Monday, 1 February 2016


Luke 2.22-40, 1 Corinthians 13.1-13, Ezekiel 43.27-44.4 The Presentation of Christ in the Temple The official feast day for Candlemas is 2nd February, obviously this is the Sunday nearest. The Church of England rules for the Christian year state that it is a principal feast day like Ash Wednesday or Ascension day for example, yet it is one with which we are often less familiar. We may also know it as ‘The Presentation of Christ in the Temple’. Some of you probably know that Jewish law considered a woman unclean for 40 days after she had given birth to a boy and for even longer after the birth of a girl. During this time the mother would have been excluded from the temple. At the end of this they were brought to the temple to be purified, and also brought the child to present him to God and give thanks, after which the woman would be permitted to join in worship once again. As we strive to make this church a place that is welcoming to everyone it’s hard to hear how the temple at the time of Jesus excluded so many through its various rules. Traditions grew based around light, perhaps the light of Christ revealed in the temple mixed with pagan recognition that we are moving away from the season of darkness towards spring equinox, and this date was adopted as the day when a church would bless all its candles for the year, obviously important when there was no electricity, hence the name Candlemas. Candles can only share their light by burning themselves away, chiming with self-sacrifice, service and love. Our reading from Ezekiel resonates with our gospel reading. God comes to the temple and fills it with his glory and we hear that Ezekiel ‘falls upon his face’. What else could he do? How would we react when all we hoped to be true, built our very existence around, longed, worked and prayed for was made real before our very eyes? In Luke’s gospel as Christ is presented in the temple there is a strange mix of the ordinary and extraordinary. It’s quite likely that this routine ritual was being observed by several couples with their babies at the same time, as we sometimes do with christenings. Every parent feels that their child is special but one is clearly more special than the others who are somewhat upstaged by what happens next! The extraordinary is made real by Simeon and Anna. Luke gives them credibility and respect, a sort of character reference describing Simeon as ‘righteous’ and ‘devout’ and stating that ‘the Holy Spirit rested upon him’. We hear how Anna worshipped in the temple ‘with fasting and prayer night and day’. They are each of a good age and there is a sense that they are the people who could be relied upon to recognise the ‘Lord’s Messiah’ if anyone could. They had been waiting, watching, longing and preparing patiently over the years. Simeon, a total stranger, takes Jesus from Mary’s arms and begins to proclaim loudly about him. ‘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’. Like Ezekiel Simeon and Anna realise that God has filled the temple, Simeon’s reaction is to praise God, light and hope have been born into the darkness, he’s effectively saying that nothing greater could happen in his life, to the extent that he was now ready to accept death peacefully as a fulfilled and joyful man. Anna starts sharing the good news with those seeking the Messiah. As well as being amazed Jesus parents must have been disturbed and frightened to hear that many will oppose their son and that struggle and pain were in the future. Of course the words of Simeon have been incorporated into our ritual worship, heard regularly here at Evensong as the Nunc Dimittis, from the Latin, ‘now you dismiss’. There’s encouragement here for us to keep a patient faith alive, even when it feels that we can’t see the light, to maintain eyes open to seeing God’s love in human bodies often passed by and sometimes apparently invisible to many. Ezekiel, Anna and Simeon have not stumbled across God by chance it’s clear that their faithful longing to see God glorified is all that matters to them.Paul’s letter challenges the Corinthians to consider whether that’s the case for them. Did I hear a voice protesting ‘what he didn’t write this for couples to have read at their wedding ceremony?’ I am sure we have all heard the reading time and again at weddings, it’s even suggested as an appropriate wedding reading by the Church of England on the website so it must be OK. Certainly if the couple in a marriage can share love which is patient and kind, which rejoices in the truth, which is not irritable or resentful, then they are off to a great start. It might also help to consider that eventually many accept that you can also find love in your partner when they are irritable and worth reminding the other that ‘love does not insist on its own way’ sparingly. Few wedding days will allow time to reflect on the fuller meaning of Paul’s words.Because of love Mary’s soul was pierced by a sword, because of love Jesus died on a cross and because of love it’s inevitable that each of our hearts will be broken. Yet still we find there is nothing greater. Paul is telling the church in Corinth that it is God who doesn’t insist on his own way, that it is Jesus who bears all things on our behalf and it’s time for the church to remember this, come together and reflect this love amongst themselves. Last week we heard St Paul speak about the diverse members that make up the body of Christ and it follows that God’s love is for all even to the extent that it connects us to those we have loved that have died. Romantic, sentimental love may have it’s place but Paul points us towards love that is so profound that it becomes the very foundation for all that we are. I found some words from the theologian Leslie Weatherhead which might help, he says that…‘Love in the New Testament is stern and strong and severe and virile. It is not sloppy and sentimental and weak…Love is all the things St Paul described…. , but it has steel in it as well as tears and a smashing power greater far than dynamite. Love suffers, entreats and endures, and fools think this is weakness. But those who oppose love take up arms against the whole universe. They will be broken, not love. For love is invincible. Love is the only power in the world that can change our motives as they have got to be changed if our dreams are to come true.’ You may not agree with me but it feels that St Paul’s words on love are in fact better suited to a funeral than a wedding. Paul points us to a time when we will see what perfect love looks like, not the blemished version we know in our earthly relationships. The love in which God knows us will be known to us when we see face to face. The challenge of Candlemas, then, is a challenge to find the presence of God in our midst, to look for his love at work among us at home, at work, at school maybe even in church. As we reflect on the brutal words uttered to Mary ‘and a sword will pierce your own soul too’ we start to think of lent and Easter, it’s time for the crib to be put away for another year. As we move closer to Lent now is also a great opportunity to decide how we might use the season to break habits that stop us seeing God at work in each other, might we even learn to be a little more ‘Simeon like’ in our faith, patience and expectation? Amen Kevin Bright 31 January 2016

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