Candlemass 2011

Tuesday, February 1st, the Eve of Candlemass, saw the traditional service of worship by candlelight
marking the feast that brings to an end the celebrations of Christmas

The day has at least three names, and if you CLICK HERE you will be able to read Fr Neil's words some years ago in our parish magazine
in which he explains the full significance of this colourful and very special day, together with pictures from earlier celebrations

The pictures show sonething of the atmosphere in St Faith's, and they are interleaved with the text of the sermon
preached by the Reverend Dr Susan Lucas, of St Margaret's, Anfield, Liverpool 

‘If Candlemass dawns clear and bright, winter will have a second flight; if Candlemass dawns dark and drear, winter is over for this year.’

When I was training, I regularly attended evensong in Mirfield’s chapel. 
On one particular occasion, the glories of plainsong were interrupted by the equally joyful noise unto the Lord of my friend’s infant son Jonah,
who had his own ideas about how it should be done – despite, or maybe because of, his mother being a professional musician, organist and choirmaster! 
It was a delightful moment of contrast, of unexpected juxtaposition – the formal glories of the chapel and the liturgy, and the spontaneity of a child’s babbling. 
Eventually, of course, the liturgy’s serene progress led to an equally serene Jonah falling asleep. 
There is a sense of some of this in today gospel – the juxtaposition of the very old and the very young,
the formal grandeur of the Temple, and this funny little community gathered around a tiny child.
Like our own gatherings with new babies, there are different generations – Jesus, his parents – and Simeon and Anna.

What do we know about Simeon and Anna?

They are old; they live in the Temple and the writer refers to them as prophets; 
Simeon – ‘righteous’ man ‘tzaddik’ – one who understands that love of God can’t be separated from love of neighbour,
one waiting in hope for Israel’s salvation.  Anna- widow; ‘widow and orphan’ – code for those who are vulnerable in the prophets – in Malachi.

And Mary and Joseph, Jesus’ earthly parents, bring offering of poor – not wealthy or powerful.
In this gathering, in this child, Simeon’s face lights up – recognising the longed-for salvation. 
For this funny little community – the elderly prophet, the widow, the young parents, the child, represent those who long for the salvation,
that is promised in Malachi; judgement for those who oppress hired labourers in their wages; the widow, the orphan,
those who thrust aside the alien  And this child does – as we so often say about babies -  ‘look like his Dad’ –
esus is the one who shows us the Father – who is the sacrament of God, the one in whom God’s salvation is revealed with astonishing directness.
For, as Simeon sings of the light that he brings, we might think of Moses, whose face lights up in the presence of the God who frees his people.

We might be in the Temple, the seat of official religion and priestly power,
but it is this odd little alternative community gathered round a tiny child that sees God’s salvation:
It is not usual to recognise Candlemass as a feast of the church; but in this it is, for we can see this little and vulnerable community as representing the church,
the body of Christ, God’s salvation constantly at work in the world;  that salvation –
given so freely in the Christ child is not personal, still less for some few ‘elect’; it is freely given for all; and because it is freely given,
that has immediate social and political implications.

Salvation means – in the words of the prophet Mary in the Magnificat – putting down the mighty, exalting the humble, filling the hungry.

And if Christ is the sacrament of God, and we, as the church are the sacrament of Christ, we are called to be a community
which upholds justice for the orphan and the widow, which insists on the hungry being fed, the vulnerable honoured, humanity built up.

For our sacramental life together enables us to discover more and more deeply what it means to be human, and in discovering our humanity,
we find the God who chose to show himself to us, to show the depth of his love and commitment to us with astonishing simplicity and directness;
by embracing our humanity in this child. We discover God’s generous love in bread broken and wine outpoured,
we learn what it means to come through the waters of death to new life in baptism, to be reconciled to one another and to God in confession,
to let go in anointing; to honour God in relationship through marriage and we ordain servants for the servants of God,
in order that all the church might be the priestly people of God.

That’s our Christian calling – to be the priestly and prophetic people of God.  It might at times seem not very significant; it might at times seem like hard work;
but saying our prayers, confessing our sins, feeding on Christ in the sacrament, trying to live with our neighbours in love and justice – that’s enormously significant;
for that is being the body of Christ in the world.  Is your face, like Simeon’s, shining?  Is mine? Well, at times we might manage a bit of a glow. 
For our calling is, in our own lives to live out God’s salvation for all people. 


Photos: Chris Price

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