The presentation of Christ in the temple – Andrea Mantegna (1460) … the cover illustration of Mottram Parish Magazine in February 2020
Mottram in Longdendale is a village in the Metropolitan Borough of Tameside in Greater Manchester. Historically part of Cheshire, it lies in the valley of Longdendale, on the border with Derbyshire and close to the Peak District, neighbouring Broadbottom and Hattersley.
Mottram in Longdendale Parish was one of the eight ancient parishes of the Macclesfield Hundred of Cheshire. The larger Mottram parish was incorporated into Longdendale in 1936, remaining part of Cheshire, then incorporated into Tameside in 1974.
Mottram Parish Magazine is edited by Polly Brown, who recently asked to use an abridged version of one of my blog postings some years ago on the Feast of the Presentation, which we are celebrating next Sunday (2 February 2020).
This is the feature on p 7 and the accompanying note published in the current (February 2020) edition of the Mottram Parish Magazine:
Holy Days – Candlemas
The 2nd of February is the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, or Candlemas.
The earliest reference to a celebration of this feast is provided by the intrepid pilgrim nun Egeria. When she visited Jerusalem in the years 381-384, she reported of a solemn ceremony with a candlelit procession to the Church of the Resurrection and a sermon on Luke 2: 22.
Evening Prayer on Candlemas, 2nd February, marks the end of the season of Christmas and Epiphany in the Western Church calendar and the poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674) recalled how on this day Christmas decorations of greenery were removed from people’s homes.
The story we are celebrating is found in Luke 2: 22-40. Mary and Joseph bring the Christ Child to the Temple in Jerusalem 40 days after his birth to dedicate him to God, according to the religious laws and traditions of the day.
They meet Simeon, who had been promised ‘he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord’ (Luke 2:26). We still use Simeon’s prayer of thanksgiving at Evensong – it is the Nunc Dimittis.
In his prophecy about the Christ Child, Simeon said he would be a light for revelation to the nations – the reference that probably inspired a tradition of blessing beeswax candles in churches on this day.
The prophetess Anna, who was in the Temple too, also offered her prayers and thanks to God when she saw the Child Jesus. But Simeon also warned Mary that a sword would pierce her heart.
With Candlemas as the feast that prepares us to move from Epiphany to Lent – that bridges the seasons of Christmas and Easter – I cannot help but hold together the twin images provided from Simeon’s words to the Mary who cradled the Christ Child in her arms as she brought him to the Temple and the same Mary who cradles the Man Christ in her arms when he is taken down from the cross.
The Mary that must have wondered about the meaning of Simeon’s prophecies and promises about her son is soon reduced to weeping over his dead body. How could she have known that death meant anything other than the end? Could there be any hope after this?
We know there is. We live in the light of the Resurrection. The candles of Candlemas remind us why we have Christmas candles. There is no meaning to Christmas unless we understand the meaning of Good Friday. And Good Friday has no meaning unless we have Easter faith. Candlemas links the lights of Christmas and the light of Easter; it links Incarnation and Resurrection.
And so, ‘let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven; (Matthew 5: 16).
(Slightly abridged, reprinted by permission of the author) – Canon Patrick Comerford
Canon Patrick Comerford’s award-winning online journal on Anglicanism, theology, spirituality, history, architecture, travel, poetry, beach walks and more is at http://www.patrickcomerford.com