Fourth Sunday of Epiphany: 30th January (HR)
Readings: Ezek. 43: 27-44.4; Ps. 48; 1 Cor. 13; Lk. 2: 22-40.
Simeons and Annas
May it be given to me to speak in the name of the Son, to the glory of the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit. AMEN
Who are your Simeons and Annas? I realise that, for me, they are several people – some sitting in this congregation – some lying in the cemetery here – some elsewhere. Mostly incidental characters, yet crucial on my own journey toward the presentation of Christ and the feast we are anticipating on Wednesday.
Candlemas, as we experience it through Simeon and Anna’s story in Luke’s gospel, becomes a graced moment; an experiential Nunc dimittis, in which our own eyes are widened with Simeon’s, our lips opened that bit wider with Anna’s in a spirit of proclamation, and Mary and Joseph’s purification-offering actualised for us at the bringing of Jesus – God and man – before the entire Jewish-gentile world.
So as the old, frail, incidental Simeon sings his canticle today, we also find a voice with Anna to “speak about the child to all who are looking for redemption.” (Lk. 2: 38).
And I think I begin to get something of what Fr Ben might be trying to express in his theory about liturgical time. Like those of the Holy Week to come, the events of today’s gospel transcend solely historical recollection: they become, moreover, an incorporation of the life of a whole community – namely the Church – into the expansive, participative life of the Kingdom event. And that event is Christ himself who is independent of beginning or end, presented afresh in the feast we are to keep, yet fully known – fully presented and re-presented – in the hearts and minds of those who love him; whose eyes have seen his salvation.
Simeon and Anna – 2000 years ago and today – bear with and for us all the consummation of time and eternity as they attest to its fulfilment in the “uncreated light [that] shines through infant eyes.”
Anna who kneels and waits at the Spirit’s behest no matter how long it takes – being formed and guided by a devout life into old age; Simeon, doubtless with a smile on his face in spite of arthritis and the wear and tear of years, never doubting that Messiah will come. And when he does, lifting him up for a cuddle to foreshadow the exaltation to the cross that is coming, yet already here.
The Agape of which Paul writes to the Corinthians we find there to human view displayed in the babe of Bethlehem. Here is a moment full of grace and truth, formed and ready to spend itself and to be spent after the perfect image of him who makes love possible; he who floods the way with light from eternity because he wants us to live in that eternity of beginning without end; to anticipate and realise with Simeon the incarnation of the new Israel; to sing with Anna the often-dissonant canticle of humanity’s redemption; to inhabit those continuous moments of liturgical time which are evermore in the chronology of the here and now; to live in the love and faith of communion, where broken bread is shared and wine brimming with fresh hope is poured out, inebriating the hearts and voices of many, that many may have truth’s equal possession.
The Simeons and Annas of his story – and more wonderfully of ours – breathe identity into the Pauline example of agape, offering human personality in the spirit of humility and good zeal which is glory for all his faithful people – now – and in the age to come.
Who are your Simeons and Annas? Perhaps they’re next to you; perhaps they ought to be, and you can’t hear them or your sight is growing dim. Well, Simeon’s impairment is what transforms his vision, and it is Anna’s tenacity of 84 years that glorifies her vocation. Do not lose your Simeons and Annas: They are your presentation of Christ; your living Candlemas. Theirs is the more excellent way, and they are the ones who abide with faith and hope in the pursuit of love on this continuum that is grace, whom to serve – whom to pitch one’s tent amongst – costs us everything, yet makes us free indeed.
Here is Freda – at church Sunday after Sunday – looking for me; concerned I am being bullied at work; believing that I am being called by God to more than that; giving me the unconditional light of presence; passing on the hope of the one she believed would come with similar passion, yet with resurrection; with end and yet beginning; possessing in herself a window onto God through which I might glimpse his light – and believe again – and live – at least for 45 minutes on a Sunday morning: I can’t forget her.
There is Eric, whose evaluation of my parochial sermons was summarised as, “You’re developing a nice bass voice.” Thankfully, he came back when I was rotaed-on to preach again!
Who are your Simeons and Annas?
Fired with the hope of their perpetuity, let us bear witness after their example; let us convene and dismiss his people with their same zeal for love and their holy spirit of humility and faith. Watch how they do it. Share in the salvation they possess and present, so many may know themselves fully alive in the one who continues to reveal his broken givenness; his oblation of himself once offered, that all may have life and have it more fully when they receive us – even our ham-fisted agape – to themselves.
In Simeon and Anna and the bread and wine of the altar, Thomas Aquinas reminds us that the “full, final sacrifice” is gifted to once more in the grace of liturgical time. Pray therefore that He may come home in us, exalting us for love’s sake to the sight and life of resurrection light: the uncreated light whose beginning is without end, and of whose Word now fulfilled we may not keep from singing.
God grant that I have spoken to you in his name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN