Sunday, 30 January 2022

Linking the joys of Christmas
with the pain of Good Friday
and the hopes of Easter

A detail of Harry Clarke’s ‘Presentation Window’ in Saint Flannan’s Church, Killaloe, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 30 January (Epiphany 4, the Presentation):

11 a.m.: United Parish Eucharist, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

Readings: Malachi 3: 1-5; Psalm 24: 1-10; Hebrews 2: 14-18; Luke 2: 22-40

‘The dawn from on high will break upon us , to give light to those who sit in darkness’ (Luke 2: 78-79) … a winter sunrise at the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

This morning, we are using the readings and prayers for the Feast of the Presentation of Christ, which actually falls on Wednesday next (2 February 2022).

This celebration is known by several names over time, including the Presentation of Christ in the Temple; the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and Candlemas, as it is celebrated in many Anglican cathedrals and churches with the Candlemas Procession.

This feast, 40 days after Christmas, recalls how the Virgin Mary presents the Christ-Child to the priests in the Temple in Jerusalem. Because of the family’s poverty, the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph bring two cheap doves or pigeons as their offering.

This feast is rich in meaning, with several related themes: the contrast between the poverty of this family and the richly-endowed Temple; the young Joseph and Mary with their first-born child and the old Simeon and Anna who are probably childless; the provincial home in Nazareth and the urbane sophistication of Jerusalem; the glory of one nation, Israel, and light for all nations, the Gentiles; the birth of a child and the expectation of death; darkness and light; new birth and impending death.

Candlemas is a ‘bitter-sweet’ feast. It calls for rejoicing with all in the Temple celebrating the hope and promise this new child brings. Yet Simeon speaks in prophetic words of the falling and rising of many and the sword that will pierce the Virgin Mary’s heart. His words remind us that Christmas is meaningless without the Passion and Easter.

This last festival of the Christmas cycle is pivotal as we shift from the cradle to the cross, from Christmas to Passiontide – Ash Wednesday and Lent are just four or five weeks away.

In this shift of mood, we take with us the light of Christ, a sure promise that Christ is the eternal light and the salvation of all humanity, throughout all ages.

Traditionally, Candlemas is the final day of the Christmas season. The liturgical colour changes from the White of rejoicing to the Green of ordinary, everyday life. This is the day that bridges the gap between Christmas and Lent, that bridges the gap between a time of celebration and a time of reflection, a time of joy and a time for taking stock once again.

This is an opportunity to take stock of where we are. After periods of recession and austerity, the economists tell us we have found light at the at the end of the tunnel.

Now, however, the debates about ‘post-Brexit’ relations with Britain and the long-term consequences of isolation during the Covid pandemic leave the majority of people with a new set of anxieties and uncertainties.

The lights of Christmas are dim and distant, and by this Candlemas most people in Ireland are living our very ordinary days with uncertainty, grasping for signs of hope, wondering how long we must remain in the dark.

How the Virgin Mary must have wept in her heart as in today’s Gospel story the old man Simeon hands back her child and warns her that a sword would pierce her heart (Luke 2: 35).

How many mothers are weeping in their hearts and clinging onto the rock of faith just by the end of their fingertips as their hearts, their souls, are pierced by a sword?

Mothers whose lives were held in slavery by fear (see Hebrews 2: 15).

Mothers who see their special needs children denied special needs assistants in our schools.

Mothers who see their children waiting, waiting too long, for care in our hospitals or to move from the uncertainty of hotel rooms or hostels to a house and a home.

Mothers who saw their graduate daughters and sons unable to find employment and have still not returned home.

Mothers whose silent weeping is not going to bring home their adult emigrant children and the grandchildren born in Australia or the US.

Mothers whose gay sons and lesbian daughters are beaten up on the streets just for the fun of it and are afraid if they come out that our Church can only offer tea and sympathy, at best, but moralising prejudice most of the time.

Mothers whose husbands are on low pay or dismissed as mere statistics in the figures for poverty.

Mothers whose adult children are caught up in substance abuse and have lost all hope for the future – for a future.

They know what TS Eliot calls ‘the certain hour of maternal sorrow.’ Like the Prophet in his poem A Song for Simeon, they ‘Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.’ And they know too how true Simeon’s words are for them this morning: ‘and a sword will pierce your soul too.’

