Candlemas Meditations

On Sunday 28 January, we filled the Cathedral with candlelight and told the story of Christ’s presentation, meditating on what it might mean for each of us today. Read on to reflect on those meditations here.

‘Your word has been fulfilled’, by The Reverend Canon Craig Huxley-Jones

‘Honest to God.’

‘I swear on my life.’

‘Promises, promises.’

‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’

Four common idioms we often hear, all of which say a lot about our relationship with promises. ‘Honest to God’ and ‘I swear on my life’ suggest that some form of additional weight is required for others to believe us. ‘Promises, promises’ and ‘I’ll believe that when I see it’ suggest that human beings are not always trustworthy.

The story of God’s salvation is one of promises, covenants made between us and God. God’s first covenant is with Noah after the flood; God promises to rescue humanity and all creation from its brokenness and seals the promise with a rainbow. Of course, humanity continues in its sin so God calls Abraham into another covenant, in which he is promised ancestors numerous as the stars to inherit the earth.

Then Moses is invited into a covenant in which God promises to make the people Israel into a holy kingdom of priests that will spread his blessing and glory to all the nations if they would obey the laws given on Mount Sinai. Eventually, God’s people enter Canaan and David becomes king. God promises to raise up a descendent from David’s line, whose kingdom will last for ever, if David would just be faithful.

These four covenants have two things in common: the first is that the people always break them; the second is that God never does.

Then comes the fifth and final covenant. Amidst rebellion and exile, the prophets spoke of a New Covenant, a final covenant which would seal all of God’s promises and restore our relationship with him, once and for all. But notice the narrative arc: in the first covenant, God preserves the world through Noah, he begins the work of redemption through Abraham, he establishes his kingdom through Noah, and promised an eternal King through David.

‘Promises, promises.’

‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’

Today, on the Feast of Candlemas, Simeon, Anna, all of us, see the promises, promises, come to their fruition as the Christ-child is brought to the Temple. Today, we see it and so should believe it. And soon, very soon, we will see the lengths to which God will go to free us from sin and death.

Honest to God, Jesus swears on his life that we shall be free.

Tonight, as we see God’s faithfulness in fulness of flesh, let us renew our promise to be faithful to him in return.

‘My eyes have seen your salvation’, by The Reverend Canon Dr Sandra Millar

In her memoir of a pioneer childhood, told in a series of children’s books, Laura Ingalls Wilder 9best know for Little House on the Prairie) tells of the Long Winter. The snow came. And came some more. It was so bad that Christmas was delayed, then postponed then cancelled. Then there was no food for the animals. Then there was no food for the community. Life itself was under threat. Then after five long months a great shout went up and there was great rejoicing, just like in the Psalm, Salvation had come in the form of a train.

You only need salvation when there is a problem, a desperate problem, a problem that needs a radical incredible solution.

Simeon’s problem was not a broken lamp or a creaky door in the temple, or whatever such worries he might have had. It was the state of God’s people, the state of God’s world, and the very state of his own life. He prayed and reflected on the great promises of God. He knew that God had promised salvation. So he waited.

God’s Salvation is both a way out and a way in.

It is not a quick fix for life’s practical problems, but rather a way out from the failings and disappointments, the anger and the bitterness that leads to despair and hopelessness, and that breaks and keeps us apart from one another and breaks and keeps us apart from God.

Salvation is also a way in – a way in to life it all its fulness, a way in to being reconciled with God and one another, and to being made whole through Christ.

This is the salvation that Simeon sees. And the incredible, mysterious thing is that he sees it in an eight-day old baby, perhaps weighing eight pounds. And to see it he has to get up close and personal. An eight-day baby cannot make his own way to someone else, cannot wave and say come and look. Simeon has to reach for the baby. He sees and embraces salvation. He feels the weight, holds the gaze and see the great hope of a way out and way in to indwell God’s heart and God’s purpose.

We will see God’s salvation clearly as we turn to journey with Jesus, watch him act, hear his words of healing and of challenge until finally we watch him on the cross and see fully salvation.

And as we see it, we choose to hold it, for it is God’s salvation for the world, for each of us, for all of us.

‘Before the face of all people’, by The Very Reverend Andrew Zihni

Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning

If I lack’d anything.

‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’

Love said, ‘You shall be he.’

‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,

I cannot look on Thee.’

Love took my hand and smiling did reply,

‘Who made the eyes but I?’

‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.’

‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’

‘My dear, then I will serve.’

‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’

So I did sit and eat.

George Herbert’s well-known poem Love, so gloriously set to music by Vaughan Williams as one of his Five Mystical Songs, reminds us of the wonder and awe of God’s love for each and every one of us, something that is especially reflected in that part of the Nunc Dimittis which speaks of the salvation that God in the Christ child has prepared before the face of all people, to be a light to lighten the nations. As Herbert remarks, this is a love that is particularly tangible through the Eucharist – but it is a love which is signified in that presence of the Lord with us always and everywhere.

Whenever we feel abandoned by others, let down by others, disappointed by others, or fearful for what the future might hold, this love of God is present with us always; and promises to give us the strength and encouragement to find some joy this day and every day.

We shall never look at anyone, whom God has not first looked at first with utmost love. Our humanity may be flawed at times, but the message of Candlemas cuts straight through to what really matters: our existence through his love in Christ.

You are valuable. You are loved. And the scale on which our value is to be measured is not something we can ever contemplate or compute. Whatever we do, wherever we are, we are called to do everything to build others up, seeing them as God sees them, and knowing that they, like us, are utterly loved by the God who redeems and sanctifies us in Jesus Christ.

‘A sword will pierce your own soul too’, by The Venerable Hilary Dawson

W H Auden’s poem, At the Manger, Mary Sings, imagines Mary keeping watch over her newborn son as he sleeps. Just like any new parent before or since, Mary must have longed to keep her son safe. To see him live a long and peaceful life, free from danger, pain and hurt. The poem ends with her saying to him: How soon will you start on the sorrowful way? Dream while you may.

Mary knows from the start, that his will not be a life free from danger, pain and hurt. From the moment of that first annunciation when the angel told her she would bear God’s son, to the night of his joyful birth. From the adoration of the shepherds to the heavenly choir of angels. From the visit of the magi with their mysterious gifts to the terrible actions of Herod, Mary has pondered this painful truth, deep in her heart, even in the midst of her joy. Auden has her willing her son to dream just a little longer, for the sorrowful way will begin all too soon.

In the vast darkness of the temple, the tiny figures of the holy family gather in a precious circle of light. Mary keeps her gaze unwaveringly on her son, the source of the light, but can no longer shut out the words of Simeon in this second annunciation. ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

As the words settle on her heart, she sees another presentation. When her beloved son will be handed over, not into the gentle hands of faithful Ann and Simeon, but into the cruel hands of those who will nail him to a cross.

Candlemas is where crib and cross meet. In advent we moved from darkness to light. Tonight we begin the reverse journey. As Lent begins and darkness falls, Mary is our companion. Mary who walks the sorrowful way to the cross with us. Mary who laments the pain of the world. Mary who weeps with every parent crying for the lost dreams of their children.

But it is also Mary who keeps our eyes fixed on her beloved son, source of all hope, courage and love. Who reminds us to dream, even in the midst of the sorrowful way. And to look beyond the cross to that new morning filled with resurrection light – light that the darkness can never overcome.