesting in the vesting sacristy getting ready for the family service, I felt a tug on the back of my alb. I turned around only to find it was Eleanor once again. “Can you still see the cross on my forehead?” She still knew. She was still asking the question. This was the beginning of an epiphany for me as I said, once again, “Yes, Eleanor, I can still see the cross on your forehead!”
The gospel for that morning was the one in which Jesus says, “If you wish to be a disciple of mine, you must pick up your cross and follow me.” That is, if you desire to be one of the baptized you must pick up your cross and follow me. Or, to be a Christian, you must pick up your cross and follow me.
I had always thought this meant you had to grin and bear it when life hits you with bad stuff: like loneliness, loss of a loved one, cancer, sanctions from a group of scared Anglican Primates, job loss, …the list could go on and on with the kinds of things that cause us to say things like, “She has had this cross to bear a long time,” “and “He has had so many crosses to bear in his life.”
Despite twelve years of Sunday School, four years undergraduate studies in religion, three years of seminary, nine canonical exams in the Diocese of Rhode Island, vocational testing, psychological exams and a week of General Ordination exams, I thought I was meant to carry a large sack over my shoulder like Santa Claus filled with all the crosses of my life weighing me down as I follow Jesus, and at the end of the line, exhausted, I would open it, spread them all out, and say, “There they are Jesus! I have been carrying this all my life and boy am I tired!”
It took the wisdom of a four year old girl to get me to see that worst case scenario, Jesus would stand there and laugh as he says, “Kirk, I have been carrying these for you your whole life long. This cross on your forehead is the one I want you to carry. It says that you are mine and I am yours. It says you will strive for justice and peace for all people, not some people, not most people, but all people. It says you are God’s Beloved. It says you will serve Christ in all persons. It says nothing can separate you from my love. This cross goes before you wherever you go. It leads you in the life of my disciples. It says I live inside of you. People can see it in all that you do and all that you say. It says we can laugh and dance and sing our way into the life of my father’s kingdom. As +Michael Curry says, ‘We are part of the Jesus Movement, and the cause of God’s love in this world can never stop and will never be defeated.’”
That’s it. That was my epiphany that day long ago as the Curate of Winnetka. Eventually, years later, it all came together in a song. Everywhere I go these past 32 years I share Eleanor’s story with others. We all need to live in ways that people can see the crosses on our foreheads and know who we are and whose we are. It’s Eleanor’s song, and I know it will mean a lot to her later today as I let her know we sang it together.
Can you see the cross
On my forehead
Sayin’ Jesus lives inside of me
Can you see the cross
On my forehead
There for all the world to see
To see how we are meant to love
To see how we are meant to live
To see how we are meant to share
To see how we are meant to give
That he is Lord of all that is
That he is mine and I am His
As I strive for justice, peace and dignity
I share in his every ministry
That I am God’s beloved child
That our God is well pleased with me
That we can laugh and dance and sing
Nothing can separate the love of Christ from me
Copyright Kirk Kubicek/Sounds Divine