Almighty and ever-living God, clothed in majesty, whose beloved Son was this day presented in the Temple, in substance of our flesh: grant that we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts, by your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Prayer After Communion
Lord, you fulfilled the hope of Simeon and Anna, who lived to welcome the Messiah: may we, who have received these gifts beyond words, prepare to meet Christ Jesus when he comes to bring us to eternal life; for he is alive and reigns, now and for ever.
See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years. “So I will come near to you for judgement. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud labourers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty.
1 The earth is the Lord’s and all that fills it,
the compass of the world and all who dwell therein.
2 For he has founded it upon the seas
and set it firm upon the rivers of the deep.
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord,
or who can rise up in his holy place?’
4 Those who have clean hands and a pure heart,
who have not lifted up their soul to an idol,
nor sworn an oath to a lie;
5 They shall receive a blessing from the Lord,
a just reward from the God of their salvation.
6 Such is the company of those who seek him,
of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
7 Lift up your heads, O gates;
be lifted up, you everlasting doors;
and the King of glory shall come in.
8 ‘Who is the King of glory?’
‘The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord who is mighty in battle.’
9 Lift up your heads, O gates;
be lifted up, you everlasting doors;
and the King of glory shall come in.
10 ‘Who is this King of glory?’
‘The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory.’
Since the children brought to glory by God have flesh and blood, Jesus too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons”. Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.
Sermon on Candlemass
The opening bidding of the Collect describes this festival of the Church, “[God’s] beloved Son was this day presented in the Temple.” We recall this event in our liturgical recounting of the life of Christ. We lighten up the world with the living flames of candles as well as our very selves. We have come to Church today in the hope that, as our Collect says, “we may be presented to [God] with pure and clean hearts.” In other words, we want to show ourselves to the world as worthy people.
So, what is the presentation in the Temple all about? We don’t have anything like this in our time, do we? Modernity is not tied to temples or religion, is it? So how can we understand this bible story? – I think we need to go back for a history lesson to see what we can make of it.
According to the “the Law of Moses”, women who had had a child were to hold themselves in isolation for a period of time because they were considered unclean, that is, ritually unclean, because of the blood of childbirth. After that period of separation, they were to go to the Temple to make an offering of a pair of doves or two young pigeons. Ritual purity, as we know, was one of the points of conflict in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus had a distinct difference of opinion with the scribes, pharisees and sadducees. Although I am sure he agreed with them that purity was of prime importance, they had to disagree about how this purity was achieved. After all, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
Mary and Joseph in today’s gospel reading undertake this presentation and ritual purification. They take Jesus up to the Temple to present Jesus, their firstborn, as an offering consecrated to the Lord. I have to ask – don’t we all do this when we have our first child? Don’t we feel the exultation of this birth? Don’t we want to give thanks in the most potent terms available to us? We feel this very real impulse, just as the ancient Hebrews must have done those millennia past, because the urge to joy is so overpowering in every breast at the birth of a child.
We are so full of happiness that we want to share our child with the world. Isn’t that what the presentation in the Temple is all about? In old-fashioned language, don’t we want to consecrate our firstborn as holy to God, because we feel God’s embrace with this birth? I would like to say that we want to acknowledge this blessing of life before the whole world, before everything that means anything to us. I suppose even we would undertake this ritual presentation in the Temple at Jerusalem especially when we have this motivation of exultant joy.
With a new-born child, don’t we feel so very different? We are protective, observant, loving, even full of pride – I think most parents would say that their children “grow and become strong;” that they are “filled with wisdom,” and some would perhaps like to say that “the grace of God was upon them.” All of this in the very same way Mary and Joseph evaluated Jesus’ life with them. These children are growing straight and true in the way their parents would expect, perhaps invisible in the teenage years, but ever in their dreams. The parents’ children will always be better than they themselves are. It is no wonder that parents would present their children to the Lord in epochs past, and certainly parents today would show them off to the world, just as Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple so long ago.
However, in modern times, there are no temples or rituals to mark any special times or places during the course of our very mundane lives – everything is flat: there are no peaks or troughs in time and space. Everything is secular, without any sort of other dimension. There is no spiritual acknowledged in our everyday life. I think we have lost the qualities of sacred and profane in out lives. But, the question I have to ask is this: do we really feel that lack of quality of life, when it comes to our new-born children? That classic picture of the ever-so-happy Daddy distributing cigars to everyone who bumps into him – even the nurses on the ward where mother lies recovering from her labour – that image should give us pause for thought, because we understand just what he is feeling, the exultation of life in all its fullness, and he is driven to share that joy with everyone he meets.
What if we could capture that same exultation of joy in our everyday lives? Don’t we actually try to do that in the liturgy of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church? I would suggest that we are doing this today, as we remember the presentation of Jesus in the Temple and in fact present ourselves – as we have prayed in our Collect – with pure and clean hearts. It is not just to this gathered congregation, but we are bid to “Go in the peace of Christ”, aren’t we? That final command means to me that we are proposing to go out into the world with a good conscience to participate in life in all its fullness. We are attempting to capture the event of Christ being presented in the Temple through the rite of the Church, and more feebly through these words I am sharing with you.
The ancients used to try to relive the event through myths, symbols and rituals. Today we do so through active recollection of the past, reciting the story and discussing it – well me thinking aloud and you listening to my chattering from the pulpit. However, as I write my thoughts down, I am actually reliving everything I will speak about with you – the joy of birth, the mystery of life, the grace of salvation, all of these things are relived in my preparation to speak with you. I am at that moment closer to the ancients than I am the secular world of the everyday where there is no sacred and all stands in the flat desert of modernity.
In my preparation, I live out a cyclical temporality, where the past becomes real to me. It is an experience that I think everyone can have.
What if our lives are renewed by liturgical repetition of these sacred stories in the life of Christ? Recounting these stories could actually make sense of life, the universe and everything, don’t you think? I would say that the Church’s liturgical repetition of the saving history makes sense of life. When we gather to present Jesus in the temple, we are presenting ourselves to God as we meet to pray for the needs of the world as well as ourselves. We are met to hear again the scriptures. Ultimately, we are resolved to reconcile ourselves with one another. Our prayers, in fact, might guide everyone, even those outside church, to pursue the paths of divine purity, because Jesus is here with us.