Candlemas

30th January 2022

Ezekiel 43:27 – 44:4

When these days are over, then from the eighth day onwards the priests shall offer upon the altar your burnt-offerings and your offerings of well-being; and I will accept you, says the Lord God.

Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east; and it was shut. The Lord said to me: This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it; for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut. Only the prince, because he is a prince, may sit in it to eat food before the Lord; he shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gate, and shall go out by the same way.

Then he brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple; and I looked, and lo! the glory of the Lord filled the temple of the Lord; and I fell upon my face.

1 Corinthians 13

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Luke 2:22-40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

“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.”

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed– and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.

Reflection

Ezekiel was both a priest and a prophet, one of those who had been exiled to Babylon. The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by his captors must have had a profound effect upon him, and this is reflected in his writings. 

He writes that after 25 years of exile he has a vision. In the vision he is taken back to Israel, back to the city of Jerusalem and there he sees the restored – resurrected – Temple. The restoration of the Temple must have been such a hoped for desire for Ezekiel. It would have meant not just the restoration of the building, but of the worship of God, and of the restoration of the nation of Israel as God’s elect. 

Ezekiel is met by a guide who takes him on a tour of the temple complex, showing him all its walls and gate ways, its courtyards and rooms, corridors and pavements. His guide is equipped with measuring instruments such that he can know the height and depth and width of every part of the building. Having completed the tour of the outer precincts, Ezekiel is then taken on an even more in depth tour of the Temple itself. He is shown the various rooms and vestibules, their decorations, furnishings and equipment is all notes. The guide explains the use of the different rooms  – which ones are to be used for different offering, which ones for robing and unrobing, and which areas will only  be entered by appropriately robed priests. The Ezekiel comes to the eastward facing gateway and afar off he sees and hears the approaching arrival of the glory of God. As the glory fills the Temple, so he is lifted by the spirit into the safety of an inner court. 

Now it is not his guide, but the voice of God who addresses Ezekiel. He is instructed how he will offer sacrifices for seven days to consecrate the altar – and only them will the other priests be able to take up the routine of daily worship in the Temple. This is where our reading today comes in. Ezekiel is told by God that the east ward facing gate (the one  by which God entered the Temple) has been shut and will remain so. There will be one exception: the prince may enter and leave by that gate. Earlier Ezekiel records God speaking of his servant David as being one who is a prince among the people. The Hebrew word translated as prince can also mean ruler or leader. 

Ezekiel’s vision of the future that he is hoping for, is of a future where things are restored to how they should be. Where the temple is once more rebuilt in all its splendour. Where the role of the priests is clearly defined and irreversibly entwined with the return of God’s presence to the temple. Where the rule of David will be restored such that the prince shall enter by the east gate and dine within its vestibule before the presence of God. This view of salvation is one that envisages a return to the ‘good old days’. 

The second Temple complex, built by Herod,  comprised a series of  courtyards each with differing functions. At the centre was the courtyard of the priests where sacrifices were made and within which was the building that contained the Holy of Holies. The outer courtyards where men and women could both go, were places where people could meet, talk, catch up on news, arrange business deals, debate theology, make offerings, and pray. Here people, like Simeon and Anna , could spend  whole days amidst a bustle of activity that ultimately revolved around the worship of God. And it is here that both Anna and Simeon are given the insight that the child Mary and Joseph bring into the Temple, is the Messiah, that in this child is the bringer of salvation.  What an amazing experience! One which few others – in Luke’s telling of the story had had.  Only  the shepherds who came to the stable, and Elizabeth and Zechariah, and of course Mary, had received the message that this child was special. 

The outermost court of the temple was open to all, Jew and Gentile alike, but beyond that point only Jews could proceed further. Yet Simeon is prompted by the Spirit to see in Jesus one who will bring light and salvation to all people – gentiles included. This messiah in not just for those who have traditionally seen themselves as the exclusive people of God. This is a messiah for everyone. This, as Simeon goes onto prophesy, is someone who will open up new ways of thinking, new ways that will be so radical as to cause the world to be turned upside down. And so radical that people will be hurt in the process. What Simeon perceives as salvation is not a restoration of Israel as of old, but a complete transformation into something completely new. 

Sometimes it can be very easy to think that restoring things back to how they used to be is the answer.  It seems a safer, more reliable proposition than seeking something new – and possibly a quicker solution too needing less planning and preparation.  A year ago as we dealt with the worst of the covid pandemic, we dreamed of a better future. A future in which we would build back better. A future in which the inequalities revealed by the virus would be eradicated. A future in which we would be better neighbours. A future where we would all have a better work-life balance. A future where everyone  would have access to computers and a fast internet connection. A future where everyone could access green spaces to relax and recuperate. A future where key workers would be valued. A future where educational catch up support would be there for every child. A future where the air would always be clean and the song of birds would always be heard.

The  salvation which Simeon saw was the same that inspired Paul to takes the good news of Jesus Christ to both Jews and gentiles. The gospel he preached was radical, turning social norms upside down, rewriting religious expectations and demanding a new approach to daily life. It is in preaching this message of what is new about the salvation that comes through Jesus, that Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth  about love. This is a love that can break through ‘me first’ attitudes; that can break down the barriers of  inequality, prejudice and mistrust; that is the catalyst that ends lying and deceitfulness; that embraces the protection of the environment; that puts life and well being before profit. It is a love we need to nurture everyday so that we are proof of the transforming process of salvation.

“Love that  is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. A Love that never ends.”

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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