Preached as sermon at Croydon Minster on the transferred feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.
The feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, the scene described in today’s gospel, ends the great liturgical cycle of the Incarnation - from Christmas to Candlemas - 40 days of intensive focus on the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of Mary.
At the heart of today’s gospel is presentation and reception. Christ is presented by Mary and Joseph; received by Simeon and Anna.
That action repeats in the liturgy of the Eucharist: Christ is present in word and sacrament and presents himself to be received by us who present ourselves in the temple to receive him.
But being present in the temple these last 10 months is not open to everyone. For very good reason some are present but in a virtual way.
The ideal is always to be physically present in church receiving the Body of Christ, being the Body of Christ, just as Jesus Christ was present in the flesh as Emmanuel, God with us.
But being present is not only about physical presence.
In the world of work and in schools a well-known problem is the opposite of being present and that is absenteeism. If you’re absent you cannot produce, you cannot engage.
There is another problem at work, at school, and in church, which is rather different but has the same effect. That is known as presenteeism. That’s when you’re present but not attentive, not engaging, or as they might say, ‘the lights are on but no one’s at home’.
In a pandemic being present, physically, emotionally, spiritually is hard.
This is desperately hard for us all at the moment. I know it myself some days, and I know others do too. As a spiritual condition it’s known as akedia of which some features are: listlessness; the inability to get motivated or engaged; putting off what could be done today to an indeterminate tomorrow; a vague questioning of God’s presence with us; lack of confidence about what the day will bring and what its point is.
There’s so much more to this than ‘Keep calm and carry on’. This is a spiritual issue demanding a spiritual response. It is about looking for moments fulfilled, not just ticking off the days on the calendar or clock watching; it is about seeing each new day as a gift to us and living it as far as we can to the full: you could use the opening words of Morning Prayer each day:
As we rejoice in the gift of this new day, so may the light of your presence, O God, set our hearts on fire with love for you, now and forever. Amen.
There is so much more to say on this theme, but for today let’s turn back to the Gospel reading to see what is going on. Simeon and Anna - tired, blurry eyed and feeling time was running out on them - are both patient yet eager eyed for God. Their hearts desire. Their hope and expectation is fulfilled. And they are ready to ‘move on’ fully trusting that God is present with them, in living and in dying.
May this Candlemas be a time when our spirits and sight are renewed and, knowing Christ to be present in our lives, may we present ourselves to him in faith and hope and love.