A Candlemas service at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford. Photo: Christ Church Cathedral.
As has been observed the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple is unusual in having four alternative titles. Each title emphasises something different, reflects the Revd Charles Chadwick.
On the Presentation of Christ in the Temple
Jesus is presented by his earthly parents at the Temple in Jerusalem 40 days after his birth. (See Luke 2 vs: 21-40.)This was a requirement ‘according to the law of Moses’. Mary and Joseph’s fulfilment of this can remind us that doing our duty and being faithful to what tradition requires of us is an important aspect of the Christian faith and life. This sense of obligation is captured well in Common Worship which says, “It is indeed right, it is our duty and our joy, at all times and in all places …’.
Christianity is not simply a matter of choosing what we like, or what suits us. There are essential requirements for us to fulfil towards God.
The Meeting of the Lord
Another traditional title for this feast, The Meeting of the Lord, connects with the encounter of Simeon and Anna with the infant Christ child. Their story reminds us of the importance of faithfulness and of being prepared to patiently wait. We live in an age where we can seemingly have everything we want almost immediately. Being prepared to wait is seen as an irritating hindrance and Anna and Simeon’s demeanour can serve as a useful corrective to a view that can so often be about us as individuals, focusing on ourselves.
How wisely did the priest and poet R. S. Thomas conclude his poem Kneeling with the words, “The meaning is in the waiting”. Often it is in times of waiting that we can develop and grow in our appreciation of God, his creation, one another and ourselves.
This title also reminds us that God cannot be ordered to meet us when we think it is convenient. He has, to put it simply, his own sense of timing, he will not be rushed. He is not at our beck and call. Rather we are to be like Anna and Simeon and believe that he will come to us. We are to be open and alert to recognise him and his work in our world and in our lives, which can so often be through encountering other people. This includes people of other faiths. We are reminded of this in the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Roman Centurion who wanted his servant healed. And when he is challenged by the Canaanite woman whose daughter was unwell.
A third title given to this feast is Candlemas. Tradition maintains that this title connects it with the Roman custom of lighting candles, recalling the lights in the Temple at Jerusalem. There is provision in Common Worship for a Candlemas Procession, during which people go to the font or the door of the church. The carrying of lit candles reminds us of John’s gospel where Jesus says that he is the light of the world and that whoever follows him will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life. The end of the procession includes a responsory that reminds us that we are to bear Christ’s light as we say Let us shine with the light of your love.
The Purification of the Virgin
A further title for this feast is The Purification of the Virgin. This had its origin in the Jewish practice of attending the Temple in Jerusalem to thank God and pray for both the health of the child and for the purification of the mother. It was believed that after forty days both would be out of any potential harm’s way. This title reminds us of the theme of dependency and of how Jesus was dependent on his mother. Across the gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles we see how Mary responded to Jesus in a range of ways, which could be summarised as embodying responsiveness and faithfulness. Like Mary we are surely to reflect on what it means for us to be faithful to Christ and to respond to him.
Each of the titles for this feast, as well as the reading from Luke and the characters found in it, can speak to us of how we might respond to Christ in our own lives.
Charles Chadwick is the parish development adviser for the Dorchester area. Candlemas is on the February 2 2018.