Refreshment by the Way

From “The Season of Epiphany,” Parochial and Plain Sermons (1841)

Epiphany is a season especially set apart for adoring the glory of Christ. The word may be taken to mean the manifestation of his glory, and leads us to the contemplation of him as a king upon his throne in the midst of his court, with his servants around him, and his guards in attendance. At Christmas we commemorate his grace; and in Lent his temptation; and on Good Friday his sufferings and death; and on Easter Day his victory; and on Ascension his return to the Father; and in Advent we anticipate his second coming. And in all of these seasons he does something, or suffers something: but in the Epiphany and the weeks after it, we celebrate him, not as on his field of battle, or in his solitary retreat, but as an august and glorious king; we view him as the object of our worship…

This being the character of this sacred season, our services throughout it, as far as they are proper to it, are full of the image of a king in his royal court, of a sovereign surrounded by subjects, of a glorious prince upon a throne. There is no thought of war, or of strife, or of suffering, or of triumph, or of vengeance connected with the Epiphany, but of august majesty, of power, of prosperity, of splendor, of serenity, of benignity. Now, if at any time, it is fit to say, “The Lord is in his holy Temple, let all the earth keep silence before him.”…

In the Gospel for the second Sunday he manifests his glory at the wedding feast, when he turned the water into wine, a miracle not of necessity or urgency, but especially an august and bountiful act — the act of a king, who out of his abundance gave a gift to his own, therewith to make merry with their friends… When then Christ gives us what is pleasant, let us take it as a refreshment by the way, that we may, when God calls, go in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb, the mount of God. Let us rejoice in Epiphany with trembling, that at Lent we may go into the vineyard with the laborers with cheerfulness, and may sorrow with thankfulness; let us rejoice now, not as if we have attained, but in hope of attaining. Let us take our present happiness, not as our true rest, but, as what the land of Canaan was to the Israelites —a type and shadow of it.

If we now enjoy God’s ordinances, let us not cease to pray that they may prepare us for his presence hereafter. If we enjoy the presence of friends, let them remind us of the communion of saints before his throne. Let us trust in nothing here, yet draw hope from everything — that at length the Lord may be our everlasting light, and the days of our mourning may be ended.

St. John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was among the most widely influential English theologians of the nineteenth century. One of the principal leaders of Anglicanism’s Catholic revival at Oxford in the 1830’s, he became a Roman Catholic in 1845, and was an Oratorian for the remainder of his life. He was made a cardinal shortly before his death and was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 2019. His Parochial and Plain Sermons, first published in 1863, were written in his years as an Anglican priest, while serving as vicar of Oxford’s Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. His feast day on the Roman Calendar is October 9 and he is commemorated on other days on the liturgical calendars of several Anglican Churches.

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