Candlemas the Festival of light when we traditionally bless the candles for use in our Churches, and many are discovering that this is the end of Christmas and the decorations can be left up until now. This Feast of Candlemas can be traced back to at least 543. The Feast of Lighted candles is mentioned by Bede and St. Eligius, who was Bishop of Noyon from 640 to 648. It is celebrated on either the nearest Sunday to 2 February or the day itself and it marks the purification, under Jewish religious law, of the mother of Christ 40 days after his birth; it also commemorates the presentation of the infant Christ in the Temple.
Our Gospel reading for today talks of the light coming into the darkness of the world, it depicts Simeon, old and well-aged coming to the end of his life, but holding on to that promise he has been given by God, you will see the Lord’s Messiah before you die. He must have been wondering, when oh when, will I see the Lord? And then in that moment that will always hold such beauty and mystery and the completion of God’s promise, Mary hands Simeon Jesus. We can’t know how that felt, that moment, amidst what would be the hustle and bustle and noise of the Temple life the new meets the old, the generations are held together in Simeons hands, and the story of God continues. And Anna comes up and recognises the Messiah, she begins to tell those around her, “Here he is, amongst us”, Who stopped and listened? Who thought, silly old woman? Who caught the moment, heard the words, saw the fulfilment on their faces? Imagine yourself in the moment too, take some time to sit and read the story and picture in your mind, how each would have received and participated, ask God to reveal to you in your inner being, something for you to hold and treasure, in these moments of our waiting.
It wasn’t all joy, of course. Mary left with those words of Simeon in her heart. ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising 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. When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him. So much encapsulated in the journey and time in the Temple.
Lastly, we are minded that this is also Snowdrop Sunday, another source of brightness also closely associated with Candlemas. Candlemas bells they were once called, and it is easy to see how they were the perfect flowers for the feast – flawless symbols of purity, so perfect. It is not hard to imagine what pleasure must have been taken in gathering them, or in merely having them growing by the church, on the day itself. And even today many of our best snowdrop displays are associated with the old faith, clustering around churchyards and ancient religious foundations, ruined abbeys and priories, where they were planted with Candlemas in mind. Combe Church has such a beautiful display along the banks. Apart from their pure beauty, the timing of their appearing as they do when the earth is still under the lock and key of winter. They’re the very first sign of something else, the Candlemas bells, are an undeniable signal that the warm days will come again; and I delight to see them in the banks and hedgerows in the parishes when I need to travel around. Little white heads popping up against the dead tones of the winter earth, is Hope, and Life suddenly and unmistakably manifest in white. Light and hope in the midst of your darkness be with you in God’s holding and Blessing.
Thanks to all who joined us for our Zoom service this morning, which was really lovely. Thanks to Georgina for putting it together and to the Fareys for singing so beautifully.
Below is the link to the recording of the service for those who couldn’t join us. You will need to put in the passcode to access it.
In the meantime, here is a link to a lovely reflection and prayers for Candlemas from retired bishop Trevor Willmott which is on the Bath and Wells Website.