As Lent begins !

The Liturgical Calendar this year feels a bit rushed and scrambled. In quick succession we have celebrated the Baptism of Christ, the beginning of his Public ministry, back to his Presentation in the Temple as an infant and now we begin the Season of Lent. Yet it is not really confusing because we are looking back over two thousand years and through the Liturgy we relive in a reflective mystical way the events of Christ’s mission on earth and our own salvation. All events are connected and as we relive them through the liturgy we enter more deeply into their meaning.

The feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple leads us into the deep mystery of God’s presence and purpose in our world and brings us directly into the spirit of Lent.

In the first reading in the Mass on this day the Prophet Malachi says:

“The Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his Temple.

When Mary carrying the Child Jesus, accompanied by Joseph, carrying the prescribed pigeons or turtle doves, entered the Temple, it was a hugely symbolic moment. Yet the Scribes and other Temple officials, probably, gave them less than a cursory glance as they took their offering and wrote down the child’s details:

Jesus, son of Joseph, born in Bethlehem, of the house and family of David.

The long awaited Messiah had come into his Temple, unnoticed
un-acclaimed, unrecognised, except by two

What was different about these two people? How was it that they alone recognised that presence in their midst?

Simeon we are told was a devout man who looked forward to the coming of the promised Messiah and the Holy Spirit rested on him. More than that “it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord”

Anna was an eighty-four year old widow, a prophetess, who “never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer.” As a prophetess, she too would have been filled with the Holy Spirit.

The difference, I believe, was that filled with the Holy Spirit they were truly longing, desiring, expecting and ready for his coming and they recognised him when they came into His presence.

Is there something we can learn from this?

Sometimes, coming to Mass or to prayer can become a matter of routine; we often feel dry, stale or bored or just weighed down by the pressures of life.

Perhaps, the first message here is a prompt for each of us to call on the Holy Spirit to prepare our hearts, to fill us with expectation, desire and recognition as we come into Church our, ‘temple’ for Mass.

Simeon and Anna can be reminders of our need of the Holy Spirit to enlighten us in appreciating more deeply that awesome act that will take place on the Altar and in which we are privileged to participate through receiving Holy Communion.

Similarly, when we set aside time to pray, their example reminds us of the importance of calling for help from the Spirit to arouse desire and expectancy as we settle in to a time of prayer. Maybe this appeal to the Holy Spirit is a practice we could cultivate during Lent.

On another level what is really remarkable about Simeon, in particular, is that he alone of all who waited for, or expected the Messiah, or encounted Jesus in his public ministry had any insight into the true nature of his ministry. The common expectation was that the Messiah would be a conquering hero greater even than David and would restore the Kingdom of Israel to its former glory.

Simeon’s words stand alone:

“My eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared for all nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel ...This child is destined for the fall and the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many will be laid bare”

There are no glorious field battles in Simeon’s vision of Christ’s mission. No campaigns to drive out the Roman or other enemies.

Simeon had obviously studied and understood the words of the Prophet Isaiah He understood that the Messiah was ‘the Suffering Servant’ not the conquering hero.

“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our grief and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53.3-5

This blindness to the words of Isaiah highlights for us the difficulties Jesus experienced in getting his disciples and followers, let alone his enemies to understand that as God become Man his mission was a spiritual one operating in two dimensions Heaven and Earth. He was the Redeemer taking onto himself the guilt of all humanities sin.

God’s all embracing act of Mercy.

The words of Isaiah Chapter 52: v `3-15 and 53:1-12 would be good back ground reading as we move into the season of Lent.