Fifth Sunday before Lent
Introduction and Call to Worship
As we come to worship the God of creation and encounter his presence with us in Word and Sacrament, we catch a glimpse of the longed-for hope of Simeon and Anna. They looked for the light of salvation, the Christ-child. May we have the grace to recognise, as they do, the holy in the midst of the ordinary.
First Reading Ezekiel 43:27 – 44:4
This passage is part of a longer section describing the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem and speaks of the glory of the Lord which is within it.
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 13
Perhaps the most famous passage about love, stressing the enduring nature of love, which transcends all creation and gives a glimpse of God.
Gospel Luke 2:22-40
When Mary and Joseph present the infant Jesus at the Temple, he is recognised as the Christ, the Messiah, the fulfilment of the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures.
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.” (Luke 2:29-30)
What are you looking for to make your life fulfilled? Good relationships, family time, happy and faithful friendships? Perhaps a bit more money, or job security? A nice bar of fair-trade plain chocolate? As Christians we believe that fulfilment is not just about physical need but also our spiritual relationship with God. So, the question stands, what are we looking for?
In today’s Gospel reading from St Luke, two faithful people await the fulfilment of their dreams: an encounter with the living God, no less. Hopefully we have a similar sense of anticipation every time we gather around the altar to break the bread, the hope that Jesus will dwell among us and be made manifest – present in our midst also. Simeon (Simeon the God-receiver), who may have been the officiating priest in the Temple at that time, is mentioned only once in the Bible and we are not told much about him except that he was elderly, faithful and a righteous and devout man and that Simeon had been visited by the Holy Spirit and told that he would not die until he had seen the promised Messiah – Christ. Anna is described as a prophet, of the tribe of Asher (one of the twelve tribes of Israel), who never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Two faithful people who are looking for fulfilment.
Then, on what may have been just another ordinary day of temple worship, Mary and Joseph enter with their baby to give thanks 40 days after his birth. (Candlemas, 2nd February, marks 40 days since Christmas day!) They present their child before God as was customary and this is very important especially for Mary who would have been considered ritually ‘unclean’ for this period, unable to take part in the religious life of the Temple and the ceremonies that were held there until she was ‘purified’. She presents two young turtle doves as an offering to God, the gift of those who were too poor to afford a lamb, as Jesus was not born into the royalty or celebrity culture of first century Palestine but into poverty – a soon to be refugee.
On meeting the Christ Child, Simeon is filled with joy and he takes the child into his arms and sings a hymn of praise! These words will be familiar to many of us from our services of Compline or even the funeral service and are known as the canticle Nunc Dimittis:
Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace: your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people; a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.
Simeon was certain that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah and God was faithful to him and revealed the very presence of Christ – experienced as Sacrament and Word. Anna, too, praises God at the sight of Jesus, the Emmanuel. Revealing her vocation as a prophet she shares with people this revelation and what it means for Israel – indeed for all people: that God has come among us, born as a child, to rule with justice. Two people who wait patiently and faithfully for fulfilment. What about you? What are you looking for?
Here at St Mary’s we have deeply inspiring liturgical worship that, should we allow it, too, opens our hearts to the very presence of God. Through God’s Word to us, our bible readings, sermons, study and prayers, we can allow God to reach into our minds and shape them. Then, through the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, Jesus meets us in mere bread and wine, the work of human hands, to transform our hearts and fill us with his love. Like Simeon and Anna, we are called to this place, this Temple of prayer to wait patiently for the Lord, and God promises to fulfil our very minds and hearts if we are faithful, regular and open to Him.
Praising God makes every circumstance of our lives complete and eminently worthwhile, and this is a mystery, as the Psalmist reminds us: “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable.” (Psalm 145:3) By praising God, we are reminded of the greatness of God! His power and presence in our lives is reinforced in our understanding and experience. As people of faith, like Simeon and Anna, we are called to be here present in this temple of prayer and worship, and to sing, to praise God and encounter his very presence among us. Then, like Anna, we go from here, dismissed to share our faith gently and yet confidently with others that they, too, may be drawn to experience the holy inspiration that is God’s very presence in their midst. So, friends in faith, what are you looking for to make your life fulfilled? Amen.
Simeon in his old age recognised that Jesus is the Christ and sang his praise in what we call the Nunc Dimittis, used at funeral services and Compline.
Anna tells of her experience and the promise which God has fulfilled for Israel.
We at St Mary’s encounter Christ in Word and Sacrament.
We may not now realise the impact we have on others’ lives, but we are still called to share our faith both gently and confidently.