My homily prepared for the services this weekend at All Saints’ Church in Lakeland, Florida, marking the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple.
The last Sunday of this month will mark the 90th anniversary of the first worship service held in this nave, back on February 24, 1924. Part of the new furnishings that everybody saw that day were these choir pews that we’ve recently cleaned up and restored. There is a dedication plaque at the altar rail that says the choir pews were given to honor Osian Wright Drane, the son of the first communicant of All Saints, Herbert Jackson Drane. Osian was the first child baptized at All Saints’. Later he was a choir member, served on the vestry, and served as a First Lieutenant in the Infantry in what the plaque calls “the world war” (before we had to number them). Osian returned home to Lakeland but fell ill and died, 34 years old, in 1922. His funeral was the last one held in the original, old All Saints’ church building before it was replaced by this new building.
I pause to think about this young man sitting at vestry meetings in an un-air conditioned Florida 100 years ago, and want to honor the memory of all those who got us started in the earliest years of our parish.
We remember little about them. In turn, they are the ones who could only see – and would only see – our day as visions and hopes, lifted up with prayer.
They have something in common with two people whose names were recorded for our reading today. There was a righteous and devout man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. And there was a prophet, Anna, an 84-year old widow.
We only know of them because Luke was curious and carefully documented what he learned from eyewitnesses. And when he interviewed Mary, the mother of Jesus, she still vividly remembered the events that surrounded Jesus’ birth. There is no other record of the daily lives of Simeon and Anna 2000 years ago, except for the one moment when they both came to the Temple at the same time, the day a poor couple was presenting their baby and making the offerings commanded by Moses for a first-born son.
We actually are told more about Anna than Simeon. I suspect that is because Mary probably would have felt she could talk more freely with another woman. And she would have been curious about this prophet who took such a keen interest in her baby. By the way, Mary found out Anna’s genealogy and I looked up the names. Anna was from the tribe of Asher, a name that means “blessing.” Asher, eighth son of Isaac, was known as a peacemaker, one who worked to reconcile his brothers. And Anna’s father was named Phanuel, which means “the face of God.” On this day in the temple Anna got to see the face of the God who had come to reconcile his brothers, an act reflected in Anna’s own name, which means “grace.”
Anna was called a prophet, but clearly Simeon was also one who could hear the voice of the Lord. And the Lord had told him he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. The Holy Spirit directed him to the Temple that day and he did something I find startling.
Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms.
Our lectionary reading today included these words from Malachi:
The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight – indeed he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
That is a fearful and majestic image. By contrast the gesture of Simeon is one of tender mystery. Simeon has obviously been waiting for years – Anna, too. And now, with one glimpse, holding the baby Jesus for a single moment, listen to him as he declares that he is content.
Master, now you are dismissing your servant (The word means SLAVE) in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples…
Perhaps we, too, should learn to be content with those small glimpses of God’s mighty hand at work. Mary would live to see much more of the plan of redemption – and Simeon warned her it would be like a sword piercing her soul. Who can endure such days? Let us be content with the seemingly small acts of obedience, the seemingly accidental encounters of our days, seeing in them the fulfillment of God’s promise to redeem our whole lives.
On this Feast Day, our brothers and sisters of the Eastern Orthodox churches will be singing this hymn:
Hail Virgin Theotokos full of Grace, for Christ our God, the Sun of Righteousness, has dawned from you, granting light to those in darkness. And you, O Righteous Elder, rejoice, taking in your arms the Deliverance of our souls, who grants us Resurrection.