Thought for the week - 31 January - Looking forward to Candlemass
Gospel Luke 2: 22-40 The Feast of The Presentation of Christ in the temple, or Candlemass can be kept on this Sunday, or on Tuesday, 2nd Febuary
This Feast marks the end of Christmas / Epiphanytide. It has been described (in our service booklet) thus: Candlemas is not some optional extra, but the natural climax, after forty days, of the Christmas/Epiphany season. Although they allow an approach that ends the annual celebration of the Incarnation after twelve days, they encourage an imaginative use of the weeks of January as an exploration of the Epiphany themes, and see Candlemas as a fitting end to it and an important turning point in the Christian year. This is a feast rich in meaning, with several related themes running through it -- presentation, purification, meeting, light for the world. The several names by which it has been known in Christian history illustrate just how much it has to teach and to celebrate. But the strongest attraction of Candlemas is the 'bitter-sweet' nature of what it celebrates. It is a feast day, and the revelation of the child Jesus in the Temple, greeted by Simeon and Anna, calls for rejoicing. Nevertheless, the prophetic words of Simeon, which speak of the falling and rising of many and the sword that will pierce, lead on to the passion and to Easter. The scriptures and the liturgy of the Christmas season have several pointers to the suffering of the Lord, but none more potent than the words of Simeon. Coming as they do at the very end of the Christmas celebration and with Lent nearly always very close, they make Candlemas a kind of pivot in the Christian year. It is as if we say, on 2 February, 'One last look back to Christmas, and now, turn towards the cross!' (Based on the introduction in The Promise of His Glory, Church House Publishing.) With so many rich layers of meaning, it is difficult to pick on just one to explore here. I would like us to think about Anna and Simeon. We are told that they are old, very old. We are further told that they have been waiting and praying for the ‘Salvation of Israel’, for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. In their long life they have seen the struggle of Israel to maintain their relationship with God. They will know about the apostasy from the past, and in their own lifetime they will have experienced the difficulty of survival of faithfulness under the yoke of Roman occupation As Jesus is presented to him Simeon proclaims what we now call the Nunc Dimittis, recited each day at either Evening prayer or Compline: Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel. (Luke 2. 29-32) Now we can look at this in at least two ways. We can see Simeon sighing and saying as it were, ‘That’s me done, I can finish now – I can die.’ It can be seen as an ending. Or, in the context of the canticle and this feast we can see this in a more positive way. As in the introduction we can see this as an end to one stage yes, but a move on to another stage – not without pain, but with a positive outlook. The word ‘depart’ in the Nunc Dimittis comes from a complex Greek word ἀπολύεις (apolyeis). It can mean release from life but it can have the sense of moving on. In the canticle we can see this as Simeon asking to move on from the darkness of the past to the salvation, the light for all people. This move is brought about by the coming of Jesus, it has still to reach its fulfilment, a painful fulfilment involving the rising and falling of many and a sword piercing the heart of Mary.(Lk 2. vv 34-35). Perhaps we may allow ourselves to look at our present situation through the lens of this Gospel passage and the Feast of light, of Candlemass. We have been through a time of great darkeness. But there is too, with the roll-out of the vaccine, a light on the horizon. It will not all be plain sailing, we still have darkness to come. But we can surely say with Simeon as it were ‘We can see light, we can see salvation, before the face of all people.’
Why not, on Tuesday, light a candle and pray the words of Simeon.
You might to use this little order of service. Light a candle and as you light it pray: O Lord our God, who dwells in infinite light, You sent your beloved son to scatter the darkness from our lives. Bless this candle, and let its burning always remind us that You are our Light in darkness, our Protector in danger, and our saving Lord at all times. Amen Reading: Luke 2. 22-35 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’ Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’ And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ O Lord Christ, yourself the temple of the heavenly city, and its light, and its surpassing splendour: Grant that we who in this earthly house offer to you our worship, may be brought in peace to the vision of your glory in heaven; where, with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and for ever. Amen. Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel. Amen