Also known as the Presentation of Christ in the Temple
St Luke’s gospel (2: 22–40) paints a beautiful picture. The setting is amidst the splendour of the Temple in Jerusalem, a three-hour journey from Bethlehem. By way of historical background, Mary and Joseph were in the Temple to fulfil religious rituals involving the offering of their firstborn to God, and what was then understood as the purification of the mother after the rigours of childbirth.
What we see is a very old woman, Anna, aged at least 84; Simeon, an old man (though not as old as Anna); a teenage mother, Mary, with her tiny baby, Jesus; and Joseph, a working craftsman some years older than the child’s mother.
Anna and Simeon, who had been waiting expectantly and patiently for Jesus’ birth, have a special significance – they remind us of what might be described as ‘the stature of waiting’. Patience and waiting are an integral part of our lives, especially as we get older.
Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel’.
St Luke’s picture gives us a wonderful example of people of all ages engaging with one another and worshipping together. It reminds us of the extraordinary truth that we are each valued equally and can go on learning from one another.
A powerful feature of Candlemas is the bittersweet nature of what it celebrates. It is a feast day, and the presentation of the child Jesus in the Temple, greeted by Simeon and Anna, calls for rejoicing. At the same time, the prophetic words of Simeon, speaking of the rising and falling of many and the sword that will pierce Mary’s soul, lead us on to the Passion and Easter.
So Candlemas is a sort of hinge point in the liturgical year – both a looking back to Christmas and a looking forwards to Holy Week.
At St Paul’s, the procession to the font with lighted candles will be a powerful visual sign of our baptismal calling to shine as lights in the world.