This is the final of a series of radio reflections I did this week on VOWR. Thought I’d sneak it in before Christmas officially ends.
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant* in peace,
according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation,
Luke 2: 25-32
This summer my family suffered a serious blow after we lost our dear grandmother. She was the matriarch of our family; she kept us all rooted and was a solid rock of faith. She raised 10 children plus 3 grandchildren and was the go to person in our tiny Central Newfoundland fishing village when someone was sick or in need. She was a fixture in the local Pentecostal church often holding services when there was no pastor available. She was perhaps the single most influential person not only in my faith development but in making me the person I am today.
My grandmother loved to talk about her faith and I remember many a long discussion about theology, scripture, and though she would never use this word, philosophy. One of her favourite topics was the second coming. She held a very real belief in the imminent return of Jesus to earth, what she lovingly referred to as the rapture. No matter how bad things got, she believed it was only a temporary blip on life’s radar because this old world would soon be over. Sickness, loss of loved ones, despair, poverty, family disputes, nothing could shake her unwavering belief that her Lord and saviour would soon return. And she waited with such patience. Not once did she kick up her feet and put her faith up on her pantry shelf. No, she was always giving, always praying, always loving. It’s no wonder that my mind is drawn to her as I reflect upon Simeon and his song in Luke’s Gospel.
Simeon’s song or the Nunc Dimittis is well known in many parts of the church. In my own Anglican tradition it is enshrined as part of the evensong liturgy of the BCP. Luke tells us very little about Simeon only that he was a righteous man with a profound connection to God’s Spirit. A promise had been given that he would see the messiah before death. And so Simeon waits, in fact maybe he is the patron saint of waiting. St. Simeon of Jerusalem has a nice ring to it.
Luke is not clear why Simeon is in the Temple. Is he a part of the Temple staff or is he some random charismatic who drifts into the temple at the very time that his long awaited messiah shows up there? Whatever the reason, he is there and so are Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. What does one say when you meet the person you been waiting your whole life to meet, the person who fulfils your life’s purpose. Well like Mary, Zechariah, and the angels before him Simeon sings. Like the others before him he sings of the glory of this event, his unworthiness in this grand tale, and how great this is for his people. Simeon, though goes a step further than his choral predecessors as he extends the reach of the significance of Jesus to the Gentiles. Jesus has been prepared for them too and will give them light. The promise Simeon realizes is bigger than even he imagined. His joy comes from being permitted to play even a small role in this divine plan, to sing a tiny harmony in the great song that God was writing.
So what is the connection with my grandmother? Of course the sceptic would say she died without seeing her belief come to fruition. She never experienced that glorious return that she so longed for. It was all in vain. After my grandmother died they found a note she had written and placed in her bible. It listed instructions for her funeral, songs she wanted, people to sing, and a reminder not to have a mournful service. She knew the glory she long awaited would be a reality for her at that time. She knew the promise was even bigger than she imagined and she had been glad to play the part she had, to sing her notes in the most heartfelt way she could. Scribbled there on that note was also a wish for me, her Anglican priest of a grandson, to read the scripture and perhaps have a few words to say. Here was the women who had given me such a love for scripture and faith asking that I read and speak at her funeral. My dear friends, the promise is even bigger than any of us ever dreamed. How will we sing the parts God has given us in the great song of life?