I came across a photograph of a funerary monument the other day (cemetery photography seems to be something of a sub-genre – very atmospheric!) It was a sculpture of an angel holding on to a cross. Not that uncommon a subject but badly executed. The cross was solid and architectural. There was nothing ethereal about the angel. It was like a strong- man with wings, using its strength to apply downward pressure to the cross. The photograph had the tag ‘Let go’. Whereas such images often suggest the soul of the departed being released to eternity this sculpture suggested a person trapped in the dark by a great weight of marble. Maybe the bereaved were simply unable to let go of their loved one.
The Presentation Gospel (Candlemas) suggests the letting go that is a grace of the Christian life, the letting go that is necessary if we are to receive the life of Christ. The infant Jesus is at the centre of the scene. The other characters are Mary & Joseph, Simeon & Anna.
- Mary & Joseph like all new parents were going through the letting go that starts with birth, the moment of physical separation of mother & child. In presenting Jesus to God in the Temple they were acknowledging that they did not own this child, that rather he came from God & belonged to him. There is the observation that every developmental stage passed by a child represents a little death for the parents. Letting go enables growth. For Mary the hardest letting go of seeing her Son fulfil his destiny through his death on the cross was foretold by Simeon. (the piercing sword – Mary at the foot of the cross) The letting go that enabled resurrection.
- Simeon & Anna faced the letting go that is inevitable in old age. It can’t be avoided – physical decline & mortality are amongst the certainties of life. The difference is that they embraced it positively – in letting go they received life. In extreme old age their vocation of prayerful waiting upon the Lord found its reward & answer. They saw salvation as they gazed upon the infant Lord. Such a devotional life must have involved its own letting go of worldly possibilities, wealth, and a second marriage for Anna, the high of regard of neighbours. It was a letting go of the self that comes in placing oneself in the hands of God.
- In his much lived hymn the ‘Nunc Dimittis , Simeon was so trusting in God that he simply described what was happening.
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen you salvation ... light... glory.’ His was a good death, bending to the will of God, entering into the light & glory of Christ. Notice his faith. It is God who is letting him go, not in the sense of corporate life where to be let go is simply a euphemism for giving someone the sack, but of being dismissed from the burdens of this life into the joys of the next.
Candlemas is about letting go. It marks a turning point in the Church’s year. We leave the joys of Christmas behind us and turn to the sufferings of Jesus, to his Cross as we enter Lent. Sometimes in life change is gradual with plenty of time for adjustment. Sometimes it comes quickly. This year because Easter is so early, the liturgical gear change is very quick with only three days separating Candlemas from Ash Wednesday. It is symbolic of the letting go that is Christian discipleship. Our task in Lent is to ask the Lord what he is calling us to let go of so that we can see & receive salvation in his son.
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