In Yalding Church, on the North side of the chancel, this interesting window is to be found. It is not visible straightaway as it is not in the line of sight from the nave, but if you are kneeling to pray at the communion rail it is on your left hand side.
This window depicts Jesus being presented in the temple, as set out in Luke’s Gospel (Luke: 2:25-35). The text at the bottom of the window reads “Nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine in pace”, which sets out in Latin Simeon’s words “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.” These words echo perhaps our own frustrations at lockdown and our thoughts of a future release. The passage as a whole has much to say to us in the shadow of the current pandemic and our place as Christians in our world today. It covers themes of sacrifice, faith, patience, our impact on others, joy, gratitude and challenge.
Mary and Joseph have taken Jesus to the temple to offer a sacrifice for Mary’s purification, and to dedicate their firstborn to the service of God throughout their lives (Numbers 8:17, Exodus 13:2). This dedication to service is particularly poignant as we remember Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, and we remember the sacrifices of many over the last months, and those to come as the crisis continues.
Enter into our scene Simeon, described in the passage as “righteous and devout” (Luke 2:25). Simeon was eagerly awaiting “the consolation of Israel” – the comfort that the Messiah would bring to his people. The Holy Spirit had given him a special insight into the events to come, so he rushed to the temple courts. He had been promised that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Messiah. Imagine the faith and patience he had to show as he waited for his hopes to be realised; patience and faith that we too are having to show currently, which can test us and we can, and often do, fail to demonstrate.
Imagine also the reaction of Mary And Joseph as this unknown elderly man “took [Jesus] in his arms and praised God” (Luke:28)! No observing social distancing here, and Mary and Joseph could have been forgiven for being initially quite anxious and fearful; however, Simeon’s words had a profound impact on Jesus’s earthly parents and they “marvelled” at what he had to say (Luke 2:33). Where physical contact is no longer possible, the impact our words and deeds can have on others is increased. The impact can be both positive and negative, as we all continue to need the human contact that being part of families, groups and society is fundamentally about.
Simeon’s first act was to “praise God”, then to ask “sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace” (Luke 2:28-29). Simeon’s gratitude at promises fulfilled mirrors perhaps our own gratitude, as the current crisis has helped us to remember where we are fortunate and need to be thankful; in many cases for things which we can’t in all honesty take personal or individual credit for.
Simeon’s words were not all joyful, but also a source of challenge. He spoke to Mary about the deep anguish she would suffer, and that Jesus would “cause the falling and rising of many” (Luke 2:34-35). There is no middle ground with Jesus, and faith can lead to division, opposition and rejection. We have seen how the stresses of the pandemic can bring out the best, and worst, in people. We know there are difficult and challenging times ahead, and those challenges will most likely not impact us all equally. As we shift from observing lockdown to a gradual return to a version of normality, we will shift – from all of us being expected to behave in similar ways, to groups of us expected to behave differently. There is a danger this too will result in division, opposition and rejection.
Simeon’s attitude also challenges our focus today. His desire to “depart in peace” suggests that, in continuing living, he is doing what he doesn’t want to - as a result of the promise of something greater. This challenges our society’s short-term focus on this material world. As Christians, our ultimate hope when we are experiencing challenging times is the realisation that this life is not all there is. Knowing that God keeps his promises for the longer-term will help us to live above the pain we face in this life.
As St Paul writes “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4, 16-18).
So, as we face challenging times our faith can help us to be patient. It can encourage us to make sacrifices, and to have a positive impact on others through our words and deeds. Through these characteristics we can share some of Simeon’s joy - for that we can be thankful and praise God.
We thank you for the gift of your son,
and for the support of your Holy Spirit in these challenging times.
Help us to be faithful and patient through the darkness of this time,
so that our sacrifices can help and support others.
Help us through our actions and words to share our gratitude and joy with others,
so they too may see your light.