Throughout this season of Epiphany, we have been hearing stories about epiphanies. These Gospel readings have been rather dramatic: First the Magi, those strangers from the east who were important people, and the political intrigue as Herod tried to use them as spies; the dream they had to go home a different path, and of course the moment when they bowed down to a baby in a manger in Bethlehem and brought gifts fit for a king. Then we heard the dramatic story of Jesus’s baptism when the heavens opened up and the spirit came down like a dove for all to see; the voice boomed out, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” This was another dramatic epiphany moment.
Then we heard the epiphanies in the disciple’s dramatic callings when the disciples left everything, left what they were doing, left their boats and their nets and their families to follow Jesus. It was a dramatic reversal of everything in their life to follow this man. The stories continued on with the epiphanies heard in the healing stories. Last week we heard the story in the Capernaum synagogue as the unclean spirit yelled out at Jesus, a very dramatic epiphany moment in front of a large crowd for all to see.
The epiphanies continue this week. But what is striking about the epiphany we have in the beginning of today’s Gospel is that it is not a dramatic moment. It’s a rather subtle and private moment. Jesus enters into the house of Simon Peter and Andrew where Simon Peter’s mother in law is sick with a fever. Jesus goes to her in her bed. It is a small place, with only the two of them and perhaps a couple of disciples, but certainly no crowds of people. It would be a very private, intimate moment. Jesus reached out and took her hand in his and he lifted her up. The word for “lifted her up” is the exact same word used for the resurrection in Mark’s Gospel. Commentators throughout the ages have noted that it is a foreshadowing of Jesus’s Resurrection. It is an epiphany for those who see the lifting up that Jesus accomplishes.
What is most striking about this epiphany is the subtleness of what takes place, and the tenderness of what occurs when Jesus takes her hand in his. It might feel like a throw away detail, but in Mark’s Gospel, there are no throw away details. I’m sure you remember that Mark’s Gospel is very brief, very short, very sparse. Things proceed quickly: we’re still in the first chapter, and we’ve already had Jesus’s baptism, the forty days in the wilderness, the calling of all the disciples and the beginning of his ministry, his teaching and healings have begun, and we are still in the first chapter. There are no wasted words in Mark’s Gospel. So when there is a supposedly throw away detail, we need to pay attention to it, especially when the detail of the taking of hands is repeated throughout Mark’s Gospel. It occurs four times: here with Simon Peter’s mother in law, in the lifting up of Jarius’s daughter, the blind man, and when he heals a boy with an unclean spirit. In all four of these stories, Jesus takes their hand. So Mark is deliberate here: this is a moment to which we should pay attention. It is a tender, intimate moment in which Jesus takes the hand of this woman and an epiphany occurs, an in-breaking of the Holy One of God, an in-breaking of God’s grace, mercy and love in this subtle moment.
I think it is all to easy to think that epiphanies are dramatic moments with booming voices like the one we heard at the River Jordan, or moments that transform lives and everything must be left behind. But the reality is that most epiphanies, most times when God is working in our lives are taking place in the subtle moments. In the little things that might feel like throw-aways, God is working there. In the tender, compassionate moments of affection and love, God is present.
The past few weeks have been surrounded by death for us of this parish. We lost a long time member whose funeral was here, and 300 people gathered to say goodbye. As I was leaving the service, getting ready to go to the reception, I grabbed my phone and saw a text message from another parishioner whose father had just died. This came on the heels of a couple of days earlier when another father and grandfather of parishioners had died, a wonderful man who touched many lives. It has been a season of death, of grief, of sorrow. But in the midst of it all, I have seen those subtle, tender moments: a smile shared, a hug offered, a picture posted on Facebook, a story told. Tender, affectionate, intimate moments in which God’s grace, mercy, and love are breaking in.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, God is working in your life every day. It doesn’t need to be a big, dramatic voice speaking to you. It can be in a simple act of love that you share or is shared with you. God is dwelling there. Pay attention to those subtle moments as they happen in your life so that you can know that you are experiencing holiness in the midst of them. God is acting every day in your life. The only question is are we paying enough attention to notice it?