Sunday, January 29, 2017

Epiphany Needs its own Colour

When I was a child the same colour was used in the church to designate the seasons of Advent and Lent – both were assigned the colour purple, a colour of royalty, passion and penitence. For some reason this began to change sometime in the 70’s and thus in many churches the colour blue became the colour of Advent.

We currently have a similar situation with the Season of Epiphany and the Season after Pentecost (both of which are designated as Ordinary Time). I cannot think of Epiphany as ‘ordinary’, this season of revelation - of light and insight - it has its own distinct tone, its own unique emphasis, its own personality. I think it needs its own colour.

Epiphany begins with the light of a star leading Magi to the Christ child, and continues with the divine identity of Jesus being revealed in various ways to the waiting world. A voice is heard at Jesus’ baptism proclaiming “This is my beloved son”; water is turned to wine at a wedding feast leading one to say “You have saved the best wine until now.”; prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures which speak of light dawning on a people in darkness get referenced by Jesus, or by the Gospel writers about Jesus. When artists of earlier centuries sought to reveal Jesus’ divine nature they painting a golden yellow halo around his head. Golden yellow, the colour of a dancing flame atop a candle standing on the altar (or a lamp on a lampstand), such a colour seems like a perfect choice to mark a season of revelation.

Baptismal Font and Epiphany Paraments

When I look at Van Gogh’s painting “Starry Night” I see the shimmering golden yellow marking the vibrance of the stars in the night sky, and I think of the light of the world, and the message of the heavenly host swirling through the heavens “Glory to God in the highest!”  When I see the sun rise in the east, changing the deep blues of twilight into the golden hues of sun rise I think of the rising of the Son of God. When I see the golden yellow of pure silk fabric I imagine the magi from the east bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Golden yellow is the colour I most easily associate with the Season of Epiphany.

A few years ago there was a clearance sale on stoles which came from MESH (Maximizing Employment to Serve the Handicapped), a non-profit organization in India founded to provide opportunities for disabled people and their dependents. I noticed that there were some golden yellow stoles no one was picking up, and since the price was right I picked one up (as did my ministry partner Pastor Lynn Robertson). I figured these stoles were intended to be used at Easter (which instead of white can use gold as a liturgically appropriate colour). But these stoles were more yellow than gold. That’s when the thought hit me “These stoles could be used for the Season of Epiphany”.

Pastor Lynn Robertson and I wearing our MESH golden yellow stoles.

It always seemed odd to me, being that I live in the northern hemisphere, that green would show up in the paraments at a time in the year when the only things that were green were either plastic plants or leftovers growing mold in the back of the fridge. There was no green on the Canadian prairies in the middle of winter, but sunlight – bright golden sunlight – that we had plenty of.

I don’t know who first had the idea for using the colour blue for Advent, but somebody, somewhere did – and it caught on. So I decided that if I thought the Season of Epiphany should have its own colour, then I should simply start the ball rolling. At first we could only wear our MESH stoles, but then this year Karen Schultz, a talented fabric artist from our congregation, created some paraments from beautiful golden yellow silk fabric that she had found. Besides the paraments hanging on the pulpit, lectern and altar, she also created two long side banners, and most lovely of all, a new Epiphany stole!

So now our sanctuary is resplendent in its golden yellow paraments, and the season of Epiphany is being marked with its own colour. I encourage other congregations and clergy to consider doing the same, explaining the significance of light as a symbol of Epiphany, and golden yellow as an appropriate colour to remind us of the revealing of the Christ. Jesus born of Mary and acknowledged by the magi, Jesus the light of the world who brings hope to a world trapped in darkness, sight to people who are blind (both physically and spiritually), and the warmth of God’s love to shine upon us.

New Epiphany paraments and stole created by Karen Schultz.

1 comment:

  1. That is a very compelling explanation. I remember you talking about this years ago but I didn't dwell on it too much, thinking "how would you ever change an entrenched church tradition like a seasonal colour?" Clearly your description was convincing enough to win over your congregation and just might catch on more broadly. You could be just as famous as that guy who first used blue for Advent.