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.
Yesterday was the second Sunday of Advent. A week ago we had prophecy (Jeremiah) in the lectionary readings, as my friend Tahoe Mom mentioned. We also had an apocalyptic reading for the Gospel, something that happens every year on the first Sunday of Advent, and something that, finally, I am getting used to.
This week we had prophecy again (Malachi), but we also heard the Song of Zechariah and got an introduction to John the Baptist. We move forward from one week to the next. Advent is a journey, as Tahoe Mom points out.
Spiritually we travel these next four weeks with no assurances that there will be a place to stay when we get to the end. And certainly no palaces or cool hotel suites await us ~ only a back yard stable and the pain of birth. Never the less, we make the journey, somehow confident that at the end, Light will arrive and if necessary, we will make the journey all over again. Crazy? Yes. Amazing? Yes as well. Blessings on our way.
Advent blessings to all of you who celebrate the season.
The Forward Day-by-Day meditation for last Tuesday was about the story of the paralyzed man being let down through the roof of the house in front of Jesus as related in Mark 2:1-12. In particular, the writer of the meditation focused on Mark 2:1: “When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.”
Wait! What? Jesus at home? How had I never noticed that before?
In a way I guess it’s not surprising. The Revised Common lectionary assigns this passage to Epiphany 7 in Year B. Unless Easter is on the late side we don’t get as far as Epiphany 7 in many years. This year (which happens to be Year B) we only got as far as Epiphany 5 before moving on to the The Last Sunday after Epiphany and the story of the Transfiguration.
Nor would it help to encounter this story as part of the lectionary cycle in Matthew or Luke. Matthew simply says that Jesus “came to his own town.” Luke doesn’t say where Jesus was when this happened.
Given the three-year cycle, one could go quite a few years before the reference to Jesus at home came up in a Sunday sermon.
I am guessing that this is probably the only reference to Jesus being at home in the gospels, at least for Jesus during his ministry, putting aside the infancy and youth narratives in Matthew and Luke.
I’m still thinking about what to make of the idea of the itinerant Jesus at home.
Hail thee Festival Day, Ralph Vaughn Williams, St. John’s, Detroit. Sunday is Pentecost!