If the Virgin Mary had known what grief would pierce her soul, would she have said ‘Yes’ to the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation?

Yet, in the midst of all this heartbreak, these mothers still cling on to the edge of the rock of faith by the edges of their fingernails. Wondering who hears their sobbing hearts and souls.

If they had known what grief would pierce their souls they would still have said yes, because they love their children, and no sword can kill that. They know too their children are immaculate conceptions, for their children too are conceived in a love for their world, our world, that is self-giving and sinless, and they continue to see the reflection and image of Christ in their children as they look into their eyes lovingly. Is that too not a truth and a hope at the heart of the Incarnation?

So often it is difficult to hold on to hope when our hearts are breaking and are pierced. So often it is difficult to keep the lights of our hearts burning brightly when everything is gloomy and dark. But Simeon points out that the Christ Child does not hold out any selfish hope for any one individual or one family … he is to be a light to the nations, to all of humanity.

And as our leaders – political, social, economic and financial leaders – search in the dark for the hope that will bring light back into our lives, we can remind ourselves that this search will have no purpose and it will offer no glimmer of hope unless it seeks more than selfish profit. This search must seek the good of all, it must seek to bring hope and light to all, not just here, but to all people and to all nations.

Who will speak out like the Prophet Malachi in our first reading ‘against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow, and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien,’ and do not fear the Lord God (Malachi 3: 5)?

This feast of Candlemas bridges the gap between Christmas and Lent; links the joy of the Christmas candles with the hope of the Pascal candle at Easter; invites us to move from celebration to reflection and preparation, and to think about the source of our hope, our inspiration, our enlightenment.

To paraphrase the words of Timothy Dudley-Smith’s hymn that draw on Simeon’s prophetic words, as we watch and wait in our faithful vigil for Christ’s glory in that Easter hope, may our doubting cease, may God’s silent, suffering people find deliverance and freedom from oppression, may his servants find peace, may he complete in us his perfect will.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The Presentation in the Temple, carved on a panel on a triptych in the Lady Chapel, Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford/Lichfield Gazette)

Luke 2: 22-40 (NRSVA):

22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’

33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.

‘The Presentation in the Temple’ … a window by James Watson in the Church of the Holy Rosary, Murroe, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: White.

Bidding Prayer:

The traditional Bidding Prayer for Candlemas:

Dear friends, forty days ago we celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now we recall the day on which he was presented in the Temple, when he was offered to the Father and shown to his people.

As a sign of his coming among us, his mother was purified according to the custom of the time, and we now come to him for cleansing. In their old age Simeon and Anna recognised him as their Lord, as we today sing of his glory.

In this Eucharist, we celebrate both the joy of his coming and his searching judgement, looking back to the day of his birth and forward to the coming days of his passion.

So let us pray that we may know and share the light of Christ.

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God, mighty God,
you are the creator of the world.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
you are the Prince of Peace.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
by your power the Word was made flesh
and came to dwell among us.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

Almighty and everliving God,
clothed in majesty,
whose beloved Son was this day presented in the temple
in the substance of our mortal nature:
May we be presented to you with pure and clean hearts,
by your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

In the tender mercy of our God
the dayspring from on high has broken upon us,
to give light to those who dwell in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (cf Luke 1: 78, 79)
(Common Worship, p 306)

Preface:

You chose the Blessed Virgin Mary
to be the mother of your Son
and so exalted the humble and meek;
your angel hailed her as most high and highly favoured,
and with all generations we call her blessed:
(The Book of Common Prayer, the Church of Ireland, p. 234)

Post-Communion Prayer:

God, for whom we wait,
you fulfilled the hopes of Simeon and Anna,
who lived to welcome the Messiah.
Complete in us your perfect will,
that in Christ we may see your salvation,
for he is Lord for ever and ever.

Blessing:

Christ the Son of God, born of Mary,
fill you with his grace
to trust his promises and obey his will:

The Presentation or Candlemas … a stained glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies (CD 4)
119, Come, thou long-expected Jesus (CD 8)
691, Faithful vigil ended (CD 39)



Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from The Book of Common Prayer (the Church of Ireland, 2004) is copyright © Representative Body of the Church of Ireland 2004.

Material from Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2000.

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