With what's left of my seminary Greek after eighteen years, I can break the word down into a prefix epi--"out-outer-over"--and a verb stem phan--"show." So we get something like "show forth" or, in more traditional English parlance, "manifest." In the Prayer Book tradition, the subtitle of today's feast is "the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles." Jesus is for everybody, not just for the cultural heirs of Christendom. See yesterday's post.
This is not a neutral assertion. It is controversial. As recently as this past week, there was a flap in the Anglican blogsphere over a detail in the Washington Cathedral station of President Ford's peripatetic funeral. One of the standard lectionary choices for a Prayer Book burial service is John 14:1-6. The final verse reads "Jesus said to [Thomas), 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, but by me.'" Only when the lesson was read in the service, the final phrase ("no one comes...") was omitted.
To my knowledge, nobody has claimed credit for this bit of latter-day redaction. A source who may be in a position to know asserts with confidence that it was the decision of John Chane, the Bishop of Washington, on whose turf the rites were taking place. In turn, his behavior may have been prompted by the fact that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is still feeling the aftershocks of her pre-installation remarks in the press to the effect that Jesus is one way to God, but there are others.
It's tricky to sort out the substance from the reactivity in all this. My own take is that the P.B. has wandered off the reservation on this one. Maybe she would like to slip back in under the fence if she could do so without being noticed. But she's clearly out of bounds, as a Christian leader, in her assertion that there are pluriform and equally efficacious routes to reconciliation and communion with the Creator of all things.
Nonetheless, I can appreciate where she and others get some of their animus. There are Christians who give Christianity a bad name by taking verses like John 14:6 and turning them into cudgels with which they bludgeon the very souls Jesus wants to save. They are more interested in the precise nature of Hell and who actually goes there than they are with preventing its overpopulation.
As a matter of logical necessity, I believe in the existence of Hell because I believe in free will. I tend to believe that Hell is actually populated, because I've known of some people who were so immersed in evil that they seem to have lost any semblance of humanity. I know that faith in Christ and communion with his Church is the sure and certain route to Heaven, and that it is therefore of the essence of the Church's mission to constantly and winsomely invite all people--yes, even Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Wiccans--into her fellowship. But I certainly don't try to shackle God's love by pretending to know what God has not actually revealed. If He wants to save some who have never "professed and called themselves Christians," then that's His business. More power to Him.
Shine, Jesus, shine.