Luke 2. 22-40
All through Epiphany we have been reflecting on and celebrating the revelation of Christ to the world – the revelation which is the necessary consequence of Christmas – the revelation without which Christmas would be an arcane mystery for a few privileged shepherds and foreigners…..
The stories we have been hearing in Epiphany – the arrival of the magi, Jesus’ baptism by the Jordan, his first, joyous, miracle in Cana, his first proclamation of himself as the fulfilment of the Messianic prophecies – these together form the next part of the great story. Jesus’ birth sets the scene… now be see it unfold and begin to understand what it means and what is our part in it.
At this dark time of the year we celebrate the promise of light – the light to lighten the Gentiles – as we tell the story of how Mary and Jesus brought their son to the temple, 40 days after his birth, according to the custom, to present him to the Lord and redeem him with the sacrifice of two young pigeons – had they been wealthier it would have been a lamb. There in the temple he is recognised by Simeon and Anna – the very young acknowledged by these two who are at the end of their lives…. and Simeon speaks the words of the Nunc Dimittis, so well loved as part of our tradition, sung or said at evening services every day…..
Last night at Evensong we celebrated the light, the light that lightens all our lives, and blessed the candles that will be used in the parish in the year ahead – including the candle oil for the altar candles! I was very conscious as we did this that I won’t be here to see those candles lighted and burning down week by week…. to light the Paschal candle at Easter, to share its light and extinguish it at Pentecost as the Holy Spirit flows out into the world once more, to give candles lit from it to the newly baptised, to see candlelight fill this church at the beginning of Advent and at the Christingle service. to hover anxiously as children reach up to light the Advent wreath, and to rejoice in the glory of St Christopher’s by candlelight at Christmas….. I will be thinking of you and praying for the parish as you go forward into this light, and I know that many of you will be thinking of and praying for me…. this isn’t the end of our relationship, our friendship, though it is the end of my ministry to you as parish priest, the day on which the cure of souls for this united benefice, shared with the bishop since 11 Sept 2011, becomes his again, until your new rector arrives…..
When a bishop’s ministry ends there is a moving and powerful liturgy in which he strips off his vestments, placing on the altar with his mitre and his staff, and walks away down the aisle and out of the cathedral in his alb and stole, a simple priest……
There’s no such liturgy for a departing incumbent and I’ve resistedthe temptation to write one….. Instead of leaving with the symbols of a ministry that is ending, I want to leave you with gifts that will help you to go forward in the way we have been following together for more than 7 years now, and so I have two gifts to give you. If there were a fairy tale there would be three, but there you go… Both are for regular, if not every day use in the parish – (apology to Grayswood)- and both are symbols of the life of worship and faith that we share with one another and seek to share with others.
Firstly, to be placed in the prayer chapel here at St Bart’s, a votive candle stand – a particularly appropriate gift for Candlemas. Lighting a candle as part of a prayer is an ancient and very modern custom. it helps us to focus and prayer and is a visible sign of a place where prayer happens to those who come later. Sometimes it’s hard to pray, to know what to pray, and afterwards we sometimes wonder if we prayed well or properly ( we did – God knows what we want to ask however vague or halting or unformed our thoughts….) – having something to do and leave as a sign of our prayer can help. With the stand you have 1000 votive candles – tea lights that fit into the specially designed cups. They too were blessed last night – I’m sure you’ll use them all in the course of the year.
St Christopher’s has a very beautiful copper ewer, originally used to pour water into the font during the baptism service. Unfortunately, it leaks, and cant be mended. We have been using a large tin jug – the enamel sort you find on old wash stands. So my gift for St Christopher’s is this – a pottery jug from Grayshott which will serve the purpose as well as its tin predecessor and be less elegant but as fit for its setting as its copper one – and perhaps be used too for foot washing on Maundy Thursday in the years ahead.
Prayer and baptism. Drawing close to God as individuals and as a community, and welcoming new members into God’s church. These are things all churches do…. part of our calling. We have been doing them together, and we will go on doing them in the years ahead, here in Haslemere and Grayswood, in Cheltenham, in all the places where we find ourselves worshipping, places and churches we don’t yet know. Thank you for all you have taught me about these things, for all we have learnt together. My prayer for the united benefice as I leave is simple and familiar, especially to Haslemere parish…. may you continue
together in Christ
growing in faith
serving in love
and do these things for God, for one another for the world.
Let’s stand and pray the mission statement together.
May God help us to live out these prayers, promises, aspirations…. may Christ walk with us everywhere we go, and may the Holy Spirit guide us into all truth and love. Amen