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The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)
Sunday 3 February 2019 – The Feast of the Presentation – Evensong
Haggai 2.1-9 & John 2.18-22
What follows is a meditation rather than a conventional sermon. At the heart of the celebration of the Feast of the Presentation is the encounter that took place in the Temple in Jerusalem between an old, holy man called Simeon and Mary, Joseph and the 40 day old baby Jesus. Simeon sang a song of praise we call the Nunc Dimmitis and this song is sung or said every day as part of our Evening Prayer. This meditation is based on that encounter and on Simeon’s role in particular, but is also inspired by a number of other things related to the story like, growing old, visiting, working and worshipping in magnificent buildings like this and the people who come to places like this to mark major life events, like baptism.
Another name for the Nunc Dimmitis is, The Song of Simeon. This meditation is called – The longer Song of Simeon.
The longer Song of Simeon.
Waiting for the Messiah.
Waiting to die.
Waiting is fine,
in a building like this Temple.
Dawn is best – before the crowds.
As the great doors open
shadows brighten and cold stone is warmed by sunlight.
It is as if I am alone with God.
Sometimes sitting in the cool silence.
the noise of my stick echoing around these walls
much older even than me.
I stop and lean or sit,
Yearning, one day, to be absorbed into the stone
to be eternally embraced by the beauty and grandeur of this sacred place.
As the sun climbs in the sky, the people come
to buy and to sell
to fulfil religious duties
Alone, in groups, little families.
I look with tender regret at those little families.
Mine is grown and dispersed
leaving me old and alone
waiting for the Messiah,
waiting to die.
These families come to give thanks for life.
Some are proud and wealthy
they march with confident joy,
‘thank offering doves’ fluttering in a cage.
Families wanting to be seen and admired
for their good fortune having been blessed by God
with new life.
Some are poor.
They drag reluctant, noisy children with them,
barely able to afford the pigeons with which they say ‘thank you’ to God.
They look bemused – is this new mouth to feed really a blessing from God?
crowds shuffle through this holy place
and I watch
waiting for the Messiah
waiting to die.
Today, I saw them,
a man and a woman with a new baby
just like all the others,
but different ……
They were pigeon-poor.
What was it that set them apart?
What was it that I recognised?
As they walked nervously through the great doors
it was like the sun in the morning rushing in
brightening the shadows
bringing warmth, even life, to cold stones.
As they walked past me I heard the baby murmur
a tiny sound
and the great echo worked in reverse,
the murmur became a song which increased in volume
as it bounced around these ancient walls
filling this sacred space with divine music.
Incense, candles, oil lamps and sacrifice,
prayer comes in many forms
but, as they walked past me
prayer seemed to be embodied in them,
prayer at its most eloquent in love shared.
Waiting is over.
In this little family
In this tiny baby I saw God,
I saw the Messiah.
Surprised at my request,
reluctant to let go of her new precious gift
she gave me the child to hold.
And as I looked into those eyes
I saw vulnerable humanity
I saw powerful deity
I saw the whole of creation
I saw love.
What did he see?
An old man with a grey beard!
A tear fell from my cheek to his.
I kissed his head.
It looked paternal, friendly
but that kiss was more,
I gave him back.
I can die now.
Light has come.
I held the hands of the man and the woman.
My tears and my kiss were of joy and love.
Such love will know tears of pain, his own and that of others
Such love will be kissed by treachery
I walked away,
the waiting over
the Messiah met,
ready to die in peace.
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