St John’s looked wonderful yesterday, on the feast of Candlemas. The candelabra were ablaze with light and individual candles flickered their shifting, fragile, flames into the vastness of this holy space creating a poignant scene, full of deep symbolism. We ended the service at the font, where life begins, looking back forty days to Christmas and ahead to the looming, dark, yet redeeming passion of Christ. We looked, each one of us no doubt, from the inevitably narrow perspective of our own very fragile humanity, trusting, as Simeon and Anna did, that we were in the presence of God who saves and draws from darkness into his marvellous light. Earlier, with the children all around me sitting on the floor of the Nave, we had thought about faithfulness and how it is often rewarded by clear vision and insight.
For Simeon and Anna it had been a whole life of waiting, though they surely had had other leading moments of encounter with God, moments that had been sustaining, firing up expectation and hope, encounters of promise, “You will not see death before you see the Lord’s Messiah…” Mary’s and Joseph’s faithfulness was rewarded too, as Jesus, cradled in the arms of wisdom and devotion, was recognized and proclaimed “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many…”
Mary is further rewarded with infinitely greater depth of insight as Simeon presages the piercing sword, poised, searching, ready to plunge into suffering and despair, beginning in Mary’s own emotional life. That suffering can bear healing is one of the many great paradoxes of the Christian message which we proclaim, surely, with some trepidation. The cross leads to the abundance of resurrection life, but, Jesus descended into hell, says the creed, before he rose on the third day.
A beautiful service, pulling at all manner of emotional strings… But what was the point of it?
To transliterate the prophet Malachi… that we may be purified by the love of God to bring hope to the oppressed and the suffering and the destitute and the sojourner and the alien and to all whose lives are empty of hope or meaning…
The children and I walked around the church and looked at all the flickering lights, the light of the faithful who, like Simeon and Anna, were in God’s temple. They also looked in a mirror at images of themselves, also faithful, also present, lights to shine with the Gospel of love and reconciliation today and tomorrow and until we are enabled, like Simeon, mercifully to “…go in peace.”