Eucharist – The Epiphany – 3rd Jan 2021
3rd January – looking back at the octave of Christmas…
Not, today in this meditation, a foretaste of the feast of the Epiphany, which some churches will celebrate today, and others next Wednesday, but a little look at the happenings of the past week we might have lost in this strangest of Christmases.
I wonder, just at the moment, when we are probably all watching a heck of a lot of telly (mostly not very good) what your favourite programme is? Mine is that splendid quiz on Monday nights “Only Connect”. Two teams compete to work out what it is that connects apparently random information, or what might follow a series of three ideas, to complete the chain. And so on. Not everyone has that sort of mind, but, if you have, I commend it to you.
It’s an approach that is sometimes useful in the writing of sermons. It’s not always obvious what the daily readings mean us to find, but then again we might not find anything at all until we put them together. On Wednesday we heard from Luke of an old lady called Anna, who, once her family life is over, spends all her time in the Temple. In those days the Temple was not only a place of worship, but also a place of care: somewhere she might find food and shelter and friendship. One day she finds all three in one, in the person of the child Jesus, whom she extols as that deliverer of Israel she has (like so many before her) looked forward to. At last! Her life reaches its fulfilment as the boy is brought by his parents to his father’s house, and she sees him and knows it’s all true. For her, there’s no more to be said.
Now then: this passage continues without a break from what was set the day before. Then, it was not an old lady but an old man, Simeon, who happened upon Jesus in the Temple, and saw who he was, and hugged him. But, before telling Mary and Joseph he’d made the connection (in case they hadn’t, yet) he sings a song. It’s the one we know as the “Nunc dimittis” (its first two words in Latin), which is all about his longing to see his salvation in Christ being now satisfied; no more “wait (and wait) and see”: now, at last, he can rest. I think that’s why some people like to use it in a funeral service, as they might do each night before sleep: which brings me to venture a further connection.Another of the evening songs, as well as Simeon’s, is that of Mary, known as the “Magnificat”). That’s the one the Virgin sings before the birth (indeed, at the very conception) of Christ, in response to the angel’s Good News; our hymn “Tell out, my soul” is a modern version. But even that, when Mary sings it, isn’t utterly, totally, new: it’s an echo, from the back of her mind, of a very similar song in the Old Testament, sung by another mother in gratitude for an earlier miracle baby. That baby wasn’t Jesus, but his prophet, Samuel: and that mother’s name wasn’t Mary, but Hannah. Both sing their song at the point in their young son’s life when he is presented – given – to God, as his servant, as were all first-born boys, if so pleased God. Mary and Joseph are doing their duty, that Christ may do his; only Anna and Simeon connect past, present and future in quite what that duty will be.