The Season of Epiphany isn’t known for its music. Of course, we all know and love “We three kings”, but a quick scan of the rest of the Epiphany section of the Hymnal 1982 leaves a lot to be desired, except for hymn number 135 which has a lot going for it. First, it was harmonized by J.S. Bach. Second, the first three verses were written by noted bishop, scholar, and poet The Right Reverend Christopher Wordsworth. Third, the final verse was added by a fellow VTS alum, an architect of not one, but two of the sanctioned hymnals of The Episcopal Church (1940 and 1982), and an advisor to the authors of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, F. Bland Tucker. Fourth, since we take hymn titles from their first lines, it gets a killer title, “Songs of thankfulness and praise.” Last, but not least, is the great phrase that ends all four verses and makes up the title of this post, “God in man made manifest.” What a great use of alliteration.
What does an Epiphany hymn have to do with the readings for Easter 6A? I’m glad you asked. At the very end of this Sunday’s Gospel lesson, Jesus makes a promise to his disciples. “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them” (John 14.21). That word, “reveal,” struck me this morning: probably because I’m preparing for a Bible Study on the Ascension next week. I was thinking about what it looks like to have Jesus reveal himself to me, when I went to Bibleworks and noticed the more traditional translation of “manifest,” which in turn, took me to my hymnal.
It makes sense to read the last phrase in hymn #135 as God becoming manifest in the man [person] of Jesus, but when it gets muddled up with John 14:21, I started to think about how God is made manifest in [hu]man[kind] on an ongoing basis. Or as another hymn puts it, “Where charity and love dwell, God himself is there” (Hymn 606, The Hymnal 1982).
God is manifest in the good works of his disciples. God is manifest in the actions of those who love him. God is manifest in the keeping of his commandment to love. Even as Jesus is no longer on earth, God continues to be manifest in men and women who do his work in the world, and for every one of them, famous or known to God alone, who has worked to bring the Kingdom to earth, “let anthems be to thee addressed, God in man made manifest.”