Hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s video.
Summing people up at funerals or memorials is a particular skill which clergy have to develop in their funeral ministry. We will usually speak to the family in the days before to try to get a picture of the person who died. That can sometimes be challenging. Many years ago, I remember talking to a widow and asking her if she could say something about her husband for the eulogy. There was a painful silence, which I tried to break by focussing the questions in on life events and his history, but all I got were monosyllabic answers. At one point she suddenly brightened and said, “Ah Yes, he really loved his telly!” She then took me into the living room and sure enough it was sparsely furnished with an enormous telly in one corner and a rather worn armchair in another. Clearly, he spent most of his life just watching TV. In many ways it felt one of the saddest funerals I ever took. What an epitaph for a person, who could have done so much to change the world, shrunk into a relationship with a screen.
I’m recording this video on the feast of Candlemas, or the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. It’s a wonderful story, a closing event around the stories of Jesus' birth that we’ve been reflecting on since Christmas. It also provides us with an epitaph of two of the great heroes of faith, Simeon and Anna, whose words are preserved in the Canticle, the Nunc Dimitis.
The story is rich in incidental detail. Mary and Joseph were fulfilling Jewish ritual practice by bringing their son to the Temple to present him to God. Their particular offering shows how poor they were. Normally it would have been a lamb, but there was a special get out clause in the book of Leviticus 12:8, for those who couldn’t afford it. The gospel accounts stress this Jewishness of Jesus and his parents’ devotion to the law of Moses.
Simeon and Anna’s story reinforce for us the way in which the scriptures value the contribution of older people. There is certainly no cult of youth. Moses’ most significant ministry began at the age of 80, Abraham’s at 99, and the only thing we know about Simeon and Anna is this incident right at the end of their lives. Their long, obedient relationship with the Lord, leads to the wisdom and discernment that recognises Jesus in ways that others miss. You may feel that age disqualifies you from being useful. But let Simeon and Anna be an encouragement. We know only a few of their words, but they echo to us down through history. Who can know the eternal significance of little acts of obedience in response to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This was an ordinary, everyday incident, but it became something extraordinary, a moment in which Jesus was revealed. Simeon and Anna were great heroes of faith, but their greatness lies not in themselves, but who they pointed to.
Simeon and Anna’s revelation had credibility because it came from people who were being transformed by the Spirit and showed something of the reality of God by who they were and how they related to others. Who we are and how we live is as important as what we say, as we seek to make Jesus known in our communities. Holiness of life and loving service energised by a life of prayer, bible engagement and regular worship are crucial if the words we speak are to have the power to open people’s eyes to the reality Jesus’ love. It’s a holiness that tends to develop with a long, faithful walk with Jesus. We can take heart that the reality of Jesus can be revealed by ordinary Christians, young or old. In our school, our workplace or community.
There are many tools to help us do that. One such is the Alpha course, which our Intergenerational Ministers have used online to great effect in the last few weeks. I’m planning to lead one myself, starting in a few weeks. We’ll be putting more details on the website shortly. If you are watching this and you’d like to explore the Christian faith in a non-threatening way online, I’d love to welcome you to join me. It will run for 12 weeks from the comfort of your own home. What’s not to like about that? If you’ve got friends who you think might be interested why not think about inviting them to join us too. These last months of COVID have been draining for everyone, but I think they’ve also piqued people’s spiritual interest. As a diocesan family we want to provide opportunities for people to explore that further.
Simeon and Anna recognised and revealed Jesus to others. Revealing Jesus, and helping others find him, is the most significant thing we can ever do.