Yesterday was the Feast of the Presentation, the story and song of Simeon found in Luke 2:25-35. The Latin version of the Song of Simeon is Nunc Dimittis, which I shared a couple of weeks back. This is my favorite version of the Song of Simeon in English, both because of the music and because of the message conveyed in the video. If you are stressed by the current political climate please listen and watch.
I’m not sure why the liturgical calendar has the presentation of Jesus in the temple on 2 February, well after the baptism on the First Sunday after the Epiphany. I don’t want to wait until then to hear the Song of Simeon. So here it is today.
George Dyson’s Nunc Dimittis in D, the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.
Lent already. We’re only a third of the way into February and it is Ash Wednesday. Easter is early this year: 27 March, so Ash Wednesday and Lent are early as well.
I have long thought of Lent as being a long, drawn-out season and Advent being a short, fast season. But I looked at the liturgical calendar a while back and I realized that there is only one more Sunday in Lent than there is in Advent. Sure doesn’t seem that way. I guess it’s the different nature of the two seasons.
So here we are. The journey begins.
I sometimes wonder about the lectionary selection for a given Sunday or holy day. What were those lectionary elves (to borrow a term I love from an Episcopal priest) thinking? Even more arcane is the church calendar. Why would the presentation of Jesus at the temple be on 2 February? After all it comes on the calendar after the Baptism of Jesus. But 2 February it is, and I wanted to observe it today because it contains, to me, one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible.
The author of Luke tells us that Simeon “was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel,” and that “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” When he sees Jesus in the temple Simeon says:
Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.
There are, of course, many beautiful musical evocations of this passage. Here is one of them, with an added message about the power of the Social Gospel.
Today I am ready to try, at least, to leave behind the cynical realism of W.H. Auden, and embrace the hopeful optimism of Howard Thurman.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild nations,
To bring peace among brothers and sisters,
To make music in the heart.
There are two passages I have used at Epiphany in the past. One is the optimistic, hopeful vision of Howard Thurman. The other is the somewhat cynical, but to my mind very realistic and accurate perspective of W.H. Auden. This year I am vacillating between the cynical and the hopeful, so I am bringing you both. Today the cynical realism of W.H. Auden. Tomorrow, on the actual day of Epiphany, the hopeful optimism of Howard Thurman.
Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes —
Some have got broken — and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week —
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted — quite unsuccessfully —
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off.
—W.H. Auden, from For the Time Being
And this year Lent is indeed not very far off. Ash Wednesday is early this year. It falls on 10 February.
And so we continue our journey.
When we start the new liturgical year with Advent, I am always a couple of weeks behind in realizing that we are moving from one year to the next in the three-year lectionary cycle. It hit me just last week that we have finished Year B, the year of Mark, with its brevity and Jesus in conflict with the authorities, and we have now moved on to year C, the year of Luke.
I like Year C. I like Luke. Luke has little of the harshness of Matthew, and overflows with compassion. Jesus is always having a meal with someone, somewhere.
Luke contains the Song of Simeon and the passage in which he tells the criminal, “today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke contains the Emmaus Road story, even if we don’t get it in our Year C lectionary readings.
I’m happy to be in Year C.