“Master, you are dismissing your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation…” (Simeon, Luke 2: 29-30)
A friend posted on Facebook a photograph of five generations in her family, ranging from her grandmother down to her grandchild and I wondered at the scope of human history and experience represented in the generations looking back at the camera.
Many years ago now my dad sat at the head of a holiday table. My niece and nephews were still small children. He looked around at all of us and pressing his fingers together in a gesture my sisters will well remember — it meant that he was about to say something he had been thinking about and thought important the rest of us to hear — he said, nodding at the children, “They will remember us far into the next century…” Without a doubt, he was tasting his own mortality then and wondering at what would follow…
It was a warm Saturday in late summer when I awoke early to take a journey I hadn’t especially been looking forward to. I was driving halfway across the state to pick up a friend and together we were going two hours beyond that to visit a mutual friend who was nearing the end of his battle with cancer. We knew, without saying so, that it would be our last visit with him, at least in this life.
So it was that Larry and I sat by George’s bed at the nursing home up the street from his home that morning. And we planned his funeral. Or I should say, George shared with us his plans for his funeral. We just took notes. He knew the music he wanted sung, the scriptures we were to proclaim:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54-56)
He spoke those words which clearly had given him strength his whole life long, but no more so than in those last months. As we wrapped up our conversation he asked Larry to play the organ and then he very gently asked me if I would preach, if I could. His voice broke then when he said to us, “Oh how I wish I could be there…” And then Larry, with his own eyes full of tears replied, “Oh, but George, you will be,” speaking aloud his own certainty of our promised life beyond this one.
It was later that afternoon that I got a glimpse of Simeon in this Sunday’s Gospel lesson for it was then that family gathered: his wife, Mary, of course, and daughter, son-in-law, three year old granddaughter, Danielle, and a brand new grandson named Nicholas. We placed a stole around this old pastor’s shoulders and a bowl of water in his hands and holding that tiny baby George poured the water on that beloved baby’s head and spoke words he had spoken thousands of times before, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” And then in a quaking voice he held that baby close and he spoke words meant as blessing and promise, “And maybe one day, little Nicholas, you will be a pastor just like your old grandpa…” Straining to see into the future, George was… and commending that little one to the best kind of future he knew — reflecting, to be sure, some of the great joy he himself had known in this life.
In human families the past is tied to the present which is tied to the future in often wonderful and also, yes, sometimes painful ways. We strain to see and hear and understand connections, the larger meaning behind the usually disjointed experience of it all. And for all of us, at least eventually, we do have an eye to the future. What will come next? Who and what will follow? And what does it all mean?
I expect this was some of what was experienced by Simeon in the temple — I imagine he, too, must have been tasting some of his own mortality. However, now the yearning to see and experience God at work has finally been fulfilled and he speaks aloud his joy at this when he says that he can now ‘depart’ with a sense of peace, of wholeness, having glimpsed something of God’s promised future in that baby Jesus in his arms that day. May it also be so for all of us. May we also be blessed with glimpses of the future God holds: a future shaped by the gift of God’s Own Self in Christ Jesus whose very birth reminds us of God’s great love for us and all the world that he would come to us as one of us. May we be blessed with those glimpses even and especially as we taste our own mortality. Along with Simeon and George and all the people God so loves…
- How was Simeon’s experience like that of any person nearing the end of life holding in our arms an infant just beginning the journey? How must it have been different?
What do you suppose made Simeon (and Anna, too) open to glimpsing God’s future in this way? Read through the story (Luke 2:22-40) again to see what clues are there. What might you and I learn from them?
What do you think you would need to encounter to know that God was at work in the world in profound ways? What have you already experienced which has convinced you this is so? What do you find yourself still yearning for that, should it arrive, you would be able to say, “Master, you are dismissing your servant in peace…” ?