‘Can you be the Third King?’ Nick said with that glint in his eye. I was expecting to be doing one of the gospel readings but apparently Balthazar had not turned up for rehearsal. So there I was half an hour or so before the Epiphany service was about to start and I was finding myself plunged into the role of a late running Magi. Not for the first time, on this extraordinary journey of vocation, was I tackling something new.
As the vestry filled with the ancient aroma and clouds of incense and we grappled with our majestic robes, a sense of theatre descended. I am not sure what the good folk of Chesterton, cycling through the churchyard, would have made of this collection of silk and velvet weaving its way to the church door. But perhaps as we stood at the back of the church We Three Kings of Orient are and indeed the congregation had a slight sense of the anticipation felt by those original travellers.
The slow procession and almost sacramental offering of the gifts above the altar and the nativity scene brought a reality that I have not experienced in Epiphany before. It seemed fitting that a festival that celebrates the diversity of Kingdoms coming together at the stable door should, on that evening be inspired by the colourful and rich traditions of many cultures. Indeed our Caspar was also originally from India and took his own real name from the tradition of the apostle Thomas who it is believed to have visited the continent.
The remembrance of water and wine at the altar and water at the font connected the Epiphany of the wise men with the reality of the church’s daily life. It was a particularly beautiful moment when Caspar poured a flagon of water into the Baptismal Font and when members of the congregation later knelt in front of the altar to offer their own gifts.
For myself, I was reminded of the spanish celebrations of Epiphany where my family has witnessed the Three Kings arriving by boat and processing into the coastal town of Javea.
Given that I was very much last minute, I was touched by the words that Balthazar said as he lifted the gift of Myrrh……
‘Blessed are you, Lord God, King of the universe, to you be praise and glory forever!’ As you give medicine to heal our sickness, and the leaves of the tree of life, for the healing of the nations, so anoint us with your healing power that we may be the first fruits of your new creation.’
This seemed to resonate and offer a prayer not only with the healing from my surgery but a world in need of healing, perhaps more than ever before.