[Episcopal News Service] In a livestreamed Jan. 6 worship service from Washington, D.C., that marked both the Feast of the Epiphany and the first anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Capitol, and later in an address to the nation from the Lincoln Memorial, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry called on Christians to reclaim the spiritual light that the holiday celebrates and reject the “deeper darkness” shown in the attack.
“Epiphany, at its deepest roots, is about the light and life and love of God,” Curry preached in his sermon at the Church of the Epiphany, just east of the White House. “And what happened here in this country that we love a year ago was not about light and love and life. And we are better than that. And we must declare it.”
Standing near the monument to President Abraham Lincoln, who led the U.S. through the Civil War, Curry spoke about the “peril and promise” of this moment. The “nightmare of Jan. 6” was “a revelation that there are forces intentionally seeking and working to divide us,” he said in a video recording. “Left unchecked, unaddressed, and unhealed, this can lead to the decline and deconstruction of our nation.
“Such a moment demands moral vision that sees beyond mere self-interest and beholds the common good — a spiritual strength stronger than any sword.”
At the invitation of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the presiding bishop also offered a prayer during a brief early evening vigil with members of Congress at the Capitol.
The noon worship service highlighted the contrast between the Feast of the Epiphany – which celebrates the revelation of Jesus in the world, particularly to the magi who came to visit Bethlehem – and the attack on the Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, who breached and ransacked the building for about five hours after being spurred on by the former president’s false claims about election fraud.
In a passionate sermon, Curry presented Christians with a stark “moment of decision”: the light of the Epiphany or the darkness of anti-democratic insurrection.
“It never occurred to me in my 68 years of living that it would be necessary for me to stand up in front of the people of God and declare that it is necessary to reclaim Epiphany,” Curry said. “But one year ago, … darkness descended [on] the land and Epiphany was eclipsed at the Capitol of the United States of America. And it occurred to me a few months ago that whatever else goes on, we who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ must reclaim Epiphany.”
The bilingual service, spoken in English and Spanish, and co-led by Washington Bishop Mariann Budde and the Rev. Glenna Huber, Epiphany’s rector, included musical performances from Kory Caudill and Chanda Leigh Adeogba and a litany inviting all to re-commit to Jesus’ Way of Love. Curry also reiterated his vision of the Way of Love, repeating the idea that drew international attention in his sermon at the 2018 wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle: “If it doesn’t look like love, it’s not about God.”
Curry also stressed the need to reclaim Christianity itself, referring to the Christian imagery and language co-opted by many of the rioters.
“We saw the Capitol of the United States of America breached, the temple of democracy desecrated … We saw symbols of Christianity used to perpetuate the desecration,” he said. “We must reclaim it by choosing the light.”
In his Lincoln Memorial speech, Curry offered three “spiritual keys” Americans can use to come together and move forward: renewing relationships with God, reviving relationships with each other and resurrecting commitments to shared ideals. Sharing the thoughts of leaders like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Lincoln and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Curry pointed to “unselfish, sacrificial love” as the antidote to violent chaos — “to truly seek justice and not mere revenge.”
The service, speech and prayer vigil in Washington were among a number of events scheduled to mark the anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.
On Jan. 5, Old North Church in Boston, Massachusetts, an Episcopal church best known as the illuminated focal point of Paul Revere’s 1775 ride at the start of the American Revolution, lit its historic lanterns in support of American democracy.
On the morning of Jan. 6, Biden addressed the nation from the Capitol with a speech that condemned Trump and other Republicans who pushed the falsehoods about election fraud that fueled the riot.
“The former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election,” Biden said. “For the first time in our history, a president had not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol. … I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of democracy.”
Democrats in the House and Senate also held commemorative events throughout the day on Capitol Hill, honoring those who were injured protecting the Capitol, joined by two Republicans – Rep. Liz Cheney and former Vice President Dick Cheney – while Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene held a news conference outside the Capitol falsely claiming that federal agents started the riots.
– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.