On Sunday, Bishop Rachel presided and preached at a special service for Candlemas. The video of the full service is also at the bottom of the page.
Watch the sermon here:
Full text of the sermon:
Standing in the present looking back on dreams and hopes of the past; being aware of pains and hurts of the past; and longing for a hope-shaped future.
I wonder if that sounds familiar. Well, that was the experience of two old people over 2,000 years ago: Simeon and Anna.
And I love the fact that as we hear so much in our news at the moment about older people, today’s reading involves two old people who would certainly have been among the first tranche receiving a vaccination if they were here today.
This episode in Luke’s gospel draws the past and the future into a very present moment as Joseph and Mary come to present their baby boy in the temple, as was the custom. And in the present moment, the pain and joy of past and future are drawn into a place of hope. At the centre is the baby Jesus Christ, revealed as the light of the world.
For so long, and through life’s ups and downs, Simeon had held fast to the promises of God as told by the prophets such as Malachi. And now Simeon physically holds that dream come true – the baby Jesus Christ. And we hear those poignant words of Simeon which are echoed in the Nunc Dimittis (that prayer recited down the centuries at the end of day and often at funerals): ‘Now Lord, let your servant depart in peace – your word has been fulfilled.’
Simeon is ready to pass from life to death, and to eternal life with God.
Here is the light of the world – So shocking to the Jewish people at that time because this tiny fragile baby is not only being revealed as their promised Messiah but he is being revealed as the light for ALL people. The one who is the hope for all people and all places in every time, is lying in Simeon’s arms.
Anna too is a holder of hope. We know very little about her but what we are told is poignant. She was only married for seven years before her husband died. She was a woman who knew about grief and loss and shattered dreams and she had chosen to spend her days worshipping in the temple, keeping her eyes fixed on God, praying – prayer rooted in hope.
And in Anna we glimpse something of the grief and loss and shattered dreams which Mary is yet to experience. And as Simeon lets go in a place of hope, he speaks of Mary’s pain yet to come. Simeon tells Mary of pain yet to come, and one day it will be as if a sword is piercing her heart and soul.
I believe that many years later when Mary stood at the foot of the cross watching her grown son cruelly tortured to death, when that amazing good news from the Angel Gabriel all those years before now looked as if it was all crumbling, – I believe that Mary looked back and recalled those words of Simeon and clung onto hope, just as Simeon had done for all those years.
I believe Mary remembered Anna too, and somehow Mary knew that she too would be able to live with her pain by the grace of God because somewhere in it all there was hope in God. Like Anna and Simeon, Mary saw deeply. She saw beyond the immediate and how life seemed to be, and she clung onto hope. That didn’t diminish the pain and the authentic acknowledgement of her thoughts and emotions in the present, but that tiny flame of hope remained strong in the darkness. She knew the truth that she had given birth to the Light of the world, and the darkness would never overcome that light.
A word we frequently hear today is that word ‘resilience’. For me it’s what we see in Simeon and Anna and Mary – a hope-shaped resilience. And we’re given a beautiful insight into how Mary nurtured that hope-shaped resilience.
This telling of this presentation of Christ in the temple, comes immediately after Luke’s narrative of the shepherds on that first Christmas night. We are told that after the shepherds left the Holy family in Bethlehem, Mary treasured their words about all they had experienced, and she pondered them in her heart.
In these days of our present, like Simeon and Anna and Mary we are deeply aware of pain and that great sense of loss people are experiencing in so many different ways, and we need to be honest about our struggles and our weariness. Yet we also need to ponder – to look back and to look forward – to pray and ponder and to replenish the treasure of God within our hearts.
In a little while we will proclaim the great mystery of faith: ‘Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again’. Deep words to ponder as we treasure the mystery of what God has done in Christ and that which is yet to come. And in our pondering, we pray that we will see more deeply – Beyond how life seems to be.
After that great proclamation of the mystery of faith come those words in the Eucharistic prayer about working together as the body of Christ ‘for that day when God’s kingdom comes and justice and mercy will be seen in all the earth’.
In these days how are we looking deeply to see the signs of God’s Kingdom within us and around us – to be thankful and to treasure them?
As we walk into this week, where will be our prayerful pondering in our own lives and in the life of our worshipping communities, and together as a diocese, as we acknowledge the darkness, yet also ponder and treasure the light of Christ which will never be overcome?
And what will you thank God for this week and treasure for the future, to sustain you just as with Simeon, and just as Mary did, so that you can live the struggle with hope? What will you ponder this week which will build up the treasure store within you from which, like Anna, you can bless those around you?
May this week be one in which we treasure and ponder God’s promises and blessings so that we might see more deeply, and live the present with hope in Jesus Christ.