Epiphany is a really good time to introduce both interfaith and intrafaith themes to a congregation.
The story of the magi in Matthew’s gospel is a perfect example of “passing over and coming back,” the concept introduced in John Dunne’s book, The Way of All the Earth:
“What seems to be occurring is a phenomenon we might call ‘passing over,’ passing from one culture to another, from one way of life to another, from one religion to another. Passing over is a shifting of standpoint, a going over to the standpoint of another culture, another way of life, another religion.
“It is followed by an equal and opposite process we might call ‘coming back,’ coming back with new insight to one’s own culture, one’s own way of life, one’s own religion. . .
“Passing over and coming back, it seems, is the spiritual adventure of our time.”
The Magi, who I like to believe Matthew would have envisioned as Zoroastrian priests, passed over into Judaism in order to honor a sacred moment in that religion. A non-canonical text from the sixth century, The Arabic Infancy Gospel of the Savior, tells the story this way:
“And it came to pass, when the Lord Jesus was born at Bethlehem of Judaea, in the time of King Herod, behold, magi came from the east to Jerusalem, as Zeraduscht* had predicted; and there were with them gifts, gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And they adored Him, and presented to Him their gifts. Then the Lady Mary took one of the swaddling-bands, and, on account of the smallness of her means, gave it to them; and they received it from her with the greatest marks of honour. And in the same hour there appeared to them an angel in the form of that star which had before guided them on their journey; and they went away, following the guidance of its light, until they arrived in their own country.”
*Zeraduscht is a form of Zarathushtra, the founding Prophet of Zoroastrianism
In Matthew, the Magi passed over and then crossed back to their own home and their own religion. I imagine a version of the story, in which these Zoroastrian holy ones brought back learnings and insights about Judaism that became part of their own practice.
But I also imagine an intrafaith discussion on the way home. “I agree with this.” “But what about that?” “How does that fit in with what Zoroaster teaches?” These Magi might help us to follow the star of Wisdom be our into our own intrafaith journeys.
This Epiphany, how might you and/or your congregation pass over into, learn about, and experience a different tradition?
How might you and/or your congregation cross back into Christianity and delve into the insights and questions that arose from that encounter?
Blessed Epiphany, O Wise Ones. Journey well!