Presentation, Purification and Candlemas:
What does all this have to do with me?
February 2, 2014
Feast of the Presentation
Rev. Dr. Lucretia Mann,
St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Scotts Valley, CA
The worship we celebrate, while often in contemporary language, has its origins in ancient Jewish table fellowship, early Christian house worship, and liturgical innovations beginning in the 3rd corporate worship connects us certainly to God through Jesus and the Holly Spirit, with each other, and with the Body of Christ past, present and future.
Today we celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany known also as the Feast of the Presentation or Candlemas. This feast day commemorates the purification of Mary the mother of Jesus, and the presentation of Christ in the temple 40 days after his birth. According to Mosaic law, a mother who gave birth to a son was considered unclean for 7 days, and she was commanded to remain in the “blood of her purification” for 33 days. As written in Exodus 12, Mary and Joseph were required by Jewish law to take their son, Jesus, to the temple in Jerusalem: By Jewish law, all first born sons were to be dedicated to God. In the temple, Jesus was purified by the prayer of Simon in the presence of Anna the prophetess.
The Candlemas story is a story of contrasts, and opposites.
Epiphany and Candlemas are still part of the Christmas story – Jesus is still a baby (despite us having spent the season of Epiphany jumping around the early part of Jesus’ adult ministry), and this is the day that Mary and Joseph bring their son to Jerusalem, to the Temple itself, to present him to God, as the law required.
But this story is also an early chapter in the Passion story. Remember the gifts of the three kings from the first Sunday in Epiphany? We celebrated that feast day three weeks ago with gold crowns, gold-covered chocolate coins, and prayers that the powerful would use our gifts wisely. In addition to the crowns and coins and prayers, we presented three other gifts to the baby Jesus in his manger bed. Gold, frankincense and myrrh. In ancient times, myrrh was an oil used in burial rites. Even when the kings visited the baby Jesus, they knew of his future death, and brought the baby myrrh. Even at his birth, Jesus’ death was foretold
Birth and death – Candlemas is a story of contrasts.
But that’s not the only contrast.
Jesus is presented in the temple of Jerusalem, the very centre and emblem of Jewish identity, faith and political power. In that scene there were two striking contrasts: a vulnerable one month old baby with his loving and poor parents against the backdrop of power in Jerusalem. While on that day, Jesus was purified by Simon, we already know that temple authorities will later condemn him to death on the cross. The second contrast is this: Mary and Joseph followed Jewish law, reminding us that that Jesus was born, lived and died as a Jew. And yet the words of Simeon speak not only of the glory of the Jews, God’s chosen people, but also of a light for all the nations – all the nations. The light for all the nations, Jesus, illlumines all people of all faiths and of all ethnic origins.
So this is a story of all God’s people, past, present and future. It’s about having roots that run so deep that we can grow branches that stretch far and wide to embrace all God’s people. Amidst the contrasts and opposites, the tensions, Simon’s prayer reminds us that God’s love draws all the contrasts and opposites together, and draws us all together as one people
Candlemas simultaneously embraces birth and death, looking inward and looking outward, living deeply and broadly.
The characters in this story come from three generations: the child, the parents, and the elderly Simon and Anna. This one feast, draws all three generations together. Can this be a model for us? For the possibility of unity between the generations? In a story with such momentous contrasts being drawn together, this drawing together of the generations may seem to be a small thing, but for our own time when so many people are separated from their extended families, and technological and social changes take place increasingly quickly, real understanding and closeness between different generations is by no means an assumption. Can this celebration be a model for us, a model for connecting worship and living more deeply? In the rites of Candlemas we recreate the processions of Simon and Anna, baby Jesus and his parents to the temple.in order that their lives might be holy and dedicated to God. What do we hope for as we process to church each Sunday? As we process to the table of candles for blessing, and later to the Lord’s table for blessing and nourishment of the body and blood of Jesus, and finally outside into the world? Do we experience being bound together as one body of Christ, ready to serve God through Jesus?
Making such unity a reality requires that all generations learn to acknowledge both the past and the future, to face the hope of life and the certainty of death, and to draw from their roots to grow branches that spread wide and encompass more than we ever thought would be comfortable. When we do all this, we are witnesses to that fact that, against all the odds, there really can be peace between heaven and earth, and that what seems irreconcilable can be brought together.
As the body of Christ, we are a people always on the move, always processing to the church where our prayers and songs bind us as one body, processing to the table for sustenance and blessing, processing to the font to celebrate new membership in the one body of Christ to remember whose we are, and processing into the world to live lives of holy and dedicated service.
So what does all this have to do with me, with us? It has to do with claiming our birthright as children of God, members of the Body of Christ, who worship, pray and grow together. It has to do with dedicating and re-dedicating our lives to God, presenting ourselves, heart, body and soul, for God’s blessing. Everything we are and want to be; everything we need for strengthening and living out together our life of faith.