Fourth Sunday of Epiphany - this week's readings, reflections and thoughts

Sunday 31st January 2021

Fourth Sunday of Epiphany

COLLECT

Almighty and ever-living God, clothed in majesty, whose beloved Son was this day presented in the Temple, in substance of our flesh: grant that we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts, by your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

GOSPEL READING Luke Chapter 2 Verses 22-40 (Presentation of Christ in the Temple/ Candlemas)

There has always been a tendency in religions, including our own, to divide things up between good and evil, clean and unclean, acceptable and unacceptable. Reflected in our gospel reading today is the ancient idea that women, following childbirth, are unclean for a period of forty days.

 

This division between good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable is technically called dualism.

Into this divided world, God throws a huge disruption (which is also a tiny disruption) in the form of a baby who was both divine and human. This was completely unthinkable, shattering the biggest division of all that between God and humankind. You can see that the arrival of Jesus dissolved the division between flesh and spirit - here was God (spirit) in human flesh. Like dominos, I think the dualities are supposed to keep tumbling down - but we forgot to see the pattern and put-up new divisions. As fast as God was demolishing justifications for dividing between good and bad, we were building new ones. It seems as if we always need someone to disapprove of, someone to be 'out' while we are 'in' We just don't seem to get the message - we don't need to trample on other people: we're OK and so are they.

 

What God was showing us, in the incarnation of Jesus, is that we have no need to divide, no need to vilify 'the other', 'those who are different'. We don't need to be make ourselves feel better about ourselves by finding someone who's less -OK than us. We are all God's children - all the objects of his love. We're all OK.

 

I think the only line we need to draw is between behaviour that is creative and behaviour that destroys and damages others. And even then, it's the behaviour that needs to be halted, not the person whose behaviour it is - God loves all his children, even the ones we love to hate.

 

The feast of Candlemas presents us with a lovely picture of the unity that springs from God, the essential unity of God’s children. For here we have very young and very old, men and women. On the surface there were only Jews there, but Simeon includes us - the Gentiles - in his song - 'a light to lighten the Gentiles'.

 

What we don't have is rich and poor, for all these people were poor – Mary and Joseph brought pigeons which were the offering of the poor: the wealthier would have brought a lamb. Anna as a widow would have had no income of her own and would have lived from the generosity of others. Simeon was old too, beyond working age - so the same would have applied. As Jesus was to discover later in his life, the Temple was ruled by a wealthy and privileged elite. They were there when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple - they were there but they did not see.

Let their inability to see be a warning to us. What or who are we not able to see?

MY THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK

I know that during these times a lot of people are feeling alone, isolated and abandoned. In many parts of the world this feeling of isolation is magnified by the closing of places of worship, which removes yet another strand of our previous 'normal' life.

Here is a prayer to use during these difficult times. I believe our hope and comfort is found in prayer.

God of hope and love, as our world seems more and more chaotic in this time of Pandemic, help us open our hearts and minds to your peace. Sometimes, Lord Jesus, when we are alone, bombarded by news and statistics, we may feel lonely, scared, apprehensive and afraid that nothing will ever be the same again. In those moments, be with us so that we feel your love surrounding us and help us to remember that you will never leave us. Give us the strength to reach out to other people to share our feelings and fears and to listen to theirs so that together we may find calm in knowing that we are your people and you gift us with all we need, moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day. In all things and no matter how we feel, give us the knowledge and wisdom to always give thanks to you that the gift of gratitude may help us return to you and overcome the fear that threatens us. Bless us God, who is Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

I have known for some time the following work by Ryan Hart. Each time I read it I always have feelings of both comfort and tearful emotion.

One night I dreamed a dream. As I was walking along the beach with my Lord, across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the most recent scene of my life flashed before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that at many times along the path of my life, especially at the very lowest and saddest times, there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it. "Lord, you said once I decided to follow you, you'd walk with me all the way.

But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life, there was only one set of footprints. I don't understand why, when I needed You the most, you would leave me."

He whispered, "My precious child, I love you and will never leave you. Never, ever, during your trials and testing’s. When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you."

As always, I send you my love and prayers from Holy Trinity Funchal.

Fthr. Michael