Feast of the Presentation, Candlemas
I am glad for a number of reasons, not least, concern for other species and their well being, that blood sacrifices are no longer part of our religious observances. That image of Mary and Joseph bringing the two turtle doves or young pigeons to the Temple, the offering of poor people, a sacrificial redemption offering to God for any first born male, does not rest easily with the gospel account of the Lord being recognised in the child Jesus, but Simeon says that Jesus will be a ‘sign of contradiction’ and the innocence of those sacrificial animals links all innocent suffering intimately to the innocence of Christ, the Lamb of God, who becomes the saving victim for all.
This feast combines several elements, firstly as one of the twelve great feasts of the Eastern Church, called the Hypapante, the feast of meeting and of light. Originally celebrated on 14 February, very near the pagan festival of Lupercalia, the feast of lights, the Church recalls Mary’s re-entry back into society through her ritual purification after childbirth and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.
Simeon’s words, ‘a light to enlighten the gentiles and to be the glory of your people Israel,’ show us the promise of the Old Testament fulfilled in the New. Malachi tells of the messenger who will prepare a way for the Lord who will suddenly appear in the Temple. The Holy Spirit reveals the truth for in the Temple Simeon meets and recognises the Messiah publically, Anna thanks God and tells people of him, a first preaching of the Gospel.
If you ever see Rembrandt’s moving picture of Simeon, Anna and Jesus, you will be reminded as the letter to the Hebrews says, that Jesus took on all aspects of human life, he became like us, his brothers and sisters in every way. In this picture the old Simeon and Anna bask in the light of the helpless child, the innocent victim who gives himself totally to us. This was Rembrandt’s last picture and he paints himself as Simeon. The old man and woman, near death, see in this child all their hopes realised, but how fragile this child is! This is the King of Glory who met them and still meets and gives himself to us in total love and humility. This is the Hope of the world!
Fr Robin Gibbons is an Eastern Rite Chaplain for the Melkite Greek Catholics in Britain.