Monday after Trinity 1
St Luke 2:21-40
My father died when I was six. I remember little from his last days. Most of what I know about those days, I learned from my grandfather (my mom’s dad, who loved my dad as dearly as his own son). He told me much about dad’s deathbed conversation — that he had no thought for himself, but only for his bride and his two young sons. I do not know — I wish I did know — more about whether hope for us prevailed over anxiety for us in his final thoughts, and whether something like a settled peace mingled with the sadness of his last days.
I mention this because today’s reading is a reading about death — the coincidence of the dawn of new life with one man’s glorious sunset. Simeon died well. He died well, in large part, because he died with no thought for himself, and a proper hope for his people and the world. He died well because he had read, marked, and inwardly digested the Word of God, and the encouragement he received from the Scriptures gave him hope(1), incorrigible hope that sustained him through long years of faithful waiting. When the thing he’d long waited for, “the consolation of Israel,” finally arrived, he departed in peace, according to the decree of the faithful God he loved. He died singing of a salvation not his own, but of
Thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the
glory of thy people Israel.
Simeon had seen Jesus, Israel’s consolation and glory. And as a faithful son of Abraham he knew what the arrival of Israel’s glory meant: light to the Gentiles, salvation going out to all people. The thing that’d been hinted at in Elijah’s mission to the widow of Zarephath, in Elisha’s cleansing of Naaman the Syrian, in Jonah’s mission to Nineveh, in the fool’s hope of a Moabitess who would not be parted from her despairing mother-in-law, was presently coming to fullness. So Simeon sang.
But not everyone loved the thing Simeon loved. Therefore Simeon died with something more than song on his lips; he had also some sharp truth, spoken with piercing deathbed clarity, for Mary:
Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.
In Jesus, Simeon saw that the promised shoot had sprung from the stump of Jesse(2) — that the true Davidic King had come to a land sick with the reigns of imposters and tyrants like Herod. And Simeon rightly foresaw, when the shoot from Jesse’s stump was yet a holy infant, tender and mild, that His appearing would provoke opposition and cause division.
Whatever peace Jesus, Prince of Peace, was born to bring, it was not, as Dorothy Sayers once said, the peace of amiable indifference(3). The little bundle of joy Simeon saw in the Temple was nothing less momentous than the beginning of Heaven’s decisive invasion of the world. Not everyone would treasure Him like Mary, or hail Him like Simeon. At the Lord’s birth, Simeon had finished his course, and his part was to depart in peace — though not before preparing Mary for the harder part of bearing a mother’s deepest possible grief: seeing her son opposed, rejected, and hanged on a cross.
(1) Romans 15:4
(2) Isaiah 11:1
(3) Dorothy L. Sayers, Creed or Chaos? in Letters to a Diminished Church 55 (Thomas Nelson 2004).