Every evening at the end of Compline my sisters and I sing the Song of Simeon.
We use a few different versions of the Song of Simeon but my favourite is
"Creator, God: A Paraphrase of the Song of Simeon" written by Sr. Sue Elwyn, SSJD. We sing it to music which has been adapted by Sr. Thelma-Anne McLeod, SSJD.
I may be biased but I think this particular combination of words and music is achingly beautiful.
In a few days the Anglican Church will celebrate Candlemas (also known as the Presentation of the Lord) which commemorates the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. You can read about it in Luke 2:22-40. Christians all over Canada will sing the Song of Simeon in honour of this event.
In Luke chapter 2 Mary and Joseph travel to Jerusalem to present Jesus to the Lord. As devout Jews they are simply doing what the law requires of them. This duty is the first presentation in the story and is the ostensible reason for the journey to Jerusalem. The story however has several layers of both presentation and revelation. Jesus is presented to the Lord and, to Simeon and Anna. Jesus is also revealed as the Messiah to Simeon, Anna and, to Mary and Joseph.
Simeon praises God both for keeping God’s word and for revealing the Messiah. At this point, Simeon is prepared to die in peace. Denise Levertov, in her poem
Candlemas, describes Simeon as “
turning illumined/towards deep night”, his “
ancient arms” full of “
Mary and Joseph also experience a revelation of sorts as they are amazed at what is being said about their baby. We always read the Bible within the light of our knowledge about the story. To Mary and Joseph Jesus is certainly a miraculous baby but he is still only a baby of about 40 days of age. Suddenly their tiny baby is described as being a “light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Its little wonder his parents are amazed!
After Simeon speaks his great hymn of praise he turns to Mary and says, “This child is destined for the rising and falling 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.”
I can’t read that line about the sword piercing Mary’s soul – presented seemingly as an afterthought – without thinking of the crucifixion. Time and time again I have heard and read about how we experience the nativity in the shadow of the cross. I imagine Mary having questions about this but we don’t learn what she is thinking. Before Mary, and us the readers, can respond to Simeon we are introduced to Anna, the prophet, who recognizes Jesus as “t
he redemption of Jerusalem.”
After Anna and Simeon have spoken the story ends prosaically. When Mary and Joseph finish everything required by the law they return to their own town of Nazareth. It feels like an anticlimax but it is also the way our lives often go after what we refer to as a "
Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna are all privileged to know things they couldn’t otherwise have known but their knowledge, as ours, is incomplete. We never hear about Simeon and Anna again, as with so many characters in the Bible, and we hear very little about Mary and Joseph. All seem to return to their ordinary lives doing the ordinary things they are asked to do. Even after a great revelation or a wonderful experience we still need to continue to walk in obedience, to put one foot in front of the other and to continue on our journeys of faith with our imperfect knowledge.
This Candlemas can we say with Simeon “
I’ve been your servant; still I serve and will, From birth until all ages end, and then, in peace and love, Will I serve still, nor cease when time itself you rend.”
~~ Sister Wendy Grace Greyling, Guest House Team