A Meditation for The Collect for The Last Sunday after the Epiphany

This Proper is always used on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday

O God,
who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain:
Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance,
may be strengthened to bear our cross,
and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever. Amen.
(BCP 217)

The length of the season after the Epiphany, like the season after Pentecost (the season of Trinity) varies.  Unlike the season after Pentecost in which we skip over Collects at the beginning of the season to end up on the right Collect at the end of the season, the Season after the Epiphany always begins with the Baptism of our Lord, and may skip over several Collects near the end of the season in order to end the season with the Transfiguration. 

The reason for the variability of the lengths of the seasons after the Epiphany and Pentecost is that the date of Easter Day changes (it is on the lunar calendar and must fall on a Sunday), but Christmas Day is always on December 25. 

From the BCP, the date of Easter Day “is always the Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or after the spring equinox on March 21, a date which is fixed in accordance with an ancient ecclesiastical computation, and which does not always correspond to the astronomical equinox.” This means that Easter Day can occur as early as March 22 or as late as April 25 (BCP 880). As Marion Hatchett notes, this variability in the date of Easter means that the season of Epiphany can have as few as four Sundays and as many as nine (Hatchett, 173).  For more information about the length of the season after the Epiphany and the number of days in Lent, see the Note below.

This Collect, as stated in the rubric, is always used for the last Sunday after the Epiphany, that is, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday.  Before the 1979 BCP, the Collect for this Sunday was the Collect that we now pray on the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany.  This Collect was composed for the English Proposed BCP of 1928 as the Collect for the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, which, as Hatchett notes, is the reading for the Gospel in all three years (Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-9, and Luke 9:28-36) (Hatchett, 173). 

While the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord is on the Church Calendar as August 6, not every parish transfers this feast to a Sunday (we do, because of the name of our Parish – we always celebrate the Transfiguration on the first Sunday of August).  So while we at Transfiguration Episcopal Church contemplate the Transfiguration twice each year, most parishes only celebrate this moment in Jesus’ life on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany.

The Preamble, “O God,” doesn’t tell us much about to whom we pray, but the Acknowledgement does.

The Acknowledgement, “who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain,” provides both a historical orientation within Jesus’ life and connects the pattern of his life with ours in the Petition:  before the journey to Jerusalem and bearing his cross, his glory, which is the glory of the Father’s only son (John 1:14, John 17:5), was revealed.

The Petition, “Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory,” asks four things, two of which are explicit in the Petition and two that are implied:

  • The first request is implied or assumed:  that, with the eyes of our faith, we will see what Peter, James, and John saw on the mountain—the light of Jesus’ countenance.  Countenance, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, can mean “the face as an indication of mood, emotion, or character” or “bearing or expression that offers approval or sanction:  moral support” (See Merriam-Webster Dictionary).  Given the second request (that is, the first explicit request), the meaning of “the light of his countenance” can support the weight of the understanding that we are not only assuming that with the eyes of faith that we will see the dazzling appearance of Jesus, but that what we see will provide us with moral support.
  • We ask that we will be strengthened to bear our cross—that by seeing Jesus’ glory, we will be empowered to endure each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), including persecutions for the sake of Jesus (Matthew 5:10-12; Mark 10:28-31).
  • We ask that we will be transformed into the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29, 1 John 3:2), from glory to greater glory (2 Corinthians 3:18),
  • The second implicit request, which might be better taken as an implicit Aspiration, is that the pattern of our life be like Jesus’.  As Jesus set his face toward the suffering that was before him, it seems to me that his Transfiguration served him as an assurance that he was doing what he was asked to do for the sake of the world.  We ask for the vision of Jesus in his glory not for our sake, but so that we might be strengthened to follow in his footsteps and bear the cross allotted to the Church as part of God’s plan to redeem and restore all of creation (Romans 8:18-23; see also Catechism:  The Church, BCP 855).    

The season of Epiphany both begins and ends with the two events that the Church has understood as the revelation of the Holy Trinity:  both at Jesus’ baptism and at his Transfiguration, the Spirit is understood to be the glorious cloud that overshadowed Jesus and the Father’s voice is heard.  The typical Pleading, “through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen,” reminds us that we ask that this Petition be accomplished through the unity of the Holy Trinity for the glory of the Holy Trinity. 

As a denomination and as a parish, what is the cross we are asked to bear?  How has bearing this cross changed us into the likeness of Christ?  How is the pandemic changing how we bear this cross?

When and how are you best able to see the light of Jesus’ countenance with the eyes of your faith?  What is an example of how we have been changed into the likeness of Christ, from glory to glory, in our life together as a parish?

Note:  The season after the Epiphany begins on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6 (which is 12 days after Christmas Day), and ends on Ash Wednesday, which is the Wednesday that is 47 days before Easter Day.  Because Sundays are little Easters, they are not included in the count of the 40 days of Lent (note that the last week of Lent, beginning with the Sixth Sunday in Lent, is also referred to as Passiontide). 

O God,
who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain:
Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance,
may be strengthened to bear our cross,
and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever. Amen.

© 2022 Donna Hawk-Reinhard, edited by Kate McCormick
The citations from Marion Hatchett are from his Commentary on the American Prayer Book, HarperOne, 1995

Quotations and page references to The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) are from the 1979 standard edition. 
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide

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