On 7 January, the Feast of Epiphany, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 72, Isaiah 60:1-6, Matthew 2:1-12.
Most churches of the Anglican tradition and many others are named after a saint – its patron saint. On the day when that saint is remembered in the church calendar, the local church celebrates its patronal festival. Many churches are named after local saints who were remembered, and often prayed to, by the local population. Some of these churches were, and may still be, places of pilgrimage.
When it comes to cathedrals, they too are dedicated to a saint. St Peter’s in Rome is very famous, or Notre Dame (Our Lady) in Paris. In England it’s easy to forget the dedication as the cathedrals are usually referred to by where they are situated. Yesterday I was in Wakefield Cathedral (West Yorkshire) for an Epiphany Eucharist. Everyone calls it Wakefield Cathedral, that’s how it’s referred to on its website, but it is in fact the Cathedral Church of All Saints, Wakefield (a bit of a mouthful).
We are gathered here in our own cathedral in Second Life. Which saint is its patron? Well, despite there being suggestions of a suitable saint, this cathedral doesn’t have a patron saint. However, courtesy of our history, we still have a special place in the church calendar. On 4 May 2007 the leader of this ministry, Mark Brown (SL name Arkin Ariantho) made a request on our blog for a name for this island. It had recently been purchased and he wanted to let Linden Lab know what our new island was called. Four days later Mark announced that Epiphany Island was the chosen name. On 30 May the island arrived, and the cathedral was moved from its temporary home on Xenia to the table mountain of Epiphany Island on 8 June. The first service was held in the cathedral on 15 July 2007. The rest, as they say, is history.
Rather like many of the English cathedrals, ours is named by the place it occupies. This is the Cathedral of Epiphany Island. Epiphany is therefore the special day in the year, the one which focusses us on the name of our Cathedral and what that means. Epiphany means ‘a revelatory manifestation of a divine being or a comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization’. The Magi experienced an epiphany when they visited the Holy Family in Bethlehem. What they saw was likely to have been a very young first-time mother, an older father and a toddler. There would have been nothing exceptional about that. The Magi might have been able to find several examples of similar families in the area. However, they had travelled following a star to seek a king; on arrival they found more. For them, this opportunity to see that young child was indeed a manifestation of a divine being. They saw with intuition, so they worshipped Jesus before they gave gifts appropriate to Jesus’ roles: gold for a king, frankincense for a priest and myrrh for one who was destined to die for all.
The Magi were not Jews although they were learned men and so were likely to have known something about the Jewish faith. We don’t know what inspired them to travel to find Jesus, but we do know that on arrival they recognised his deity. Epiphany is the season of the church year when we remember how God revealed himself to those who would have their hearts open enough to really look and listen.
Epiphany as a name for our island surely speaks of the part we can play in God’s continuing revelation of himself. Mark Brown wanted to help create something in SL that would stand out, that would speak clearly about the Christian faith. That was the reason that a traditional looking cathedral was created as the central point of the island. Whether a person who teleports here has faith or not, they know what a cathedral stands for. Epiphany Island is working to be a manifestation of the divine in SL.
That manifestation would be limited if the island were empty of life, just a nice monument in pleasant surroundings. It is community which speaks of the Gospel. Jesus built a community around him and that community went on to spread the Good News throughout the world. It was within community that the early Christians demonstrated how their words and actions matched up. That is what drew people to the church; they saw in it the divine and they wanted to be part of it. It is our community of real people behind the avatars who help others to experience epiphany for themselves as long as what we believe to be true and how we act match up. We will each have different examples of how that has worked out.
We are now at the beginning of a new era for this community. Mark Brown led in the early days, from February 2007 to June 2009. What was offered to the community in terms of services, discussion groups, Bible study and so on developed at a rapid pace in that time. I have led since then and now the time of my leadership is coming to an end. The way forward will not be decided by one person but by the community as a whole. Every voice matters; God can speak through anyone (even a donkey – not that I’m accusing anyone of being an ass!). This is not the time to keep silent and let someone else do the work of deciding on a course of action. We all need to pray and listen to God. As the psalmist says: ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain’. We need to corporately hear God’s view about the future of Epiphany Island, its community and its cathedral.
I pray that whatever happens to this ministry of ours in SL, we will each live our lives in such a way that we can help to show those we meet the reality of Jesus.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor