Waiting for Redemption

The Presentation

Year A
Malachi 3:1-4
Psalm 24:7-10
Hebrews 2:14-18
Luke 2:22-40

Bill Williams had been a semi-professional musician… an electronics technician… and a computer and video game designer… but he gave all that up to pursue a Master of Arts Degree from the Lutheran School of Theology… in Chicago… where he received an Outstanding Biblical Studies Award in 1994… he died of cystic fibrosis four years later… but before he died… his book… Naked Before God… was published…

Written from the perspective of Nathaniel… an imaginary disciple of Jesus… this cystic fibrosis patient wanders through the Gospel narratives… revisiting a theology of suffering… from his own unique perspective…  arguing with Jesus and the other disciples… Nathaniel seeks healing for his soul… even as his body falls apart…  and in painfully honest language… he demands to understand grace… suffering… and forgiveness… and seeks to know the reality of God’s love for him…

About the book… Episcopal priest Barbara Crafton wrote… Williams knew that God is good… but that life is really hard… and as he deals with questions of life and death and faith… he maintains a sharpness of wit… an extraordinary sense of humor… and a deep reverence for life

Joseph and Mary embody that deep reverence too… they fulfill civic responsibilities… like going to their home town to be counted in the census… and religious expectations… like abiding by the guidelines found in Leviticus… which say that after the birth of a son… to wait forty days… and then come to the Temple with a lamb for a burnt offering… and a young pigeon for a sin offering…  but as you might imagine… the lamb would be more expensive… and if the cost was too much to bear… the woman could bring a second pigeon… two pigeons… and this has been called The Offering of the Poor  this adherence to the Law… about fulfilling all righteousness… is a kind of sacrament… and ancient people used to celebrate many different rites of passage… including presenting and naming a child before God… as Jesus was named eight days after his birth… and redeeming them from God… or dedicating them to God…  and in adhering to religious practice… Joseph and Mary embody for Jesus… teach Jesus… model for Jesus… how to be observant to God’s Law… from the time of his birth…  and as Simeon and Anna themselves experienced… leaning into this kind of faithfulness… can take a lifetime…

Simeon was a man who was able to perceive and follow the direction of the Holy Spirit… now the text doesn’t say that he was a priest in the Temple… the text doesn’t say that Joseph and Mary had arranged in advance to see him… the text just says that he was righteous… and devout… and lived in Jerusalem… a man who looked forward to God’s consolation pouring out over all of Israel…  and intuitively… he was led to the Temple that day… guided to the Temple… just as the Holy Family was coming there too… and when Simeon saw Jesus… he was overcome with holy revelation…  what he had waited for all his life… was right there in front of him…

I wonder what Joseph and Mary did… or thought… or felt… when this stranger… probably without even asking… probably unable to control himself… swooped up their baby in his arms… and praised God… and said… you are dismissing your servant in peace… for my eyes have seen your salvation… many of us think he means that he’s ready to die… but the Greek word that’s translated as dismiss… also means to figuratively die… so it’s unclear whether he simply means that his waiting is over… or that he can now die in peace…

And the assurance that a patriarch can die in peace… is a theme that’s expressed in Genesis 15:15… when God tells Abraham… As for yourself… you shall go to your ancestors in peace… and in Genesis 46:30… when Jacob (Israel) says to Joseph… I can die now… having seen for myself that you are still alive… and so for Simeon… maybe not that day… but now that his deepest desire has been fulfilled… now that he has seen the child who will be a light to the nations… and who will open the floodgates of God’s glory… now he too… can die in peace…

And Anna… a widow who is named as a prophet… who discerned God’s will… who never left the Temple… she too was drawn to this presence and peace… perhaps by Jesus’ light… and in his commentary… William Barclay writes… the years had left Anna without bitterness… and in unshakable hope… because day after day… she kept contact with God who is the source of all strength…  the words that Anna spoke to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem were not recorded by Luke… but she would have known the sacredness of life… and the presence of God in the mundane… as described in Deuteronomy 6:5-9… which tells us that we are… to love God with all our heart… soul… and might… to teach God’s words to our children… to speak about them whether we’re at home… or walking about… or lying down… to write them on the doorposts of our house… and on our gates… and remember to be holy… to be made holy… to be sanctified… by God…

When we move in the secular realm… devoid of the presence of the holy… daily experiences are impoverished… they no longer have any meaning beyond themselves… no opening to transcendence…  our challenge… is to find meaningful personal and corporate rituals… for celebrating the presence of God in the ordinary… because when we incorporate ritual into the events and cycles of our lives… we acknowledge that we are not alone in the mystery of life… and our place in the cosmos…  we join with people in all places and from all times… in the awe of rain and lightning… of stars and tides… in a palette of sunset colors… and a madness of diversity that none of us could possibly create…

When we gather in worship… we pray the Prayers of the People… but can we pray the liturgy itself… can we imagine the entire liturgy as one seamless prayer from Prelude to Postlude… in which we offer before God… not only our intercessions… not only our hopes and dreams…our fears and concerns… our tithes… but especially… and maybe even mostly… ourselves…

I wonder though… if The Presentation was an event frozen in time… or if it transcends time… we know that in their community… Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple… but in our community… our sanctuary… we present Jesus as the elements of communion… the bread and the wine… and as the gathered community… we consecrate that bread and wine… and we present our open hands… we present our eagerness to be fed… to receive God’s forgiveness and reconciliation…  and I’ll tell you… if you’ve ever seen William’s face… or the face of another child at the altar rail… full of joy and expectation… then I think you know some of what Simeon and Anna felt…

I was once questioned about communing children… this person said that children don’t understand what’s going on… I said… neither do I… but I need to be fed with God’s boundless grace… and unmerited forgiveness… and  immeasurable love… and I believe that when we come to this altar rail… like Bill Williams… we are all Naked Before God… we acknowledge this in our Collect for Purity…  that to God… all hearts are open… all desires known… and no secrets are hid… not the secrets we hide from ourselves… or the secrets we hide from others…  and even so… God loves every single one of us… unconditionally… how can we not love each other the same way… as we too… like Bill… strive to maintain that same deep reverence for life…

Mike+

About the author: The Rev. Mike Wernick

The Rev. Mike Wernick is a second-career Episcopal priest who grew up in a Reform Jewish family, and who believes that diversity was never intended to be divisive. He serves as the Ecumenical and Inter-religious Officer for the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan and the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Michigan, and on the ELCA's North/West Lower Michigan Synod’s Task Force on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, "Open Hearts, Open Church."