The Presentation

There are only a small handful of Feasts that take precedence over a regular Sunday celebration.  A couple of them – Easter, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday – regularly fall on a Sunday.  One, Ascension Day, can never be a Sunday as forty days after Easter Day will always add up to Thursday.  All Saints’ Day can be celebrated twice, but it is only Christmas, Epiphany, Holy Name (January 1), the Presentation (February 2), and the Transfiguration (August 6), will bump a regularly scheduled Sunday.  This week, we have a rare double Feast as the secular festival of Super Bowl LIV happens to fall on the Sunday of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple – a name that just rolls off the tongue.

The Feast of the Presentation, while not often celebrated on the Lord’s Day is still a pretty popular story in the minds of many Episcopalians.  Anyone who grew up going to an Episcopal Church Camp could probably still recite the Song of Simeon from Compline by heart.  Simeon’s song sums up not only the hope of an old man who longed desperately for the redemption of Israel, but it strikes deep chords within all of us who are looking forward to and working toward the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is through the light to the Gentiles and the glory of God’s people that we as Christians have come to know not just our salvation, but the redemption of the world.

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What gets less play, because her words were not recorded, is the prophet Anna who, Luke tells us was also waiting for the restoration of her beloved Jerusalem.  Upon seeing the babe, she too couldn’t help but express joy, praise God, and tell anyone who would listen what the birth of this particular child would mean for the whole world.

While the focus in the name of this Feast is the ritual act of presenting Jesus at the Temple for purification, what really stands out to me this morning is the faithfulness of Simeon and Anna, and their willingness to share the hope that was within them.  Too often in our worship, Episcopalians focus on the ritual acts, forgetting that the Eucharist is meant to nourish us spiritually that we might go forth to share the love of God and the Good News of salvation in Christ with everyone we meet.

Nunc dimittis

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but today it must be said that one of the great losses that occurred following the restoration of The Holy Eucharist as the central act of Sunday worship in The Episcopal Church is the singing of the canticles.  No more do congregations have the chance to be imbued with these songs of Scripture, sung again and again over the years until they become a part of who we are.  Occasionally, we are reminded of this fact, when either the Lectionary assigns a Canticle instead of a Psalm for the “Response” or when one of the lessons includes a Canticle like the First Song of Isaiah, the Magnificat, or, as is the case on Sunday’s Feast of the Presentation, the Song of Simeon, Nunc Dimittis.  In addition, it is a real shame that we lose the great translations of those songs as well.  Do a quick comparison of the NSRV translation of the Song of Simeon with the Prayer Book version, and you’ll see what I mean.

While there certainly is depth and beauty in the NRSV’s rendering:

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

It seems to pale in comparison with the Prayer Book’s translation:

Lord, you now have set your servant free*
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,*
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations,*
and the glory of your people Israel.

The simplicity of the BCP version is stunning, in my opinion, and helps shine a light of the theme of Simeon’s song: God’s faithfulness to his promise of a savior who will cast a wide net to redeem the whole creation.  If you find yourself with 10 minutes notice that you are going to preach this Sunday, go to the Nunc Dimittis, you won’t be let down.